The Devil You don’t know

August 31, 2012

The Devil You don’t know

by Neil

COMMENT: In this second part of my article in response to the growing criticism of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “devil you know” remarks, Pakatan Rakyat can counter the BN’s war of ideas by describing to Malaysians what sort of government we will get post-BN.

Here are five major issues that we hope Pakatan will address as part of their key policies.

First, making society more equitable, yet more educated and competitive globally. The BN, the Pakatan said, has failed. There are pockets of wealth, education is on the decline in standards and Malaysia is generally not competitive if subsidies are removed.

How will Pakatan better the BN in making society more equitable? Higher spending on education has not worked so long as education is not managed rationally and with a merit-based system in place. More importantly, who in the Pakatan will lead this initiative?

Second, race and religion will continue to be thorny issues. More so when coupled with economic development or the lack of it, as in the case of certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community.

Cross-Generational poverty

Hindraf leaders are correct when they ask the BN and PR to explain their strategies to alleviate cross-generational poverty and its associated social ills that have plagued certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community. I dare say that there are also equally serious pockets of poverty in Sabah and Sarawak.

Ultimately, effective and sustainable policies to deal with this problem have to take into consideration how Malaysia is predicated on ethnicity and religious divisions.

Inherited from the British, ethnic categorisation has given rise to ethnic profiling. This has resulted in certain ethnic groups getting the rough and short-end of the “stick”. In what way will Pakatan deal with this problem that is more systematic and effective than the BN?

Can Pakatan describe these policies and how it will ensure that policies are ultimately translated into practice? The BN also has a raft of very good policies but they are not implemented. If the BN’s failure is systemic, meaning that its ethnic-based policies are part of the problem, what is Pakatan’s solution?

Ultimately, the real measure of success will be the end of movements like Hindraf, when Malaysians of whatever ethnic complexion find little need to support ethnic-based affirmative action.

Third, it has to do with the transformation of the Malaysian economy. There is no doubt that we cannot continue to rely on Petronas to subsidise everything from Proton to sugar. We must get productivity up without spending our children’s legacy.

Here, corruption is only one reason why there is widespread anger against the BN. But how will Pakatan get to grips with the underlying problem? Malaysia is just not as efficient and productive as it should be.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng will be the first to tell you that there is only so much cost-cutting measures and savings from corruption will go. After the honeymoon period is over, how will Penang move forward into the post-industrial era?

Services will be one answer, but how to up standards when three-quarters of the workforce is not properly trained or educated? Penang suffers from a huge brain-drain: so, how to turn the situation around and create brain-gain?

Whatever happens to Penang will happen to Malaysia, except that Malaysia will not do as well. It was so during the days of trade and commerce; and it was so during the manufacturing period where Penang’s growth was on average 2% points higher than that of Malaysia.

So, here is a problem that involves both short- and long-term policy changes. Can someone in Pakatan please tell us how they are going to deal with it? Once again, who will lead the charge?If the ‘angel’ turns out to be worse?

Next comes the question of BN legacy issues. Pakatan has gone to town listing a raft of BN wrong-doings. From independent power-producers to the judiciary; how will Pakatan overhaul the system to make sure that the goose is not killed in the process of reform?

In most countries that experience regime change for the first time, there are two ways that things pan out. First, like in Kenya, the “angel you don’t know”, turns out to be worse than the regime you kicked out. It is “our turn to eat” as they say in Kenya.

With former UMNO elements in PKR, including Anwar Ibrahim, this is a very real concern. Next, things turn really bad before they get any better. One sees this in most European countries in the early modern period. Again, how will Pakatan go about instilling discipline among its ranks and making sure that all its members follow the new rules and standards it intends to set?

Finally, democratisation is key to making sure items one to four are kept in good order. The BN is now doing window dressing, replacing odious laws that regulate individual freedom with ones that are worse and even more draconian.

Even the BN’s own rank-and-file are not happy with newly passed legislation. Pakatan has highlighted this and a lack of local level democracy like local elections as part of it public manifesto, the Buku Jingga.

How will Pakatan go about guaranteeing the freedoms of its own critics without resorting to the law, the courts and Police to silence them? Even if they are as “extreme” as PERKASA, how will Pakatan deal with demonstrations, student activism and civil society movements?

If it reintroduces local elections and a strong opposition to it emerges, what will Pakatan vow not to do to make sure that local elections and local government truly become a third level of democratic representation?

Devolving of power from Putrajaya

Equally important and related to democratisation is the devolving of power from Putrajaya to the state capitals. This involves giving states more incentives to balance their budgets and putting greater pressure on non-performing state governments to become more efficient.

At the same time, those states that are doing better should be rewarded with more fiscal autonomy. Will Pakatan make the necessary sacrifices at federal level to give away power to the states?

The five issues above are all inter-related and Pakatan should make a systematic effort to describe how a government it leads can do better than the current BN on all these matters. Of course, there is one thing that Mahathir said, which may be true – if Pakatan comes to power, the BN may never recover.

This is not so much because Pakatan will use its authority to crush the BN but because the BN is a coalition of convenience. Once power is removed, the reason for being dissolves. It is not that Pakatan will use extra-constitutional means to prevent the BN from coming back, it is the BN that, without power, will disintegrate.

That is also an outcome that we do not want for Malaysia. It is best to keep the two political camps alive, competing and in perpetual “gratefulness” to the electorate.

If politicians are all power-hungry and corrupt feral beasts, it is better to have two groups of thieves jealously guarding against each other, rather than being dependent on any one. In the end, there are no angels in politics, just whiter devils.

Part 1: The devil you know

A Truly Inclusive Narrative Needed for Malaysia

August 31, 2012

A Truly Inclusive Narrative Needed for Malaysia

by Zairil Khir Johari (via e-mail)

Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to notice the obvious, even when it has always been staring us right in the face.

My moment of epiphany came during a Tariq Ramadan lecture in Penang last month. The Oxford don was in the midst of expounding on his pet topic — socio-cultural identity conflict — when he began to veer into the sensitive Malaysian racial debate.

Now, Tariq Ramadan is no stranger to identity issues. He is, as he describes himself, both a European and a Muslim, two labels which he does not wear loosely. If anything, he is an unabashed Westerner and an unapologetic Islamist — an oxymoronic concept if one subscribes to Samuel Huntington’s dichotomous paradigm. However, Ramadan has proven that both identities are not only reconcilable, but inherently compatible. Battling this polemic has been his lifelong raison d’ĕtre, hence it is no surprise that he could immediately recognise and make sense of the patterns of identity politics in our country.

“Malaysia,” Ramadan surmised, “is a multicultural society based on mutual mistrust.”In one simple sentence, he had succinctly framed the Malaysian dilemma. As the realisation of his remarks began to set in, Ramadan goes on to point out the underlying source of our nation’s malady: “What your country lacks is a truly inclusive national narrative.”

“It is not enough,” added the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna, “to be a citizen by law. It is more necessary to be part of a national narrative that integrates everyone.”

In essence, Ramadan was describing what he perceived to be a country with split, if not divergent, identities. We may all call ourselves Malaysians, but not all of us have been truly embraced as members of a Malaysian nation. This is due to the fact that, beyond empty sloganeering and expensive public relations campaigns, our leaders have not really expended real efforts to craft a unifying narrative and a common understanding of what being part of a Malaysian nation actually means and entails.

After 55 years of nationhood, one would think that we would have a clear idea of what it means to be Malaysian. Unfortunately, what we have is a hodgepodge of varying concepts defined in narrow communal terms. This was admitted to even by the longest-serving prime minister of our country when he said that the 1 Malaysia slogan created by this present government “clearly means different things to different races.” This trend can in fact be traced back to our country’s genesis.

August 31, 1957 saw the birth of two different countries. For one half of the newly-independent people, the country was called Persekutuan Tanah Melayu. Meanwhile, the other half saw it as Malaya. Two names for one country, and both with vastly divergent connotations. These differences were then institutionalised, resulting in the precarious situation that we have today, in which there are some Malaysians who are considered to be more Malaysian than others.

Now, I do not doubt the motivations behind the crafters of our Constitution. Certainly, our former colonial masters felt the need to make amends for all their injudicious meddling. After a century and a half of exploiting our land, resources and people, and not to mention drastically re-engineering the local demography, some quick fixes were needed to allay their guilt.

Hence, the Malays (its modern definition being in actuality a colonial construct) were constitutionally accorded a “special position” in order to protect them from a large and economically more developed immigrant population. For the sake of unity and convenience, this was agreed to by all stakeholders, including the non-Malay leaders. Economic equality for the Malays in exchange for political equality for the non-Malays. At the time, it seemed like the best compromise for everyone.

However, this arrangement also meant that if national development was a race, then the competitors had been lined up facing opposite directions. As the race got under way it was inevitable that the socio-cultural gap would widen as each raced further and further away from the other.

Today, while other nations around the world grapple with globalisation and compete for a share of the global economic pie, we are still stuck in an anachronistic quagmire. The imperial legacy of divide and rule continues to be our national ethos. We are led by race-based political parties. Our national policies are guided by a racial framework.

Our public rhetoric revolves around narrow socio-cultural issues. We can’t even decide what language should be used to teach our children.We need to move beyond this.

The fact is that nearly every Malaysian is, at some point in their lineage, of immigrant background. Some are merely older immigrants. To claim — or worse, to institutionalise — racial superiority based on such loose and meaningless foundations is disingenuous, especially when our country has now produced three generations of pure Malaysians. What is needed now is to bring all of us together in a common cause towards a common destination. To paraphrase Tariq Ramadan, we should no longer ask about where we came from but focus on where we are going together.

This is the new national narrative that is needed. One that enjoins us together as Malaysians; equal before the law, dignified as citizens and collectively contributing towards national development. But in order to achieve this, we have to first unshackle ourselves from the subjugating chains of racial stratification.

And so, as we celebrate our 55th National Day, we must necessarily ask ourselves: do we want to spend the next 55 years struggling to compromise and tolerate one another, arguing over language, over racial superiority, over who deserves special rights, over who is more Malaysian?Or are we prepared to press the reset button?

Geo-Politics of US-China Rivalry and South China Sea

August 31, 2012

Geo-Politics of US-China Rivalry and  South China Sea

by B A  Hamzah

The great powers in Asia are redefining their strategic interests as they interact with each other and other states in the Asia-Pacific region. Key players are the United States, China, Japan and India. Russia under Putin is slowly but surely regaining its influence.

The background of a renewed US-China rivalry  is well documented. However, with regard to the South China Sea, the rivalry became more intense following Obama administration decision to return to the region (2010) and more recently (2012) by its  policy to redeploy troops to the region following the decision to disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US policy to pivot to Asia Pacific is a deliberate attempt to rebalance its worldwide military deployment with an eye on China. In seeking greater access to the region, the US has sent more marines to Darwin on rotation basis; it has conducted exercises with some ASEAN states in the South China Sea without due regard for the volatile military environment.

Washington has also agreed to station some littoral combat ships in Singapore, presumably to protect its interests in the South China Sea and in the Straits of Malacca. This policy is very much in line with President Barrak Obama’s speech of reassurance at the Australian Parliament (November 2011) that America remains a Pacific power. The world will judge its actions: whether it is going to be a pacific power, a benign power or a destructive power.

US new enemy in the Asia Pacific Region: China?

Despite denials to the contrary by various policy makers, every step that the US has undertaken bears the mark of a deliberate policy to contain China’s rise. Kissinger, in his book (China, 2011) elaborates why China fears encirclement.

In the long- run, it will be difficult for the US to manage China’s rise in ways that do not diminish US interests in the region. The following reasons are among the reasons offered:

•China views US in a decline mode. The US in undergoing a phase in strategic decline in terms of ability to influence international events. Various writers gave alluded to this inevitability. Johan Galtung, who forecast the breakup of the Soviet Union, has predicted in 2004 that the US would fall apart in 2020.  Norman Davies’ statement that “All states and nations, however great, bloom for a season and are replaced” is prophetic and applicable to any power, including the US.

•China views geo-economics and domestic politics are at odds with US expansive foreign policy.

•The US strategic overreach has economic cost. Today the US is the most indebted nation in the world estimated at US $ 16 trillion and despite quantitative exercises(QE) over the years, it has failed to stop the economic rot, which may now undermine Obama’s chances of retaining the Presidency this November.

•The US economic malaise has caused Washington to cut its military spending by more than $100 billion over a decade. This cut will affect the US ability to project power beyond its shores.

•The unfavourable global economic situation has a debilitating impact on the US economy and limits its power projection capability.

•Geography favours China. The South China Sea waters wash China’s southern shores; Hawaii, the home port of the 7th Fleet is 8,000 nautical miles away. All military operations have to factor in distance and geography. China is not Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Pakistan.

US-Sino Rivalry in the South China Sea

The US-China rivalry has caused temperatures to rise in the South China Sea.  The Nation of Bangkok warns in a recent editorial that: “If the current tension continues in South China Sea, especially between the Philippines and China, it could lead to an all-out war. This is not an alarmist’s warning but a real concern. With poisonous rhetoric and growing tension, there is a possibility that conflicting parties would cross the line. This could be a result of miscalculation.”

This editorial refers to the impasse over the Scarborough Shoal. While the impasse would not lead to an “all out-war”, the likelihood of a miscalculation is scary. In the opinion of the Nation, it (war) “can be the most dangerous game in town.”

China has been accused of stoking tensions on the South China Sea.It has received bashing over the Scarborough Shoal standoff and over the establishment of a military garrison and formation of Sansha City on Woody Island.

The hype over Sansha City and the military garrison is unnecessary. The City was formalised in 2007. The Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) occupied the Paracels archipelago since 1974 and since then it has troops on the islands.

Many have accused China of hidden hands during the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at Phnom Penh. When the Ministers failed to issue a Joint Communiqué, the blame was put on China .

No one denies that China has been assertive in the South China Sea since it removed the South Vietnamese troops from the Paracels (including the Woody Island) on January 19. 1974. In April 1988, it fought a brief naval war with Vietnam and in 1995, it occupied the Mischief Reef.

Like China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have garrisoned their territories in the South China Sea. Taiwan has the biggest military garrison on Itu Aba. Brunei is the only claimant that does not send troops to occupy any island or rock feature.

Incident at Scarborough in April 2012

On  April  10, 2012, Manila sent its largest warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar (former US Coast Guard Cutter USS Hamilton) to arrest Chinese fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal for “breaching Philippines sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction”- an euphemism for illegal entry, illegal fishing and poaching.

Two Chinese civilian vessels from the Bureau of Fisheries Administration rushed to the scene just in time to stop the seizure of eight fishing vessels; the catch was, however, impounded.Of course, this was not the first arrest of Chinese fishing vessels for illegal fishing and poaching in the area. For example, in July 1997 the PI Navy arrested 21 Chinese fishermen for illegal entry in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal.

Manila has based its claim of the Scarborough Shoal on “effective occupation and effective jurisdiction since independence”. Manila has discounted proximity as the basis of its claim. On April 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs admits that its sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Monsiloc) is NOT premised on proximity or “the fact that the rocks are within its 200 nautical miles or continental shelf under UNCLOS.”

ASEAN must not allow the indecisiveness over a phrase to undermine the peaceful process that ASEAN has assiduously developed over the years with China. The Code of Conduct (COC) negotiation should not become hostage to some inflexible internal politics. ASEAN has more pressing larger geo-strategic issues to worry.

Driven by strategic considerations and the prospects for maritime resources, all claimants have been expanding their military and enforcement capabilities in the disputed South China Sea. Buoyed by nationalist sentiments, some claimants have sought outside help. The presence of external forces could undermine the military power equilibrium in the region. In that sense, US-China rivalry may complicate issues

Without some confidence- building mechanisms like the proposed COC, Incidents-at- Sea Agreements or Joint Development Projects between the claimants, the maritime security situation in the South China Sea may take a turn for the worse.  So, claimant states bordering the South China Sea must seek fresh solutions to their divergent interests.

Scarborough Shoal & ASEAN Unity

ASEAN is divided on the Scarborough Shoal. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ian Storey criticised ASEAN’s failure to close ranks over the Scarborough Shoal incident. He pointed out in the article that  ASEAN member states were divided due “to differing national interests, including the value they place on their relationships with China.” This has resulted in a lack of cohesion and inaction in dealing with China in the South China Sea.

Singling out China for the impasse does not explain the entire story. Before May 2010, the security situation in the South China Sea was tolerable, despite China’s assertive policy.

In 1995, for example, following the Mischief Incident, Manila and Beijing signed a code of conduct pledging to solve their dispute by peaceful means. A year later (November 1996), President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines agreed with President Jiang Zemin that both parties would settle their disputes in the South China Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal via joint development.

The tipping point was June 2010 in Singapore. Robert Gates’ statement in Singapore in June 2010 and Hillary Clinton’s reaffirmation of the US policy of returning to the region after a long period of neglect at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on July 23, 2010 introduced a new element in regional security dynamics.

Beijing views the US return to the Asia Pacific and military engagement in the South China Sea as containment. In response to the US containment policy, China has become more defensive. Beijing has started to upgrade its military capabilities in the South China Sea to oppose the US military presence.

US-China rivalry and ASEAN

The US-China rivalry has caused some states to take sides. This action will have a long-term consequence on the power equilibrium in Southeast Asia. The impasse at Scarborough has ramifications beyond China and the Philippines; it has brought non-claimant parties into the fray. The conflict will more difficult to resolve with the involvement of the others who are using the South China Sea conflict to undermine China’s security interests.

Claimant states can become pawns in the US-China rivalry. The rivalry can ultimately undermine ASEAN security and cohesiveness if the matter is not handled properly.

It would appear that the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at Phnom Penh has put ASEAN’s credibility on line. Some say ASEAN has lost its centrality, others think ASEAN will become irrelevant after the Foreign Ministers failed to issue a Joint Communiqué, the first in forty-five years. Many have ridiculed ASEAN’s credibility.

So what if ASEAN cannot coble a consensus? Does it mean ASEAN will close shop after it failed to agree on a communiqué? Is the communiqué so vital that without it, the entire ASEAN cooperative effort will fall apart?

It is puzzling how critics could ignore the record of ASEAN since its founding in 1967, including forging a community by 2015.  Everything must be seen in the proper context. A small window makes sense only in the context of the overall architecture . Looking at the Scarborough Shoal without the benefit of the larger geo-strategic design and landscape including the US-China rivalry would distort the story.

ASEAN is not a single-issue organisation. The Scarborough Shoal impasse between China and the Philippines will resolve itself and it will not dent ASEAN unity. Both Philippine and China will patch up soon if third parties stop instigating.

ASEAN has weathered worst storms in its existence and it gets stronger after each crisis. The Philippines -Malaysia relations was bedeviled by the former claim to part of Sabah soon as Malaysia was formed in 1963.The lingering claim has not caused ASEAN to collapse.

In 1968, for example, critics cried foul when Singapore hanged two Indonesian marines for the bombing of the MacDonald House in 1965.The nationalists in Indonesia demanded retribution. Diplomatic relations were ruffled.

In 1991, the Philippines recalled its Ambassador from Singapore for hanging a maid who confessed to the crime. When situation cooled down, diplomatic relations resumed. I hope that the recall of the Cambodian Ambassador from Manila in August 2012 will not permanently damage diplomatic relations between the two ASEAN states.

In 1979, Vietnam reoccupied Amboyna Cay that Malaysia included in its 1979 continental shelf map. In the same year, the Philippines troops also reclaimed Commodore Reef in the South China Sea from Malaysia.

ASEAN has overcome more serious territorial disputes between its neighbours. Indonesia and Malaysia went to the International Court of Justice to determine who own Sipadan and Ligitan. The ICJ in 2002 awarded the two islands to Malaysia.

Singapore and Malaysia took their territorial disputes for litigation twice. In September 2003, for example, Malaysia sought provisional measures from the International Tribunal on Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at Hamburg on Singapore’s land reclamation in and around the Straits of Johor. In May 2008, the ICJ rendered a decision on Pedra Branca (Pulau Batu Putih). When the Court found that Singapore has sovereignty over Pedra Branca, it brought to a closure a problem that has been a thorn in the relations between both states.

In February 1979, Thailand and Malaysia agreed to jointly develop a disputed area in the Gulf of Thailand; similarly, in 1992, Vietnam and Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly exploit for mineral resources in an overlapping maritime area.

In 2009, Malaysia and Vietnam made a joint submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for their continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the South China Sea. Both joint development agreements have withstood time and now all parties are reaping the returns from their commercial ventures.

Because territories are sacrosanct, many would have thought that claimant parties in the South China Sea would come to blows. Malaysia maintains cordial relations with the Philippines despite the Sabah claim and the occupation of the Commodore Reef. Likewise, Malaysia and Vietnam have opted for a joint development project and agreed to shelve their territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The Scarborough Shoal incident is insignificant compared with the territorial problems. The Scarborough Shoal impasse is between China and the Philippines and it could be amicably resolved. In 1996, in Manila President Ramos and Jang Zemin agreed to shelve their dispute in favour of joint development.

In 1992, Manila inked the ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea and gave the undertaking that it would resolve all sovereignty and jurisdictional issues in the South China Sea by peaceful means, without resort to force. In 2005, China and the Philippines (later Vietnam) agreed to undertake a short-lived Joint Maritime Seismic Survey (JMSU) in the Palawan maritime area. One authority on the South China Sea even hailed the Arroyo’s presidency as the “golden era” in Manila-Beijing relations.

Failure to craft a Joint Communiqué is equally insignificant if we view ASEAN in the larger geo-strategic and geo-economic context. In the light of a new consensus on the six- point- principles announced by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers following the Phnom Penh impasse, we should close the Cambodian chapter and move forward.

Few have recalled how ASEAN had overcome the difficult days. One of the most difficult times in ASEAN history was in 1986 when the ASEAN Heads of States summoned their moral strength to attend the third ASEAN summit at Manila after a lapse of ten years. Credit for reinvigorating the Bangkok declaration at Manila must go in particular  to President Corazon Aquino for her efforts to get Asean back on its rail. She bent backward to please many ASEAN leaders; she agreed to limited control of the airspace over Manila during the summit. She permitted some states to send warships to Manila Bay in case something went wrong during the Summit.

Looking back, the 1986 Summit at Manila was ASEAN’s turning point; it renewed the spirit of regionalism. And, it was possible partly because of President Corazon’s trust in regionalism.

Let us hope that the 21st ASEAN Summit in November 2012 at Phnom Penh will not get bogged down with another insignificant event. Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen could follow in the footsteps of  the late President Corazon Aquino and put ASEAN back on track.

Concluding remarks

New geo-economic dynamics in the Asia Pacific Region present opportunities for Southeast Asian countries to redefine their relationship with China and the US. However, it will take a far greater display of pragmatism and realism on both sides.

Factors hindering closer relations include: domestic politics, military power in- equilibrium in the Asia Pacific region (complicated by the recent US policy to rebalance its forces to contain China); Chinese single-handedness to convert the South China Sea into an internal lake similar to what the US did in the 19th Century in the Caribbean.

Also likely to be hostage to the US-China rivalry is the deliberate policy to confuse jurisdictional issue (like territorial claims) with rights under international law to use the sea (like the freedom of navigation). Topping it all is competing nationalism. Unbridled, it can be a spoiler in maintaining law and order in the South China Sea.

While I remain bullish on ASEAN as a regional security and economic organisation, the US-China rivalry that comes on the heel of a Pax Americana in decline may spell danger; history is replete with stories of powers in decline misbehaving. As it struggles to retain dominance, as a power in transition Pax Americana may engage in dangerous policies to prove critics wrong. This danger may manifest in the South China Sea. What begins as a bilateral issue may metamorphose into larger than a big power rivalry when rival powers engage in proxy wars.

One of the most likely proxies in the conflict is the Philippines, which has been putting pressure on the US to honour the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America. Thus far, the US has been wisely resisting pressure from Manila to invoke the Treaty.

It is imperative for ASEAN, especially states with overlapping claims in the South China Sea, to anticipate the consequences of US-China rivalry. ASEAN must not allow this rivalry to undermine  its unity.

Congratulations, Negara Ku Malaysia

August 30, 2012

Congratulations, Negara Ku Malaysia on the occasion of Merdeka Day (August 31, 2012)

“We are now at a period in time which is monumental for Malaysia. Everywhere, the people can see significant changes not only at the individual stage but also the family and community.

As such, let us push up Malaysia’s image by fulfilling all promises made and realising the potentials we have for the sake of all Malaysians. Don’t let us destroy what we have nurtured and created. Do not ever jeopardise the harmony of our birthplace which has since long been built.”Prime Minster Najib Tun Razak (Merdeka Day 2012 Address to the Nation).


Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2012

August 31, 2012 will be celebrated in grand style. Some say it is Rais Yatim’s day to show case the occasion with pomp and ceremony. Nothing is further than the truth. It is, in fact, our day as Malaysians.

Jalur Gemilang (the Malaysian Flag) will be flown with pride throughout the length and breadth of our country and there will be parade at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur to commemorate the occasion, to be followed by spectacular fireworks at night.

We deserve to pat ourselves on the back, as we have lived in relative peace and harmony for 55 years as an independent nation (discounting the view of some “eminent” home grown historians who said that we never colonised by the British). Politics aside.

We should use this occasion to reflect on the fact that we have come together as One Nation (not yet as One People) and resolve that from this day on, we will work hard to achieve a developed nation status by 2020 and be Malaysians, not Malays, Chinese, Indians and others.

It is not often that Dr. Kamsiah and I would quote the views of a journalist from the UMNO -controlled New Straits Times. But on this special day, we are  pleased to quote  Chok Suat Ling, who wrote: “The country is free from strife, grinding poverty, and the raucous scenes we are now seeing in some other parts of the world. There is no war, no need to dodge bullets when walking out in the open.”

We agree with her. But that said, this should be the pretext for us to remain contented with the status quo. We need change, peaceful change that is, and free ourselves from the chains of mediocrity, incompetence and corruption.

We should seek to establish a government with the conviction and political will to deal with these issues. We must insist that government worthy our support must serve the people.

Merdeka Day should also be the occasion for us to renew our faith in our country. Our country is what we as a people make it out to be. Surely we can make Malaysia a haven of peace and harmony for all.  Selamat Hari Merdeka.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

My Response to Dato’ Norhaidi of Wisma Putra

August 30, 2012

My Response to Dato’ Norhaidi of Wisma Putra

by Din Merican

I read the purported rebuttal by the Foreign Minister’s Political Secretary which I posted earlier on this blog with considerable concern. It is the latest in a long list of evidence of incompetence and lack of professionalism in our Foreign Ministry, or Wisma Putra as it commonly known.

If anything, the rebuttal exemplifies the proverb ”It’s better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt”  for it only made the Minister look worse than he actually is. Why purported? Well, Dato Norhaidi is not exactly known for his fluency in English.  Therefore, it is unlikely that this rambling rebuttal could be done by him. Furthermore, political secretaries have not been known to do this kind of work.

A Ghost Written Rebuttal

The rebuttal is more likely to be the work of Ahmad Rozian Abdul Ghani, Wisma Putra’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and External information who was roasted in this blog some months ago. Or it could have been written by the large committee headed by Rozian and approved by Kedah-born Tan Sri Radzi Bin Abdul Rahman,  the Secretary-General?  In any event, I hope that the real author would clarify things for our benefit.

However, it is not fair to lay the blame entirely on the Foreign Minister with whom I have exchanged views and ideas on the hand phone,  and on this blog.  He is after all a politician and not a professional diplomat. The blame must, therefore, be borne by the Secretary -General and his senior officers.

I have on record– and others too–said that the present set up in Wisma Putra is the most dysfunctional ever.  The Minister is unable to manage his senior officers. Thinking that they are quietly rebelling against him, Minister Anifah, a non-Peninsular Foreign Minister,  doesn’t engage his officers.

Apparently, even the mandatory weekly meetings, introduced in the 1960s by the legendary King Ghaz (left) as “Friday prayers” where issues are discussed, are a thing of the past.

Without ministerial control and supervision, Radzi’s sub par perfomance is further ruining Wisma Putra.

To make himself look good, he has filled up key positions with sycophants and officers who had served with him rather with officers selected on the basis of merit and expertise. That is how incompetence perpetuates itself, like turtles all the way down.

Wisma Putra: A Toxic Set-Up

I am told that even the Minister’s requests to remove incompetent officers are apparently routinely disregarded.In management-speak Wisma Putra would be a good example of a toxic organisation. It’s easy to guess the state of the Ministry. There is a glaring absence of shared purpose and compelling sense of mission.  With incompetence being routinely rewarded, resentment is high and morale low in Wisma Putra today.

Recently, the Secretary-General wrote a piece in the Star entitled “Creating an ASEAN Community”. Although that piece was far superior to his earlier vacuous piece on the Ministry’s consular services, his latest piece also stands an example of his inability to articulate foreign policy issues clearly and cogently beyond cutting-and-pasting diplomatic phrases taken from official communiqués that are designed more to conceal rather than elucidate issues.

Tan Sri Radzi (right) talks about ushering a community by 2015. What does this mean for the ordinary Malaysians? We are concerned that we could be at the cusp of a dangerous return to the bad old days when Southeast Asia was referred to as “Balkans of the East”.

As Malaysians, we are very concerned that untrammeled major power rivalry, namely US-China relations vis-a-vis the Asia-Pacific, could wreck peace and stability that we had known for most of our lives.

It would have been much more responsible for him to express our concerns that ASEAN is now on the wrong track. It would be responsible for him to share some broad thoughts on Malaysia’s main objective at the November 2012 Summit in Phnom Penh.

How would Malaysia, as one of the main claimant states, work with others to ensure that the appalling disunity displayed in April would not be repeated?  Without restoring ASEAN’s autonomy as a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality, looking forward to declaring an ASEAN Community during our Chairmanship would merely be an empty PR exercise that would be bereft of meaning or purpose.

Even if Tan Sri Radzi wishes to talk of the ASEAN Community, he could at least have explained that the ASEAN Community is not envisaged as a copy of the European Community.  If it not going to be like the EU, what then are we, the ordinary citizens to expect?

What do these mean?

“Under the APSC, the member states have pledged to regard their security as fundamentally linked to one another and bound by geographic location, common vision and objectives.”

“When we have an ASEAN Economic Community, we shall see a free flow of goods, services, investment and capital, equitable economic development through reduced poverty and socio-economic disparities. The objective is to turn Asean into a single market and production base by harnessing the diversity that characterises the region into opportunities to turn it into a stronger segment of the global supply chain.”      

Obviously these conceptual questions are too much for him and the Ministry.

Given the way the Foreign Ministry is run these days, it is highly likely that Malaysia will be able to play any meaningful role in advancing an enlightened Foreign Policy.

2015 is an important year for Malaysia.  As mentioned by Tan Sri Radzi, we will be the ASEAN Chair in 2015. The Foreign Minister also mentioned that Malaysia would seek a non-permanent security council seat for 2015-2016.

It’s best for Wisma Putra if the present Secretary-General moves on quickly and leave in his place a team of officers selected on the basis of their proven ability so that at least we will have at least two years to fully prepare to make sure that we are up to the mark to take on these responsibilities.

The Economist Corporate Network: Barisan Nasional back in power with a smaller majority

August 29, 2012

Barisan Nasional back in power with a smaller majority, says The Economist Corporate Network

The Barisan Nasional (BN) will be returned to power in the next general election albeit with a smaller majority, the Economist Corporate Network ― the global briefing service for business executives of the international magazine ― has predicted.

“Our view is that BN will come back to power with their majority slightly reduced.The opposition may win more seats, but there will be no change in government,’’ Justin Wood, the network’s Director for Southeast Asia, told reporters today in his presentation, “Weak World, Strong Malaysia”, which addressed foreign investor concerns.

In his briefing, Wood pointed out that one key issue raised by most investors was the impact of the next elections.  “[For] investors, it is a question mark of what will happen to the reform programmes if there is a change in government. What if BN comes back with a smaller majority?What if there’s a change in government? What does this all mean to Malaysia?” he added, referring to the Government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and Government Transformation Programme (GTP).

But Wood suggested that the upcoming election result will limit Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s ability to implement necessary economic policies.

“Our view is that it is more than likely that the prime minister will remain in office, albeit with a slightly undermined ability to push through reforms [via] majority,” he added.

Najib has already been forced to back down on his merit-based reforms — necessary to propel the economy toward his goal of making Malaysia a high-income nation come 2020 — following resistance from hawks within his own UMNO as well as Malay rights group such as PERKASA.

Despite earlier pledges to dismantle the decades-old affirmative action policies favouring the Bumiputras, Najib instead went on to introduce the Teraju agency to further promote the community’s participation in the economy.

His administration was also forced to loosen up requirements for contractors bidding for mega-project works, after Malay firms complained of being left out by lucrative infrastructure contracts for the upcoming Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).

A general election must be called by April 2013, when the current BN administration’s mandate will expire. Najib had been expected to call for an early general election in June but was believed to have been forced to abandon the plan following the BERSIH rally in April and scandals linked to members of his government.

BN suffered its worst electoral performance in 2008, when it lost its traditional parliamentary supermajority and five states — Penang, Selangor, Kelantan, Kedah, and Perak — to the then-fledgling Opposition pact of Pakatan Rakyat. It later regained control of Perak following several lawmaker defections.

Imagine a Malaysia without Fear and Political Thuggery

August 29, 2012

Imagine a Malaysia without Fear and Political Thuggery

by Josh Hong (08-24-12)

Malays under attack; Islam under siege; mass deception of the Opposition.

Indeed, if one cares to read Utusan Malaysia or Berita Harian, or is so much at a loose end as to tune into RTM TV1 or UMNO-controlled TV3, one would be forgiven for thinking that Malaysia has never left Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s glory days.

And Mahathir seems so full of certitude that his excessively long tenure has done more good than bad for the country, conveniently overlooking the culture of fear and political thuggery that he had employed to keep himself in power.

Let’s consider Mahathir’s legacies: bloated bureaucracy, rising costs of living, overpriced and under-performing ‘national’ cars, chronic budget deficits, rampant corruption, brutal Police force, emasculated press, gutless judiciary, spineless government backbenchers, greedy ministers, his filthy rich sons and cronies… the list goes on.

I am pretty certain Malaysians who have survived his horrible regime of the 1980s through to 2003 can add much more.So, still better the devil you know?

To be frank, I have my strong reservations about the Opposition alliance. While the frogging season has started again in Sabah, I remain acutely aware Anwar Ibrahim was responsible for bringing UMNO into the Land Below the Wind in the early 1990s and altered radically the political landscape there.

Had this not happened, the Kadazan Dusun community would not have been as politically marginalised as it is today. Yes, blame not only Mahathir, but Anwar and Pairin Kitingan also, the latter eventually succumbing to the allure of power and abandoning the very people that he claimed to represent.

Moreover, Malaysian politics is largely driven by personalities. As far as Barisan Nasional is concerned, whatever promises of reform touted hinge very much on Najib Abdul Razak, with most of his cabinet colleagues – especially those from Umno – showing only lukewarm support.True to his opportunistic character, Najib simply steps back whenever the stakes are high.

The same is true of Pakatan Rakyat, as all hopes of its supporters are pinned on Anwar, Lim Guan Eng and Hadi Awang. We need to put more pressure on the Opposition parties to integrate their reform agenda into a broader framework of deliberation, contestation and accountability, and base it on firm and concrete political institutions. Rhetoric alone will never do the trick.

Inferior taxis

But there is no denying that the March 2008 general election has provided a golden opportunity for Malaysians to break the political mould set by UMNO since 1957. For the first time in more than four decades, Malaysians rediscovered the courage to dream dreams and to imagine a Malaysia without the omnipotent UMNO.

More crucially, we have been seeing great awakening even among Mahathir’s own constituents, as more and more Malays begin to question why we must pay more for cars that can be produced more cost-effectively, and why the government must continue to make the rakyat foot the bill for an illusive car industry that is anything but efficient.

Just visit Jakarta, Bangkok and Taipei, and one can immediately see the difference in the taxi service in these Asian cities: cars are often in good condition, clean and comfortable, while drivers are generally friendly and professional.

Yet most of the taxis plying the roads in KL are substandard Proton Iswara that are old and smelly, complete with a clanking noise all because the national car project has grown into a chimera that is too expensive to maintain but hard to get rid of.

Be that as it may, we must complete the new political process that was put in place by accident since 2008, cognisant also of the fact that the transition phase of democratisation is invariably fraught with pitfalls and entails great uncertainties, as Indonesia had experienced since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998.

However, it is a painful process that a semi-authoritarian country such as Malaysia must partake in so that we can one day be proud to say our political contestation is one that is rooted in fairness and transparency.

Creating a democratic consolidation

In other words, democratic consolidation cannot be attained without political transition. Those like Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew may want to think they have ensured a ‘democratic process’ by having regular elections, but what both Malaysia and Singapore actually have is nothing but procedural democracy, all for the purpose of window dressing.

The opposite of this is democratic consolidation that contains substantive elements, including guarantees of basic civil rights, democratic accountability and responsiveness, civilian control over the military, neutrality of the Police force, independence of the judiciary, impartiality of the media, democratic and constitutional checks on executive authority, and punishment of human rights abuses.

As Larry Diamond of the Stanford University argues, democratic consolidation only comes about when “political competition becomes fairer, freer, more vigorous and executive; participation and representation broader, more autonomous, and inclusive; civil liberties more comprehensively and rigorously protected; accountability more systematic and transparent”.

In the context of Malaysia, it means we are duty-bound to normalise our political process, in that everyone is equal before the law and no-one’s loyalty to the country or the community (religious, ethnic or else) should be questioned when he or she seeks to challenge the powers-that-be. For all this to happen, one must first remove the biggest obstacle, UMNO that is.

The expansion of democracy no doubt scares people like Mahathir, who have everything to lose should it come to pass, even ending up in jail. But Mahathir is only the least of my concerns here.

I am more excited to see the day when transition of power happens on a regular basis while the politicians from both sides of the political divide can no longer hold themselves above the law.

We would not be regarded too kindly by the future generations should we choose to reverse a meaningful journey just because we are too timid to overcome transient pains.

On Diplomacy, Wisma Putra and our Foreign Minister

August 29, 2012

On Diplomacy, Wisma Putra and our Foreign Minister

by Norhaidi Che Dan (08-22-12) @

I refer to the article “‘Grounded’ Anifah should quit, says Pakatan by Hafiz Yatim which appeared in Malaysiakini on August 15, 2012. I am outraged at the unfounded statements and accusations that were made in the article and I feel compelled to clarify these claims.

It is clear that these accusations are politically motivated with malicious intentions as a personal attack on the ability of (Foreign Minister) Anifah Aman to perform his duties as Foreign Minister.

The article also casts aspersions on the competence of the Foreign Affairs Ministry to provide sound strategic advice to the government on the conduct of our foreign policy including on important issues like Syria and the Rohingya Muslims.

The Foreign Minister has been constantly defending and articulating Malaysia’s interests and position on various foreign policy issues as well as proposing ways and means to resolve myriad of issues with his counterparts.

So much could be said about certain Opposition leaders who continuously discredit the good name of our beloved country abroad, which the Minister eventually has to work hard to restore. These are done through the time-honoured practice of diplomacy.


Diplomacy is not carried out through the media or through megaphon diplomacy. In the conduct of diplomacy, there is an established decorum on how issues should be resolved taking into account sensitivities of nation states in safeguarding their sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

There are overt and quiet actions in the conduct of diplomacy. Both ways are used and the Minister is not obliged to divulge every detail to the Opposition on how the Ministry conducts its work.

Nonetheless the public including Opposition members are kept informed of activities relating to foreign relations through press releases and statements. The Opposition could also raise questions in Parliament, in both Houses as they always do, and the Minister and Deputy ministers never failed to respond and explain.

Like all elected representatives, (Minister) Anifah too has obligations to his constituency, whichis in Sabah. But this does not distract him from discharging his responsibilities as Foreign Minister. Meetings with foreign dignitaries and ambassadors in Sabah were held at their request.

One such example is the recent visit of H.E. Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister of China. In fact, this was an important meeting as Malaysia attaches great importance to its relations with China.

OIC Extraordinary Summit

This meeting was held at the same time the OIC Extraordinary Summit was held in Mecca, which accounts for the Minister not being able to attend the summit.

The insinuation of his absence at the summit reflects a sheer lack of understanding that summits are attended by Heads of State or Government.

While this may be the practice, there are instances where participation at international meetings may not be at the prescribed level due to many considerations which have been carefully deliberated upon by the government.

As Foreign Minister,  he is required to undertake numerous visits overseas that would take him away from the capital let alone his constituency.


If one had cared to follow the developments on Syria which have been flashed out in mainstream media, Malaysia’s position on Syria is evident. We have continuously articulated our position on Syria, either bilaterally or through multilateral processes such as the United Nations, Human Rights Council and most recently, the OIC Summit.

We are concerned with the developments in Syria. We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities.We support a comprehensive peaceful political solution in that country. We also maintain our position of not accepting unsanctioned interference or intervention by any external party.

The Rohingya Conundrum

Long before the Opposition realised they could politicise the issue of Rohingya Muslims in their political campaign, the Minister had been in contact with his counterpart in Burma soon after the flare up of the incident in Rakhine to categorically express Malaysia’s concerns and the need for Burma to address the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.

He also offered humanitarian assistance to Burma. We are glad to note that the Burmese government has extended an invitation to the OIC Secretary-General to verify the facts and assess what steps OIC can take to assist the Rohingya Muslims.

The South China Sea Question

The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is a territorial dispute of overlapping claims by several ASEAN countries and China. It is a sensitive and delicate issue that needs to be handled judiciously.

Malaysia has always asserted that the terms of such disputes should be addressed through dialogue amongst the countries concerned. Most recently, the minister engaged his counterparts from the Philippines and China on this matter.

Foreign affairs issues are the bread and butter of the Ministry and the team in Wisma Putra has shown their dedication in carrying out their duties to serve the nation.

The Minister takes exception to the suggestion that the Ministry merely handles evacuation of Malaysian students from troubled areas overseas. Consular duties and providing assistance to Malaysians in distress overseas are important but they are only one of the many other functions of the Ministry.

In conclusion, the unwarranted attacks on the Foreign Minister and the allegations against the Foreign Affairs Ministry reflect the shallow-mindedness of those who made these allegations with their simplistic understanding on the conduct of our foreign policy.

I would suggest that future comments and observations on the conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy are done based on facts and not conjectures.

NORHAIDI CHE DAN is political secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, Malaysia.

A Post-Industrial Future for Penang?

August 28, 2012

A Post-Industrial Future for Penang?

by Zairil Khir Johari

The advent of the digital era, characterised by seamless and instantaneous transfer of information and unprecedented levels of global interconnectedness, has seen a paradigm shift in social, political and economic strategies worldwide.

In fact, it is commonly said that the world has entered into “the knowledge revolution or knowledge economy”, which some have argued to be “the latest phase of capitalism”[1]. In this age of knowledge, mobile capital and the easy spread of technology have meant that the production of goods have increasingly shifted to low-cost countries.

“This is a natural progression, especially for developed economies,” notes international investment banker Julian Candiah. “As GDP per capita rises and countries gets richer, a lot of the lower-valued components of the economy have migrated to low-cost countries. We have seen this hand-off many times, first in the 1970s to the South-East Asian Tigers, and then in the 1990s to China, and now to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. Even China is now moving up the value chain.”

As developed economies begin to decouple themselves from industrial production, it is suggested that future success would no longer be predicated upon traditional factors such as land, labour and raw materials, but upon the creation of value extracted from knowledge, skills and creativity.

In other words, future jobs in the so-called knowledge economy would require working with our brains and not with our hands. Soft power, and not hard power, would drive the world forward.

So how exactly has this experiment fared?


In 1997, Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister of Britain on the wave of Cool Britannia and the promise of ushering in a new golden age. Having successfully rejuvenated and remodelled a now centrist, market-embracing Labour Party, the youngest British Prime Minister in nearly two centuries sought to catapult a then lagging Britain into the “forefront of the knowledge economy”.

According to Blair and other deindustrialisation advocates, this new knowledge-driven economy is the “equivalent of the machine-driven economy of the industrial revolution”[2].In other words, future British success would lie in the country’s ability to shift from an industrial economy to one based on services. To borrow Blair’s own words, Britain needed to transform the “workshop of the world” into the “e-commerce capital of the world”.

This premise, though an innovation, was not a new one. Margaret Thatcher had been the first, two decades before, to prescribe deindustrialisation as the cure for what she deemed to be an uncompetitive, manufacturing-based British economy. By articulating the “knowledge economy” in the context of a globalising world driven by ICT, Blair gave the strategy renewed direction.

For over a decade, the government pursued this policy, turning the British economy into the world’s second largest services exporter after the US. This was achieved on the back of creative services such as film, music, fashion and advertising, as well as other traditional services such as finance, computing and ICT. The picturesque vision of a knowledge economy looked set to come true.

Today, more than a decade later, Blair’s vision remains just that. Having experienced the largest deindustrialisation exercise in post-war Europe, in which the industrial share of the economy saw a decline from 30% in the 1970s to about 11% today, one would be hard-pressed to opine that the British economy is in a better shape than it was.

The British used to make cars, ships and engines for the world. They gave all that up to sell culture, tourism and financial advice, only to find that selling things simply cannot provide the same volume of employment that making things can. Unemployment is now at its highest level since 1995, while income inequality has reached a 30-year peak.

The British northeast, once the proud home to numerous factories, warehouses and dockyards, has now become the poster child of a post-industrial wasteland, sprawling with hollow buildings and muddy estates. Not only have the cacophonous activities come to an end, so too have the jobs, apprenticeships, local industries and support services that typically characterise an ecosystem built around making things. Meanwhile, the vacuum left behind remains vivid for a generation of displaced Britons.

Services-driven Penang?

Though it took a while, the same debate has now made its way to Penang’s shores. In recent times, certain quarters have spoken out about the need to reinvent Penang’s traditional economic base. Citing a fast-depleting land bank and competition from more cost-effective neighbours, they argue that the manufacturing sector has reached its zenith.

Their solution? To transform the services sector to replace manufacturing as the next engine of growth. According to them, Penang no longer has a comparative advantage in manufacturing, and should instead focus on building resources and talent in service industries such as tourism, healthcare, ICT and finance. After all, Penang is no stranger to economic change, having evolved from a free port into an industrial beacon. The question is, is it time to change?

Today, manufacturing remains the bedrock of the Penang economy, easily contributing more than half of Penang’s economic output. In the last two years, Penang has etched itself as the top destination in the country for manufacturing investment, notching RM12.2bil in 2010 and RM9.1bil in 2011. Of this amount, RM17.7billion came in the form of FDI, which means that the second smallest state in Malaysia had managed to attract nearly a third of total national FDI. At the rate the trend is going, there is nothing to indicate a need for a realignment of strategies.

This is not to say that an over-reliance in manufacturing is without its pitfalls. In fact, Penang’s industrial, export-dependent economy is necessarily more exposed than other states to shifts in global economic trends. This was the case during the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in a GDP dip of over 10% in real terms (based on constant 2000 prices). In contrast, Malaysia’s GDP only fell by 1.6% during the same period. Manufacturing output in Penang also decreased by 20.2%, double the decline suffered nationally.

Global economic forces are of course hard to resist. That said, Penang managed to bounce back with a real GDP growth of 10% in 2010. And despite this rough patch, Penang’s GDP per capita had actually increased slightly over this period of time. This was achieved because, over the years and more so in recent times, Penang has been able to build up an industrial base that is not merely made up of low-skills and low value-added assembly lines but also cutting-edge technology with leading brands such as Intel, Motorola, Sony, Dell, Honeywell, Bose and National Instruments.

As Candiah says, “The trick is not so much to do ‘manufacturing correctly’, but to do ‘correct manufacturing’. The game must be value-added, high-productivity manufacturing. And to the credit of the folks in charge, they have managed to get it right so far.”

Today, Penang is moving towards high-end manufacturing such as solar panels, LEDs, medical devices and the like. Just last year, Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing opened a facility in Penang to produce precision components for the aviation and aerospace industry. Such value-added industries are exactly the kind that will provide the ingredients needed for Penang to move up the manufacturing value chain.

The myth of the services-based economy

But what about the developed countries that have managed to “graduate” into services-based economies? Singapore, for example, is typically used as an example of a successful former industrial power-turned-services provider. Should that not be Penang’s future direction?

Though widely accepted, the above hypothesis is not entirely accurate. Ha-Joon Chang, a leading Cambridge economist, has frequently pointed out that high income knowledge economies that appear to be services-based are in fact highly industrialised economies. For example, Switzerland, believed to be a post-industrial economy reliant on services such as the banking sector and tourism, in fact ranks as the country with the second highest manufacturing value-add (MVA) per capita[3] in the world. Singapore ranks third. And in the Competitive Industrial Performance Index, Singapore is the world number one.

What most fail to understand is that the success of countries like Switzerland and Singapore is based upon their industrial foundations. And it is from such a foundation that they are able to spin off a services supply chain encompassing research, design, engineering, legal, financial and sales. In other words, one first needs to make a product before one can add value to it and finally, consumerise it. The same trend is also evident in other high income Asian economies such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

As the world progresses, there can be no doubt that consumption of technological products will only increase. Economic downturns may temporarily dampen demand, but in the end, more rather than less manufacturing will be needed to cater to the growing market. Instead of reducing manufacturing, the strategy should be to leverage upon the existing base and focus on value-adds through technology, automation and productivity improvement.

Not what you produce, but how you produce

Years after sounding the clarion call for deindustrialisation, the British government is now talking about a “march of the makers”. In last year’s budget speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proudly proclaimed that the words “Made in Britain” will once again drive the nation forward.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has embarked on a manufacturing drive in a bid to revive the lacklustre American economy. In a recent speech by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, at a conference aptly titled “The Renaissance of American Manufacturing”, it was pointed out that manufacturing is responsible for 70% of R&D in America, despite being only 12% of the economy.

Not only that, manufacturing jobs pay on average 25% higher than non-manufacturing jobs. Sperling then added, as if struck by an epiphany, that manufacturing would be the key to tackling the country’s ballooning trade deficit.

Whether it is too little too late remains to be seen, but the fact is that the US and Britain have finally realised the potential multiplier effect, in terms of jobs and services, that is inherent in manufacturing. What is understood to be a knowledge-based economy is in fact a corollary resulting from a mature industrial base. In other words, manufacturing is a prerequisite for innovation.

Closer to home, it is critical that we learn from the experiences of others before it is too late. To say that manufacturing has peaked is disingenuous. If anything, it holds even more potential today than it did a few decades ago. What is needed is not to replace manufacturing but to create depth and specialisation through innovation and technology. Moving forward, it will be about how we produce rather than what we produce.

“Today, the buzzword is ‘reindustrialisation’,” says the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) Deputy General Manager Iskandar Basha Abdul Kadir. “After playing an integral role in the industrialisation of Penang for 40 years, it is time for the PDC to facilitate the reinvestment and revitalisation that is currently being undertaken by most pioneer plants and facilities in our industrial zones.

“We cannot afford to lie around idly by while the whole world is moving. Besides attracting new, value-added industries, we also need to revitalise and reenergise the ‘old’ ones so they can become ‘new’ again.”

According to Iskandar, the premise for the future of the Penang economy is simple. “If we can successfully add value to our existing manufacturing capacity, then we will set off a chain of events that will produce higher value services and, ultimately, higher paying jobs.”

Penang’s  Intellectual Capital Incubator

[1] Rikowski, R. (2003), “Value – the Life Blood of Capitalism: knowledge is the current key”, Policy Futures in Education, Vol.1 No.1, pp. 160-178.

[2] Speech by Tony Blair at the Knowledge 2000 Conference,

[3] A basic indicator of a country’s level of industrialisation. The higher the MVA, the more industrialised the country.

Lim Guan Eng: We work for the People, not for Titles

August 28, 2012

Lim Guan Eng: We work for the People, not for Titles

by Nigel Aw@

DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng stressed today DAP is not in politics to pursue datukship, but declined to tread into politically-sensitive waters on whether the party will change its unwritten rule of not accepting such titles.

“This is a dangerous question. If I answer we will accept, it will appear as if we are in for titles; if I say will not accept, we will appear as if we are disrespectful to the royalty,” Lim told a press conference at the DAP headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

He was responding to Sekinchan state assemblyperson Ng Suee Lim’s suggestion that party leaders accept such titles from the Malay rulers to prevent the party from being labelled as anti-Malay and anti-royalty.

Lim said the matter did not arise as no title was being offered to DAP representatives at present. “I don’t think there is any issue about us not respecting the royalty. The Sultans will need to award them first, so the matter does not arise,” he said.

Lim added that the party’s main purpose would still remain serving the rakyat, rather than for titles. “I am comfortable being called saudara (mister). Even after I retire, I will be comfortable with it,” said Lim, who is also Penang Chief Minister.

The issue of state titles arose in late 2010 after speculation that DAP’s Sungai Pinang state assemblyperson Teng Chang Khim was about to be granted a datukship. However, the party did not oppose Teng’s acceptance of the title after it was revealed that the award came directly from the recommendation of the Selangor palace for his role as Selangor state legislative assembly speaker.

‘Tokong matter has passed’

Lim also declined to comment on being called a tokong (deity) by Penang Deputy Chief Minister I Mansor Othman, stating that the matter had passed. He said DAP-PKR negotiations on seat allocation in Penang were not a “big issue”, but declined to speak further on this.

Mansor had allegedly uttered the word tokong in reference to Lim during an informal PKR meeting which, among others, discussed the seat allocation in Penang for the next general election.

On another matter, Lim said it was yet to be seen whether MCA’s relentless attack on DAP and PAS over hudud would have any impact on the electorate. “Let’s wait and see when the general election comes,” he said.

Among the top leadership of PAS and DAP, Lim added, it was still business as usual despite the hudud controversy.

Borneo’s Ecotourism Problem

August 28, 2012

Le Monde Diplomatique: Borneo’s Ecotourism

Borneo’s Ecotourism Problem

The idea was to use tourism to protect Borneo’s remaining virgin jungle and its wildlife, and reward locals for abstaining from illegal logging. It isn’t working out quite that way
by Clotilde Luquiau

“Borneo stays true to nature, far from the modern world.” “A soft adventure tour to meet the people and see the jungle wildlife of untamed Borneo.”

Copy like this and photos of animals with gentle eyes against a jungle backdrop are how French travel agent Asia entices tourists to the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo.

Once they get there, they understand the inherent contradictions of “authentic tourism”. Traditional shacks of rattan and palm leaves have been replaced by houses with zinc roofs and walls made of wood or (worse still) breezeblocks. Ecotourism is supposed to generate revenue for local populations, limit environmental impact and make everyone more environmentally aware. But the money spent by tourists who come to admire Borneo’s virgin forests and unspoiled landscapes helps to modernise the place; and what the locals gain in comfort and security, the tourists lose in picturesqueness. Because Malaysia is targeting higher-spending tourists, the modernisation is set to increase. But who will really benefit?

“Politicians are always talking about ecotourism. They say it will bring development, so it’s not surprising the villagers have high expectations,” said Annie (1), a consultant in charge of developing a new tourism plan in Sabah, a state in northern Borneo. The authorities consider economic, socio-cultural and environmental “sustainability” a must.

So the money tourists spend is supposed to help preserve the environment in the areas they visit; yet the very presence of tourists and hotels increases the pressure on the environment. “We must stop this promotion of natural areas, which brings in greater numbers of visitors,” said Annie. But restricting numbers to reduce the environmental impact of tourism would also mean less revenue.

The dilemma is clearest in the Lower Kinabatangan area, in Sabah. The presence of orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and hornbills along the lower reaches of the River Kinabatangan led to the development of wildlife tourism during the 1980s.

Since 1997 the area has been protected by law with the support, first of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and, later, of other local and international NGOs such as Hutan (France) and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP, US-Malaysia). In 2005 the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary was established. It covers 27,000 hectares, divided into 10 non-contiguous lots spread out over 200km.

There are two problems. The geographical fragmentation makes it difficult for wildlife to move between lots, and their genetic diversity and health are under threat from increasing consanguinity. And because the 1997 Wildlife Conservation Enactment prohibits hunting and harvesting in the sanctuary without special authorisation, the locals find that environmental protection benefits urban travel agents more than them. Many prefer to convert their land into small-scale plantations, deriving only a minimal income from tourists, through a homestay programme.

The sanctuary includes four villages that receive visitors: Abai, Sukau, Bilit and Batu Puteh. The sanctuary and the presence of major corporations make their inhabitants feel doubly dispossessed. Because of their indigenous status, the villagers are entitled by law to a small amount of land (while the big companies are able to buy up large tracts and create plantations covering several hundred hectares) but it’s too little for their children to be able to live off; those who have no land and depend on fishing, or temporary jobs in the city or on plantations, are even worse off.

Ecotourism was supposed to be their salvation. Villagers could offer accommodation, get jobs in hotels, put on traditional culture shows, or sell local crafts. Easier said than done.

Untrained, with little English

It’s hard to grow fruit and vegetables when monkeys, wild pigs and elephants raid crops; ordinary fences will not keep them out and only the big plantations can afford electric fences. Few villagers still have weaving and carving skills; rattan baskets were replaced by plastic housewares a long time ago. Traditional events are hard to organise when young people are losing interest in local culture. And in any case tourists are more interested in the wildlife.

The villagers run just two (basic) bed & breakfasts. The hotels, which the guidebooks and brochures call “ecolodges”, generally rent the land they occupy, which gives a dozen families a significant income. But just two or three employ only local staff: most find it cheaper to hire Filipino or Indonesian immigrants.

Mary, a former ecotourism coordinator for the WWF, was in charge of a bottom-up project that was supposed to take the villagers’ needs into account. She described the situation in the late 1990s, when there were still only five ecolodges: “The operators felt they had offered the locals an opportunity, but the locals hadn’t taken it up. They hired a few villagers, but complained that they didn’t turn up for work when there was a wedding to go to. …  The villagers say they are entitled to jobs because they are natives. But they should only get a job if they deserve it. Otherwise, someone better qualified should get it.” Untrained and with little English, the villagers rarely meet the job requirements, even if they are knowledgeable about nature. They complain about the working conditions and the lack of freedom that comes with being an employee. Many said they would rather be their own boss, even if it meant living off fishing alone.

It seems the benefits of ecotourism are not as great as the authorities suggested when they invited the villagers to help protect and commercialise Borneo’s natural heritage. “If tourism doesn’t bring us any benefits,” said a villager in 1996 (2), “we’ll kill the last few proboscis monkeys so the travel agent won’t have anything to show.” There was already a sense that the authorities were more concerned with protecting the animals from any inconvenience the villagers might cause them, than the other way around.

Protecting the environment has had many benefits for the tourist industry. Over 70,000 people visit the sanctuary each year and the number is rising steadily: new hotels are being built. But to get to the sanctuary, they must make a 150km journey through oil palm plantations, most of which belong to major corporations. “When my customers see the plantations, they burst into tears,” said Albert, who owns a travel agency in Kota Kinabalu and an ecolodge in Sukau.

The official line is that, over the last 15 years, illegal plantations have been destroyed, poachers have been arrested or dissuaded, and wildlife has been studied and protected. The elephant population density is rising and the areas of forest felled since the 1950s are growing back. Around the sanctuary and along the riverbanks, the landscape is starting to look the way the tourists expect, to the delight of the travel agencies. A sign of success is that tourist accommodation has evolved from a few basic tents in 1990 to around 340 hotel rooms, an annual capacity of over 200,000 person/nights. The 15 accommodation centres are concentrated around the villages of Sukau (population over 1,000) and Bilit (less than 200).

Martin is the initiator of the homestay project in Kinabatangan. An engineer by training, he fell in love with Borneo and has been working in tourism in Sabah since 1991, when he was shocked to find that some operators took tourists around villages without giving the villagers any share of the profit. If villagers demanded a share, the operators would move on: “There are plenty of villages, so it was easy to find another one.” This had no impact on the popularity of the tour. “The tourists were not naïve, but they didn’t know the history of the tour, and it all seemed so perfect.” So they continued to believe they had chosen a package that benefited the locals.

From the late 1980s, over-exploitation of the forest meant the natives of Kinabatangan were no longer able to get work as loggers in forest reserves, and they were criticised for resorting to illegal logging near their villages. Tourism was seen as an alternative to a way of life that was dying out. “In 1996,” said Martin, “I heard that the government was planning to fund some of the conservation work in Kinabatangan and was talking about village tourism projects. So I contacted the WWF. They had donors, and I had a village that wanted to try a different way of life, based on community development: Batu Puteh. Our plan did involve protecting biodiversity, but, from the villagers’ point of view, the aim was to find an alternative to illegal logging.”

The homestay idea seemed straightforward: a dozen villagers could simply club together, show that their area would be of interest to tourists, and convert their houses to comply with health and safety regulations. After discussions and training, the programme got under way. Batu Puteh served as a model and between 1997 and 2004 four such groups were set up in Kinabatangan, 16 in Sabah. Now all they needed was tourists, and the villagers would benefit from tourism directly.

Neat little houses with a TV

But things have not gone to plan. The poorest villagers can’t afford to improve their houses to the necessary standard. The training is free, but it is held near Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah state capital, 400km from Kinabatangan; it can cost a month’s income for a couple to travel there. And only one Australian agent specialising in adventure tourism and one Bornean agency, set up by the inhabitants of Sukau, will actually work with the homestays.

There is also a problem with the gap between the Malaysian city-dwellers who run the project and believe in comfort, and the western tourists, who want authenticity and adventure. Visitors who would like to play at being Indiana Jones find themselves put up in neat little houses where a television set takes pride of place in the living room. They can sit on the ground and eat with their hands; sometimes their mattress will be laid on the floor and, at night, wild pigs may forage among the stilts on which the houses are built. If they are lucky, the monkeys will put on a little show by stealing food from the kitchen, or elephants may show the tips of their trunks in the garden. But mostly it’s nothing like the image they have of life in the jungle — it’s a brave new world of washing machines, electric fans, mixers, karaoke machines, zinc roofs and cars.

The ecolodges are built of wood, close to the edge of the forest, and blend into the trees. They are some distance from villages, which limits the scope for commercial transactions between the tourists and the local population. The ecolodges’ skilful marketing and networks make them serious competitors for the homestays.

In 2008 the WWF encouraged five ecolodges to set up an association for environmental protection, by including an eco-tax in their charges. “The aim is to protect our investment,” said the association’s president. The jungle, the wildlife and the river are the ecolodges’ raw materials: without them, there would be no tourism. With the money raised through the tax, they intend to pay for security patrols, set up a common code of social and environmental best practices, and take part in local reforestation.

So even if the attempt at community development through ecotourism is founded on misunderstandings, it has involved a wider circle in the defence of the natural environment, by creating an economy that depends on it: everyone I met agreed that the banks of the Kinabatangan are better protected today than before the tourists arrived.

*Clotilde Luquiau is a geographer

(1) The names of people interviewed have been changed at their request.

(2) Heiko K L Schulze and Suriani Suratman, Villagers in Transition: Case Studies from Sabah, Sabah University of Malaysia, 1999.

The Sultan’s Daulat Is A Myth

August 27, 2012

The Sultan’s Daulat Is A Myth

by M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
(First of Three Parts)

Book Review: Ampun Tuanku. A Brief Guide to Constitutional Government. Zaid Ibrahim. ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2012. ISBN 9 789675 266263 256 pp.

As a youngster in 1960 I had secured for myself a commanding view high atop a coconut tree to watch the funeral procession of the first King, Tuanku Abdul Rahman. My smug demonstration of my perched position drew the attention of the village elders below. They were none too pleased and immediately ordered me down.

“Sultans have daulat,” they admonished, “you cannot be above them.” Apparently even dead sultans maintained their daulat. I did not dare challenge my elders as to what would happen once the king was buried; then we all would be above him.

To put things in perspective, this attribution of special or divine powers to rulers is not unique to Malay culture. The ancient Chinese Emperors too had their Tianming, Mandate from Heaven. That however, was not enough to protect them.

Even though it has deep roots in Malay society, this daulat thing is a myth. The Japanese, despite their own “Sun Goddess” tradition, had no difficulty disabusing Malay rajas and their subjects of this myth. The surprise was not how quickly the sultans lost their power and prestige, or how quickly they adapted to their new plebian status during the Japanese Occupation, rather how quickly the Malay masses accepted this new reality of their rajas being ordinary mortals sans daulat.

Only days before the Japanese landed, any Malay peasant who perchance made eye contact with his sultan, may Allah have mercy on him for the sultan certainly would not. When the Japanese took over, those rajas had to scramble with the other villagers for what few fish there were in the river and what scarce mushrooms they could scrape in the jungle. Nobody was bothered with or took heed of the daulat thing. So much for it being deeply entrenched in our culture!

To pursue my point, had the Malayan Union succeeded, our sultans today would have been all tanjak (ceremonial weapon) and desta (headgear); they would have as much status and power as the Sultan of Sulu. Across the Strait of Malacca, hitherto Malay sultans are now reduced to ordinary citizens. They and their society are none the worse for that.

Today’s slightly better educated Malay sultans and crown princes (there are no crown princesses, let it be noted) would like us to believe in yet another myth, this time based not on our culture but constitution. They believe that it provides them with that extra “something” beyond their being mere constitutional head.

This new myth, like all good fiction, has just a tinge of reality to it. The Reid Commission had envisaged the Conference of Rulers to be the third House of Parliament, after the elected House of Representatives and the appointed Senate. It would be a greatly reduced House of Lords as it were, to provide much-needed “final thought” to new legislations.

That assumption had considerable merit, at least in theory. As membership is hereditary, those rulers would be spared from having to pander to the masses as those elected Members of Parliament, or please their political patrons as with the senators. Additionally, this third house would be non-partisan.

An expression of this “Third House of Parliament” function is that all senior governmental including ministerial appointments have to be ratified by the Conference of Rulers. However, unlike the transparent deliberations of the “advice and consent” function of the United States Senates where senior appointees are subjected to open confirmation hearings, the proceedings of the Conference are secret. We know only those who have been accepted, not those rejected or why.

Zaid Ibrahim’s Ampun Tuanku. A Brief Guide to Constitutional Government addresses what should be in his view the proper role of sultans in the Malaysian brand of constitutional monarchy, specifically whether they have this “something extra” beyond what is explicitly stated in the constitution. As a lawyer Zaid is uniquely qualified to write on the matter. He is no ordinary lawyer, having once headed the country’s largest legal firm and served as the nation’s de facto Law Minister.

The title notwithstanding, this highly readable book is more persuasive than descriptive; more political science treatise, less legal brief. The expository flow is smooth, logical and highly convincing. It is refreshingly free of legal jargon or references to court cases that typically pollute commentaries by lawyers. To Zaid, the constitution does indeed grant Malay sultans that something extra, but not in their capacity as the titular head of the government, rather as their being head of Islam and defender of the faith.

Zaid explores the many wonderful opportunities possible as a consequence of this second function without having to invoke additional “special powers.” I will pursue his novel ideas and wonderful suggestions later. At 40 pages, his chapter on this issue (“The Rulers and Islamization”) is the longest, and deserves careful reading especially by the royal class. He puts forth many innovative ideas that if pursued would benefit not only Malays but also all Malaysians.

With active and enlightened engagement by the rulers and Agong, Islam would emancipate Malays just as it did the ancient Bedouins, and in the process enhance race relations. That would be a pleasant if somewhat radical departure from the current environment where Islam not only deeply polarizes Malays but also sows much interfaith and interracial distrust.

In all other aspects the sultans and Agong are bound by what is explicitly stated in the constitution. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, Zaid stresses, and our sultans and Agong must abide by the wishes of the rakyat as expressed through their elected representatives in the executive branch. If citizens have made their wishes clear through an election that they would prefer a certain party and individuals to lead them or certain legislations enacted, the sultan must abide by that decision regardless of where his personal sympathy lies.

In short, there are no penumbras of rights and privileges emanating from those hallowed clauses of our constitution. The matter is clear: Sultans are bound by the law. Sultans cannot claim a penumbra of power based on daulat or divine mandate, as the Sultan as well as the Raja Muda of Perak tried to argue recently. Daulat is fiction.

This principle is central and must be defended against any incursion or erosion. Zaid is rightly distressed, for example, when the Sultan of Trengganu (who was also the Agong at the time) prevailed in making his choice of Ahmad Said as Chief Minister when the citizens had explicitly elected the state UMNO leader Idris Jusoh.

This erosion was possible only because of the weak leadership of then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Similar incursion occurred in Perak, this time on a much more blatant and ugly level.

The situation in Perak is particularly instructive. Before becoming sultan, Raja Azlan Shah once served as the country’s Chief Justice. As Zaid reminds us in his book, in that capacity Raja Azlan clearly articulated that the powers of the Agong are well circumscribed by the constitution. As sultan however, he claimed his “special powers.” That was his justification for imposing his solution on the state’s political crisis during the post-2008 election crisis to favor the Barisan coalition.

Such palace incursions and our acquiescence undermine the very principle of our democracy. On a more practical level, if that proves to be the new norm, our chief and prime ministers would then be beholden to their Sultans and Agong, not the rakyat. Our ministers (menteris) would then revert to their role in feudal Malay society, as hired hands of the palace and not the people’s chief executive.

In a democracy, daulat (sovereignty) resides with the people, not the rajas. Our constitution is clear on that point, as Zaid repeatedly reminds us. We must constantly defend this principle lest it be eroded.

Next: Part Two:  Origin of the Daulat Myth

Galt, Gold, God and Mr. Ryan

August 27, 2012

Op-Ed Columnist

Ny Times–Paul Krugman

Galt, Gold, God and Mr Ryan

By Paul Krugman (08-23-12)

So far, most of the discussion of Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican nominee for Vice President, has focused on his budget proposals. But Mr. Ryan is a man of many ideas, which would ordinarily be a good thing.

In his case, however, most of those ideas appear to come from works of fiction, specifically Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.” For those who somehow missed it when growing up, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fantasy in which the world’s productive people — the “job creators,” if you like — withdraw their services from an ungrateful society.

The novel’s centerpiece is a 64-page speech by John Galt, the angry elite’s ringleader; even Friedrich Hayek admitted that he never made it through that part. Yet the book is a perennial favorite among adolescent boys. Most boys eventually outgrow it. Some, however, remain devotees for life.

And Mr. Ryan is one of those devotees. True, in recent years, he has tried to downplay his Randism, calling it an “urban legend.” It’s not hard to see why: Rand’s fervent atheism — not to mention her declaration that “abortion is a moral right” — isn’t what the G.O.P. base wants to hear.

But Mr. Ryan is being disingenuous. In 2005, he told the Atlas Society, which is devoted to promoting Rand’s ideas, that she inspired his political career: “If I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” He also declared that Rand’s work was required reading for his staff and interns.

And the Ryan fiscal program clearly reflects Randian notions. As I documented in my last column, Mr. Ryan’s reputation for being serious about the budget deficit is completely undeserved; his policies would actually increase the deficit. But he is deadly serious about cutting taxes on the rich and slashing aid to the poor, very much in line with Rand’s worship of the successful and contempt for “moochers.”

This last point is important. In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan (right) isn’t just looking for ways to save money.

He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, he declared, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

Somehow, I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.

But wait, there’s more: “Atlas Shrugged” apparently shaped Mr. Ryan’s views on monetary policy, views that he clings to despite having been repeatedly, completely wrong in his predictions.

In early 2011, Mr. Ryan, newly installed as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, a hard time over his expansionary policies. Rising commodity prices and long-term interest rates, he asserted, were harbingers of high inflation to come; “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens,” he intoned, “than debase its currency.”

Since then, inflation has remained quiescent while long-term rates have plunged — and the U.S. economy would surely be in much worse shape than it is if Mr. Bernanke had allowed himself to be bullied into monetary tightening. But Mr. Ryan seems undaunted in his monetary views. Why?

Well, it’s right there in that 2005 speech to the Atlas Society, in which he declared that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” when thinking about monetary policy. Who? Never mind. That speech (which clocks in at a mere 23 paragraphs) is a case of hard-money obsession gone ballistic. Not only does the character in question, a Galt sidekick, call for a return to the gold standard, he denounces the notion of paper money and demands a return to gold coins.

For the record, the U.S. currency supply has consisted overwhelmingly of paper money, not gold and silver coins, since the early 1800s. So if Mr. Ryan really thinks that Francisco d’Anconia had it right, he wants to turn the clock back not one but two centuries.

Does any of this matter? Well, if the Republican ticket wins, Mr. Ryan will surely be an influential force in the next administration — and bear in mind, too, that he would, as the cliché goes, be a heartbeat away from the presidency. So it should worry us that Mr. Ryan holds monetary views that would, if put into practice, go a long way toward recreating the Great Depression.

And, beyond that, consider the fact that Mr. Ryan is considered the modern G.O.P.’s big thinker. What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 24, 2012, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Galt, Gold And God.

Mahathir Mohamad and The Malay Rulers (1993)

August 27, 2012

Mahathir Mohamad and The Malay Rulers (1993)

by Karpal Singh (08-26-12)

Dr Mahathir Mohamad (left with Mukhriz) has challenged me to prove that he has made seditious comments against the royalty during the Parliamentary debates leading up to the 1993 constitutional amendments on the monarchs’ immunity.

It would have been better for Mahathir to have agreed to be subpoenaed as a witness in my trial. The court would be a better forum to expose Mahathir. However, as I have been challenged, I am prepared to pick up the cudgel.

In tabling the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, 1993 to set up the Special Court to take away the immunity from legal process of the King and the Rulers, Mahathir, uttered the following, among the many other, seditious remarks during a time when he had no Parliamentary immunity from being charged in court for making those remarks:

Jika Malaysia ingin menjadi sebuah negara yang mengamalkan Demokrasi Berparlimen dan Raja Berperlembagaan, kekebalan yang diberikan kepada Raja-Raja perlulah dihapuskan. [Tepuk]’ [Hansard 18 January, 1993, page 16]

“Sebenarnya ketiga-tiga Perdana Menteri dahulu, sebagai Penasihat kepada Raja-Raja, telahpun menegur Raja-Raja berkali-kali semasa mereka berkhidmat. Saya tahu teguran ini dibuat kerana perkara ini telah dilaporkan dalam Mesyuarat Jemaah Menteri dan juga Majlis Tertinggi UMNO berkali-kali.

“Allahyarham Tun Hussein Onn semasa menjadi Perdana Menteri pernah dalam ucapan bertulis di suatu Mesyuarat Majlis Raja-Raja, yang dihadiri hanya oleh Duli-Duli Yang Maha Mulia atau wakil-wakil mereka sahaja, menegur dengan kerasnya perbuatan Raja-Raja yang tidak harus dilakukan.

“Tetapi teguran ini tidak berkesan. Pekara-perkara yang disentuh terus dilakukan juga, bahkan ditingkatkan. Apa yang tidak pernah dibuat di zaman British dan pada tahun-tahun awalan Malaysia merdeka, dilakukan dengan semakin ketara da meluas.’ [Hansard, Jan 18, 1993, page 19]…

“Kerajaan memang mendengar dan menyedari akan pandangan dan kemarahan sebilangan rakyat yang mengetahui perbuatan Raja. Demikianlah kemarahan mereka sehingga ada, terutama di kalangan generasi muda, yang menganggap Sistem Beraja sudah ketinggalan zaman.

“Tetapi oleh kerana Akta Hasutan dan larangan terhadap mengkritik Raja, Raja tidak mendengar dan tidak percaya kepada Penasihat mereka apabila maklumat disampaikan berkenaan kegelisahan rakyat. Raja dan keluarga Diraja nampaknya berpendapat bahawa semua ini adalah ciptaan Penasihat-penasihat Raja untuk menakutkan Baginda atau untuk merebut hak Raja.

“Dalam keadaan ini, Raja bukan sahaja akan meneruskan amalan-amalan yang tidak disenangi atau disukai oleh rakyat tetapi juga akan melakukan perkara-perkara yang lebih dibenci oleh rakyat. Jika trend ini tidak disekat, perasaan rakyat terhadap Raja tentu akan meluap dan menjadi begitu buruk sehingga pada suatu masa nanti rakyat mungkin tidak lagi dapat membendung perasaan mereka. Perasaan yang diluahkan dalam surat-surat kepada akhbar sebenarnya sudah lama wujud.

“Dengan izin, Tuan Yang di-Pertua, saya ingin membaca petikan daripada satu rencana yang dihantarkan kepada akhbar The Straits Times pada 1946 oleh seorang tokoh Melayu yang terkemuka, apabila British mencadangkan penubuhan Malayan Union. Tokoh ini kemudian memegang jawatan yang tinggi dalam Kerajaan. Rencana in tidak disiarkan oleh akhbar Straits Times tetapi ia disampaikan kepada saya baru-baru ini oleh penulis.

“Penulis ini menyatakan, dengan izin ‘All intelligent Malay leaders ought now seriously to give most profound and careful thought to the question whether the time has not arrived when the Malay Royalty (I mean the Sultan and Raja) should gracefully withdraw themselves altogether.’

“Jika pandangan seperti ini sudah ada pada tahun 1946, apakah ia tidak mungkin wujud semula pada tahun 1993 [Tepuk] jika Raja-Raja tidak dihalang  daripada melakukan perbuatan-perbuatan yang tidak diingini?” [Hansard, 18 January, 1993, page 20-22]…

Sebelum ini terdapat banyak insiden dimana Raja menganiaya rakyat, Raja menyalahi undang-undang civil dan criminal, Raja menyalahgunakan wang serta harta Kerajaan dan Negara, Raja menekan dan menganiaya pegawai-pegawai’ [Hansard, Jan 18, 1993, page 26]

These are among the passages in Mahathir’s speech as reflected in the Hansard. The passages exude serious and often explosive instances of sedition to which the Attorney-General has chosen to give a blind eye.

I challenge Mahathir to come to court voluntarily at my trial and testify and justify what he uttered in Parliament on January 18, 1993. I hope he will not run away from this challenge.

India-Pakistan Relations: From Trade to Peace

August 27, 2012

India-Pakistan Relations: From Trade to Peace

by Dr Marie-Aimée Tourres

ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE: Recent developments give grounds for hope for India and Pakistan

LESS than two weeks ago, India and Pakistan were celebrating their independence from their common British rulers in 1947. It is also when the two respective territories started to exist independently.

Since the partition, relations between India and Pakistan have been fraught with three wars, tensions, shattered relations following the 2008 Mumbai attack and conflict (with the Kashmir, Sir Creek and Kargil issues standing out).

This resulted in a reduction of cross-border relations of people and goods. Historic trade routes connecting East Asia with Central Asia or bilateral routes such as Mumbai-Karachi and Lahore-Amritsar were closed. Numerous academic papers demonstrate that commercial interdependence leads states towards peace, and that economic interdependence is connected with a reduction of international tensions. Will India and Pakistan follow the textbook theory?

We would like to see, in the latest bilateral trade developments over the past few weeks, a positive step towards it.

On August 1, India formally confirmed what its Trade Minister announced earlier this year. India is overturning its ban on foreign direct investments from Pakistan in all sectors, with the exception of those linked to national security.

Additionally, trade must be supported by a proper finance network and mechanisms. As such, the central banks of India and Pakistan were fast to react and agreed on Aug 22 to allow two banks from each country to open branches in the other under a full banking licence.

The chosen banks are National Bank and United Bank Ltd of Pakistan, and State Bank of India and Bank of India. If this materialises, it is a keystone step. But maybe the other most notable aspect of this confidence-building set of measures is the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status, which Pakistan finally conceded to India, after its Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani had made a decision to grant this status in October last year.

China and India granted each other MFN status in August 1984. India gave MNF status to Pakistan 16 years ago, and has been forcefully demanding due reciprocity.

MFN is one of the instruments in use by the World Trade Organisation to prevent discriminatory treatment among member countries. It ensures that an importing country giving any type of concession to a third party country, will give it to all its other trading partners. Pakistan is thus bound to grant MFN status to all member countries, including India.

Officially, India-Pakistan bilateral trade amounts to US$2.7 billion (RM8.4 billion) but this is without counting black market trading and indirect routes like Dubai and Singapore for an estimated amount of US$3 billion. But if trade ties can be seen as a new arm in a peace process, this can only happen if it is a win-win situation. Is this the case?

India can now export 6,800 items to Pakistan. But India has now dropped its strong opposition to Pakistan asking WTO for special access concession to the EU market for its textiles (with export potential of more than 40 per cent).

This is a dual gain. What about the rest? Well, one shall not rush to an overwhelmingly positive conclusion. Caution is needed for a realistic assessment.

First, the trade issue remains relative. Neither India nor Pakistan falls in the category of the other’s top 10 trading partners, despite their consequent common border.

Even if there is no doubt these happenings are very encouraging and that joint ventures between the two neighbouring businessmen will be invaluable, many hurdles remain to be tackled for the trade big push. The devil is in the details. Non-trade barriers and sclerotic, heavy discretionary and unharmonised bureaucracy on both sides, the need for further ease of business visas and the existence of a quality control institution, are aspects which, if not addressed, will jeopardise the trade-peace process.

If Pakistan will benefit in some aspects, India will be the end-game winner as the situation stands now. Pakistan has lost a lot of its competitive advantages, largely self-inflicted. Many businesses have recently flown out for better pastures in Bangladesh; it is not sure these recent agreements will not make the bleeding worse. Some sort of capital controls may have to be envisaged.

Last but not least, we believe that tight trade foundations can bring regional peace (see the origin of the European Community) but in the case of these two countries, any unexpected fundamental political rupture in ties may immediately stop the process as history has proved. Yet, it is hoped that economic pragmatism is making its way into South Asia.

Dr Marie-Aimée Tourres  is a senior research fellow at Universiti Malaya

Message to Dato’ Seri Nazri Aziz: Section 114A should be repealed

August 27, 2012

Message to Dato’ Seri Nazri Aziz: Why Section 114A should be repealed

Question Time (08-23-12)
By P. Gunasegaram@

Continued opposition to this piece of legislation may yet result in it being taken off the statute books.

THE recent amendment to the Evidence Act with the insertion of Section 114(A) basically presumes that a person who is depicted in a publication as owner or administrator is presumed to have published the contents.

This effectively means that those named in publications are presumed guilty of any offending content that may be posted, including those on the Internet where there is no licensing and it is easy to use some other person’s name, photograph and details as the originator.

This presumption of guilt, requiring the accused to prove his innocence, instead of the prosecution having to prove his guilt, is a strange reversal of the rule of law when the entire justice system is based on the assumption of innocence unless guilt is proven.

It is stranger still coming in the wake of moves to liberalise draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act which provided for detention without trial, and the Universities and University Colleges Act which severely curtailed the rights of students to participate in the political process.

When there is such liberalisation taking place, it is strange that the Government should be setting the clock back by introducing legislation that goes clearly against the grain of justice.

Yes, the Internet space is a raucous one and lots of stuff are pasted and posted, and people, including many in the Government, the Cabinet and the Opposition, are regularly blasted for things that they may or may not have done.

But there are laws to deal with them such as the defamation laws. And some of the victims have sought recourse to these with visible success, which includes Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim.

Why, therefore, should a sledgehammer be given to prosecutors to bring a tonne of weight down indiscriminately on people who may not have committed the offence, but may have a tough time proving that they had not and may become involved in tangled knots with the law for a long time?

Conspiracy theorists, of whom a lot exist in this country due to the nature of the way things are, have immediately seen this as a move to limit criticism. That’s hardly a PR effort by the Government.

When the Centre for Independent Journalism organised an Internet blackout on August 14, it met with a tremendous response and many people just did not post anything on the Net during that particular day.

Such support must have had an effect on the decision of the Prime Minister to call upon the Cabinet to review its decision to pass the amendment to the relevant Act.

“Whatever we do we must put the people first,” the Prime Minister had tweeted, and who can disagree with that?

But unfortunately, the Cabinet stuck to its guns and backed its previous decision. Dr Rais said the Cabinet discussed it exhaustively and decided not to make any changes because Parliament was represented by the ruling party and the Opposition and had debated it.

“Once it is officially passed, to do something now is an afterthought,” he said.

Dr Rais added that the Law Minister would explain further. Later, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the controversial amendment would be explained further by the Attorney-General.

“If explained properly, I believe right-thinking people will know why the amendment was tabled in Parliament and approved. If there still are fears, laws can also be tweaked, amended and abolished, but don’t get emotional about it,” he said.

Those interested will wait for the Government explanation, although Dr Rais had already said that presumption of fact was nothing new in law and there was still room for accused persons to defend themselves.

The converse position is that such a law can be abused.Those who want to “fix” someone on the Net can post comments and claim that it came from that particular person. And that person will be tied up in knots trying to defend himself.

That is the main fear among Internet users and other publishers.Inordinate power is in the hands of prosecutors who now don’t have to prove who the real publishers are.

The question is why grant them these additional powers under the amendment when the entire Internet is subject to the laws of the country? The only difference is that there is no licensing of the Internet compared to conventional media such as print and broadcasting.

Thus, the new laws are seen as a move to bring the Internet under control more quickly than using existing laws, a move which the disinterested would oppose.

Policymakers may actually realise that. As seen by the quote from the Home Minister, if there is continued strong opposition to the amendment, it could be repealed.

Perhaps it may need another tweet from the Prime Minister to make that happen, and this time he will be at that Cabinet meeting. That should make a difference to what the Cabinet may think.

Book Review: ‘Diaries,’ by George Orwell

August 25, 2012

Books of The Times

Garden of Notes by Author of ‘Animal Farm’
‘Diaries,’ by George Orwell, Edited by Peter Davison

By Dwight Garner (08-16-12) NY Times: Orwell

My favorite biographical detail about George Orwell might be that, when he died from tuberculosis in 1950 at the age of 46, his favorite fishing poles were standing in the corner of his London hospital room. He hoped he’d be using them again, and soon.

The Orwell we’ve come to know, through his novels, essays and journalism, is penetrating and witty but also frequently terrifying and remote. In the public imagination he will always be the man who declared: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

Among the vivifying things about his “Diaries,” issued now in one volume for the first time, is how they restore some first-person flesh and blood to what can seem like his disembodied head. What’s more, they show Orwell to be nearly Jeffersonian in his combined passion for politics and for the natural world, not merely for fishing but also for the enlightened and fervent cultivation of vegetables, fruit trees, animals and flowers.

If a friend of yours reads these diaries and afterward declares, “My, what an Orwellian garden you have,” do not wrinkle your eyebrows. He or she has paid you a very serious compliment indeed.

Orwell was an intermittent diarist. He kept the 11 diaries reprinted here over the course of nearly two decades, from 1931, when he was in his late 20s, until his hospitalization shortly before his death in January 1950.

The first of these diaries covers his experiences, two years before publication of “Down and Out in Paris and London” (1933), picking hops with itinerant laborers in Kent. The second reports on his research for “The Road to Wigan Pier” (1937). Another takes him to Morocco. Three more cover his impressions of World War II and its beginnings.

Others report on the years when he repaired to a remote farmhouse on the Scottish island of Jura, an ill and broken man after the death of his wife, Eileen. There he fished, caught lobsters and wrote “1984,” his masterpiece. (Yet another diary, about his experience fighting in the Spanish Civil War — he took a bullet in the neck from the fascist side — was seized from Orwell and his wife and is believed to be in a secret police archive in Moscow.)

In these diaries he is lucid on the topics that obsessed him in nearly all his writing: politics, class, poverty, language. The Occupy movement will seize happily upon this line, from June 3, 1940, when Orwell responded in his diary to a letter in The Daily Telegraph lamenting that the rich would have to part with their cooks during the war: “Apparently nothing will ever teach these people that the other 99 percent of the population exist.”

But there are dozens of other lines worth seizing upon here, many of them about the degradation of language, and many of them comic. Reading the newspapers on Jan. 2, 1941, for example, Orwell made this observation: “The word ‘blitz’ now used everywhere to mean any kind of attack on anything. Cf. ‘strafe’ in the last war. ‘Blitz’ is not yet used as a verb, a development I am expecting.”

In his very next entry, a few weeks later, he wrote, without further comment: “The Daily Express has used ‘blitz’ as a verb.”

There are deft cameos. The critic Cyril Connolly appears long enough to view some of the German bombing of London in 1941 from a rooftop with Orwell, and to declare: “It’s the end of capitalism. It’s a judgment on us.”

A great deal of the writing in these diaries, however, is about the rough magic of serious gardening, which Orwell enthusiastically undertook in Morocco, in a cottage he rented with his wife in Wallington, outside of London, and on Jura.

I don’t want to imply that these gardening diaries are, on every page, bewitching. Many entries are like so: “11.4. 38: One egg. 11.5.38: One egg. 11.6. 38: Two eggs.” They are frequently terse, factual, telegrammatic.

This might be a good time to note that these diaries are probably not Orwell for beginners. His best prose is more concentrated in many other places. Even Christopher Hitchens, whose introduction to this book is said to be the last commissioned piece of writing he completed before his death in 2011, calls the diaries “occasionally laborious.”

Orwell rarely mentions his wife, their adopted son or any other human beings in these pages. He only very rarely refers to his books, or other writing projects, either. These diaries were like handwriting around the margins of his most important work. This handsome book does not, despite its publisher’s assertion on the dust flap, “amount to a volume as penetrating as the autobiography he would never write.”

About Orwell’s gardening and fishing and rabbit skinning and bird-watching, however, clearly not enough scholarly work has been done. We find him here tending to dozens of types of flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. He dilates on how best to hobble cows, to cook rabbits, to make charcoal, to preserve eggs and to tie lobster claws. On September 11, 1946, he wrote: “Made mustard spoon out of deer’s bone.”

There are drawings by Orwell in “Diaries” of lathes, plows, drills, scythes, fishing nets, stirrups and charcoal braziers. He cures pelts, shoots rabbits and makes apple jelly from windfall fruit. A not untypical entry (amusing from a man who composed the line “Four legs good, two legs bad” in “Animal Farm”) is: “Spent about two hours trying to get a cow out of a bog.”

Orwell’s labors take on a potent moral dimension. He hoped never to be what he once called a “food-crank.” He liked simple things. These diaries show him with his hands covered in fresh dirt, hard at work, in sync with the seasons, curious about everything under the sun, tending to what he needed and grateful for beauty as well as sustenance. They present a man in full.

A version of this review appeared in print on August 17, 2012, on page C25 of the New York edition with the headline: The Author Of ‘1984’ Shows An Agrarian Side.