King Ghaz and the Question of the “Sabah Claim”

March 30, 2013

King Ghaz and the Question of the “Sabah Claim”

Hamzahby Dato Hamzah Abdul Majid*

Fast forward to a morning in July 1962, I was reporting for duty at the Ministry of External Affairs (now Ministry of Foreign Affairs-Wisma Putra). The Ministry was located at the (then) Selangor State Secretariat Building (now Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad), directly opposite  the (Royal) Selangor Club.  It shared the  building with the Treasury and a few other government departments.

Meeting King Ghaz (The Boss) of Foreign Affairs and his Professionals

I reported to the Assistant Secretary (Administration) Encik Hanafiah Ahmad (later Chief of Tabung Haji and now Tan Sri). A slight gentleman with glasses, he was friendly and helpful. With all the formalities completed, Encik Hanafiah took me to YM Tengku Ngah Mohamed, the Deputy Secretary of Ministry.

Ghazali ShafieThe pipe smoking Tengku Ngah informed me that I would be assigned to the Ministry’s Political Division reporting to my immediate superior, Principal Assistant Secretary (Political Division) Raja Aznam Raja Ahmad (later Tan Sri), a well- educated Malay aristocrat with impeccable manners.

Raja Aznam briefed me on the role of the Ministry and its structure, Right at the top was the Prime Minister (Tengku Abdul Rahman) and concurrently  Minister of External Affairs. The top  Diplomatic Service Officer was the Permanent Secretary, Encik Muhammad Ghazali Shafie.

Raja Aznam took me to the Permanent Secretary’s Office where I was introduced to the redoubtable Matthew Josef, Personal Assistant to the Boss. Josef looked at me and said, “The Permanent Secretary is expecting you. Come in, he will see you now, Good Luck.

With that he took me into the Boss’ spacious wood-panel office. Directly in front of me were a set of sofa and 2 deep armchairs. To my left was a large somewhat semi-circular desk. Behind the desk was the Man himself. I recognised him at once. The same ear of a man that I met five years earlier in the Radio Malaya studio–in command, confident, even arrogant.

He then asked me if I knew that we had a diplomatic issue with Indonesia and the Philippines  over our intention to invite North Borneo and Sarawak  to form Malaysia. I told him only from I read in the newspapers. Again that glare. He snapped, “then, write me a brief summary of how you understand the situation…Get to work.”

Zainal Abidin Sulong and Jack de Silva

Raja Aznam introduced me to Zainal Abidin Sulong (later Tan Sri) who hadZainal_Abidin_Sulong just returned from a posting in the United Nations, New York. Zainal was an excellent office mate–well informed, calm, hardworking and with a sense of humour. He was always busy drafting. From time to time, the Boss would barge into the room and growl instructions to him.

Zainal (left)  would slowly stand up. listen patiently and, when the Boss left, quietly resume his work. He was widely liked and respected. His knowledge of the personalities involved in North Borneo, Sarawak, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia was encyclopedic, and the Boss depended heavily on him.  Next to the Boss, I would say Zainal was to play an exceedingly important role in the formation of Malaysia.

In the next room was Jack de Silva, a Catholic and strongly anti-Marxist. He  had served as First Secretary  in our High Commission in London. Articulate, gregarious, chain smoking, Jack was a hard driving officer with a mercurial temperament and a prolific drafter of documents and reports. I got my ‘sea legs’ in the ministry while sharing the small office with Zainal.

Tunku’s Singapore Statement on the Formation of Malaysia

On May 27, 1961, the Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had made a historic statement in Singapore proposing the formation of Malaysia. The (then) Federation of Malaya was intent on inviting British North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak to join in and from a new nation, Malaysia.

Initially, the Philippine government did not react. But after the election of Diosdado Macapagal as president in December 1961 the “Sabah Claim” emerged as a factor. It had been on the “back burner” for a while, as it was an issue only between the Philippine and British governments.

The  “Sabah Claim”

Now with the formation of Malaysia becoming reality, the clamour in the Philippine media grew stronger. The momentum built up quickly, and emotions morphed into policy.

MacapagalIndonesia, headed by President Sukarno regarded North Borneo and Sarawak as part of Indonesian Kalimantan and claimed to be the rightful heir when the British finally withdrew.

Thus Sukarno and Macapagal joined forces in opposition to the Tunku’s proposal. Macapagal (left) hoisted a Philippine “claim” on Sabah and Sukarno vowed to “ganyang” (crush) Malaysia.

Both Indonesia and the Philippines regarded the idea of Malaysia as a “Neo-colonialist plot”. They claimed that the British no longer had any moral authority to hold on to the two colonies and were using the concept of Malaysia to perpetuate their influence in the region.

The Boss  was the main figure in the gathering storm, helping PrimeTun Razak with Tunku Minister and his illustrious Deputy, Tun Abdul Razak, and tasked to design and implement a strategy to bring about the formation of Malaysia.

A team of competent and dedicated officers in the ministry was assigned to assist the Boss. They did a Herculean task of keeping in touch with events and developments in North Borneo and Sarawak, in the United Nations,in our neigbouring countries, and among our allies.  It was a small but effective and ably led team.

Sometime in April, 1963, the Boss told me that there would be a meeting of top diplomatic officials of Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines at the Padre Faura (the Philippine Foreign Ministry) in Manila. He would lead the Malaysian Delegation and I was to attend it as a member.

Bertie TallalaThe Boss said, “You can stay with Bertie (now Dato Albert Tallala). You know Bertie, don’t you? I think you both the same University (in Dublin). Bertie (left) had graduated the year before I joined.

On the morning of the meeting, the Boss, Ambassador Zaiton Ibrahim Ahmad, First Secretary Hashim Sam-Latiff were greeted by Pete Angora Aragon, Chief of Protocol at the Padre Faura and taken to the reception room where Philippine Undersecretary Salvador P. Lopez and the Indonesian First Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Suwito Kusumowidagdo were waiting. The three men greeted one another warmly. Lopez was the very epitome of Philippine charm and bonhomie and Dr Kusumo was all smiles. Each diplomat tried to project an air of earnest amity.

Right of Self Determination

This meeting was in every sense historic. It was the first time that the three adversary countries actually sat down at the official level to try to solve their problems diplomatically and avoid a military conflict. From the outset the Boss took the position that the two territories should not be viewed as pieces of real estate, devoid of human inhabitants, to be carved up and divided cynically by neighbouring countries.

There was need to ascertain the wishes of the people of the two territories, as appointed-members-cobbold-comm-Feb-1962was undertaken and reaffirmed by the Cobbold Commission in its Report dated August 1, 1962.

But both the Philippines and Indonesia did not accept the Cobbold Report as the last word on the wishes of the people of North Borneo and Sarawak.

Clearly, these officials could decide on the issue after several days of deliberations (April 9-17, 1963). It was finally agreed that the meeting would recommend to their respective governments that the Foreign Ministers of the three countries should meet early in May. They further agreed to recommend that the Foreign Ministers meeting should be followed by a meeting of the Heads of Government of the three countries.

Two more Tripartite meetings followed. One  was at the Foreign Ministers’ level on June 7-11, 1963, where our side was led by the Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak. The Philippine delegation was led by Vice President Emanuel Pelaez, Dr. Subandrio headed the Indonesian side. The Ministers reaffirmed in the Manila Accord (Clause 10) the principle of self-determination and “would welcome the formation of Malaysia provided support of people of the Borneo territories is ascertained by an independent and impartial authority, the Secretary-General of the United Nations or his representative”.

As quid pro, Malaysia “undertook to consult the Government of the Borneo territories with a view to inviting the Secretary-General of the United Nations or his representative to take the necessary  steps in order to ascertain the wishes of people of those territories.” (Clause 11).

Clause 12  reflected the long discussion on the issue of the Sabah claim and the subdued compromise that the Foreign Ministers “took note” of the Philippine claim to North Borneo and its rights to pursue it in accordance with international law and the peaceful settlement of  disputes. This was another fig leaf that we could live with, but it was  to lead to lingering tensions with the Philippines.

The successful June 7-11 Foreign Ministers meeting paved the way for the Summit Meeting of Malaya’s Tunku Abdul Rahman, Indonesia’s President Sukarno and Philippine President Macapagal which produced the Manila Declaration of August 5, 1963. The Heads of Government of Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines “welcomed” the formation of Malaysia.

Eventually, with the fall of Sukarno and with the installation of the New Order government led by General Suharto, Malaysia reached an amicable solution with Indonesia. However, normalisation of relations with the Philippines took longer as the issue of the Sabah claim lingered on. In fact, bilateral relations underwent some strains over the issue.

Malaysia will not enter into any further dialogue on the Question of the Claim

A defining bilateral meeting was held in Bangkok, Thailand on July 15, 1968. The Philippine delegation was led by Ambassador Guerrero, an aggressive diplomat who played hardball. The Malaysian delegation included the brilliant lawyer R.Ramani (who was also our Permanent Representative to the United Nations), Zainal Abidin Sulong and Zain Azraai.

This meeting did not start, nor did it end for that matter, too auspiciously.The Philippine delegation began with tactical moves to cause delays and with sweeping dicta and claims. It declared that its claim on Sabah was valid based on history and on its own security arrangements and made clear that it would not entertain any further clarifications sought by Malaysia.

The Boss rose to the occasion and demolished the Philippine claim with devastating logic and I quote:

“…Our questions indicated that we wished to challenge your basic assumption that the Sultan of Sulu had in fact sovereignty over the territory. his rights and powers over which he purported to convey to Dent and Overbeck in 1878. We did receive any precise answer from you on this question; and you were unable to point to anything in support of the Sultan’s claim to sovereignty, except to say in the vaguest terms that the Sultan of Brunei had ceded the territory to him, and you mentioned several dates when such cessation was understood to have taken place…

“We drew your attention to various authorities which cited different dates when the Sultan of Sulu acquired some rights and powers over the territory. Was it therefore in 1650, or was it in 1704, or was it about 1836, or near 1842, or was it 1878? You yourself gave several possible dates. It did not seem to occur to you that each particular date destroyed every other date and the fact of cession was, thereby, at the highest, left in doubt. Nor were you able to indicate the circumstances of his acquisition, whether rebellion in the territories of Brunei, a war of succession or an act of capitulation…

“We drew your attention to the documents of that time…Whether your case should not go no further than mere assertion of Sulu sovereignty…You are unable to do so, and we did not any intelligible answer from you as this, except that you had not heard of the Anglo-Philippine Talks in London in 1963…

“… in fighting subversion and terrorism Malaysia has the best record in this region…Malaysia has a good record of cooperation with Thailand and Indonesia on these matters. It is common knowledge that Malaysia and Thailand have a working arrangement on the Malaysian/Thai border…likewise along the Malaysian/Indonesian border.”

He concluded his long address with…

“Let me say this once again, Excellency. Do not pursue your claim to Sabah in order to satisfy these economic and security needs. These can only be fulfilled through cooperation with us. But your persistent pursuit of the claim will destroy that cooperation and therefore will not achieve for you the very things which you desire most for your economy and security…

“Therefore, let us maintain the good relations between our two countries and discuss our common needs. But at the same time let it be clearly understood that my Government will not enter into any further dialogue on the question of the Claim, or with that claim as its basis”.


*The above by Dato Hamzah Abdul Majid is an abridged and edited excerpt of his tribute titled King Ghaz: Personal Recollection, which appears in the National Archives publication titled King Ghaz: A Man of Time (2010) edited by Dato Seri Utama Dr. Rais Yatim.

I have chosen parts that deal with the Philippine Claim on Sabah. It is intended to provide a historical account of what happened during the period leading to the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Dato Hamzah was a member of the Malaysian foreign policy team led by (Tun) Muhammad Ghazali Shafie that dealt with the struggle to form Malaysia.

Filipino politicians are now apparently using the Lahad Datu Incursion as a pretext to revive  this issue  of the Sultan of Sulu’s claim on Sabah which is now a sovereign state in Malaysia. As far as Dato Hamzah and I are concerned, this matter should be put to rest in the interest of good relations between the Philippines and our country. Sabah belongs in Malaysia and the Philippines must learn to respect the wishes of the people of Sabah to be part of Malaysia.–Din Merican

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GE-13: Pakatan will take Putrajaya, 8 states

March 31, 2013

Pakatan will take Putrajaya, 8 states, says DAP’s Karpal

by Athi Shankar (03-30-13)

PRU-13Pakatan Rakyat will wrest control of Putrajaya and capture eight states in the forthcoming 13th general election, predicted a confident DAP supremo Karpal Singh.

Sensing a strong surge in public support, the DAP national chairman said Karpal SinghPakatan was on the right track to capture the federal government with a slight majority.Besides retaining its current four state governments, he said Pakatan should add Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Perlis and Perak to its list after the polls.

But he cautioned that Malaysians could always kick out Pakatan if they were dissatisfied with its deliverance.“I think Malaysians can expect a new government after the election. A change of government was long expected in the country anyway.

“In democracy, it’s the people, not political parties, who own the government. They can always vote out Pakatan after five years if we fail to perform,” he told reporters here.

Karpal also called on DAP members to stop speculating on the party candidates and their seats.He revealed that the four-man committee, established by the party central executive committee (CEC) to make final decisions on candidature, had not met.

christmas_santa_clausThe four-man committee consisted of Karpal and his party deputy Tan Kok Wai, secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Ipoh Timur MP Lim Kit Siang.

On his own constituency, Karpal hopes that the party would allow him to seek re-election in the Bukit Gelugor federal seat for the third time.He aslo hopes Bukit Gelugor constituents would vote him in to parliament again.

BN is speculated to field a lawyer Teh Beng Yeam from MCA while Parti Cinta Malaysiais is also expected to field a candidate in Bukit Gelugor, which encompasses Seri Delima, Air Itam and Paya Terubong state seats.

Formerly, Karpal was a three-term Bukit Gelugor assemblyman between 1978 and 1986. He was also a five-term Jelutong MP between 1978 and 1995 before losing in the 1999 general election.

Mahathir: Today’s Undergraduates are greedy ingrates

March 30, 2013

Mahathir: Today’s Undergraduates are greedy ingrates

by Bernama

The greedy attitude and complacency with the prosperity achieved by the country are making the present generation of undergraduates to be ungrateful for the facilities provided by the government to them, said former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today.

mahathirs-up-yoursHe voiced this concern as there were irresponsible groups who were exploiting the situation to influence the undergraduates to do negative things to go against the government.

“The government had been providing numerous facilities to the undergraduates from before. The previous undergraduates who had enjoyed the facilities had been very grateful but the present students are too comfortable and even look at these facilities as a normal thing that the government does for them. This drives them to be greedy for more facilities.

“The comfort and greed have made them blind to the financial limitation of the country in giving them the facilities in order to ensure that the country is managed properly. This is aggravated by the lies spread by certain groups who promise to give free education and many other things,” Dr Mahathir said.

He said this when delivering his keynote address in the programme “Together With Statesman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad” entitled “Undergraduates and Graduands Inheriting National Leadership” at Universiti Teknikal Malaysia, here.

Also present were his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam.

More than 10,000 undergraduates from public and private institutions of higher learning in the state participated in the programme.

Dr Mahathir said an undergraduate must be wise in evaluating what was good or bad based on the wisdom that they had instead of their emotion and desires.

In order to be an excellent leader, the undergraduate must learn to be close to their leaders and understand them. Meanwhile, when asked on the claim that certain groups tried to create chaos during the 13th general election, he said the opposition would try to create chaos so that the people would have doubts about the general election. — Bernama

Indecision over Date for GE-13

March 29, 2013

Root Cause of Uncertainty: Indecision over Date for GE-13

by Tricia Yeoh@

PRIME MINISTER Datuk Seri Najib Razak said this week that a weakNajib-razak-r government owed to a reduced parliamentary majority would mean instability and uncertainty, in a bid for greater support for his Barisan Nasional coalition.

Surely he ought to realise that it is the indecision over when the election itself will be held that has contributed to this situation of uncertainty. Such political risk could have been avoided by a straightforward announcement ahead of time of the election date instead of allowing this continued speculation for well over two years.

There is a wide range of opinion as to how the electoral outcome will affect national stability, in terms of both social and economic effects. For instance, Credit Suisse reported that foreign investors in Malaysia may do a good deal of selling ahead of the general election in light of such political risk.

According to the Wall Street Journal, foreigners hold around 25% of overall share capital in Malaysian banks, “the highest level since the global financial crisis”. Analysts such as MARC also predict that the ringgit will weaken over political developments relating to the election.

However, one must be careful not to equate the high political risk involved in an uncertain election outcome with that of instability due to a possible government change.

The adverse economic impact would come about mainly because this has never taken place before, and without any precedence, it is difficult for people to imagine being governed by any other political coalition.

A recent public forum organised by Institut Rakyat, Penang Institute and the Islamic Renaissance Front discussed this matter.

GE13Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the Opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, reminded the audience that a peaceful transition from one government to another would really reflect upon a mature democracy.

This is true, since if the system itself has in-built robust mechanisms to allow for a transfer of power, then there really is no need for fear – the kind of fear that incumbent governments are wont to drum into voters to have them cower under, all for the sake of prolonging their positions.

Titled “Economic Management during Political Transition”, it was a valuable opportunity to discuss what kind of economic policy would prevail should there be a change in government.

Malaysia’s institutions seem to be strong enough to withstand any major shocks. Indeed, the World Bank did say that Malaysia has a large capital market, strong institutions, sophisticated participants and high quality accounting practices. In short, the economy will not collapse should there be a change in government.

Panelists also spoke of experiences from other countries which had also gone through political transition.

One particularly interesting insight was from Professor Woo Wing Thye from Penang Institute, who showed how leaders in autocratic regimes would fail in their attempts at reforming their countries, as long as they were nominees of the previous government.

For example, this was one of the factors that allowed reform in China: Mao Zedong’s appointed successor Hua Guofeng failed, but Deng Xiaoping who deposed him succeeded.

Likewise, politicians in Malaysia should note that any reform must be led bywe-the-rakyat a leader who is not tarnished in any way by the acts or wrongs of its predecessor. Whichever coalition wins, the appointed Prime Minister would do well to remember this.

On a final note, it is no longer an excuse that because Malaysia follows the British parliamentary system, therefore the executive body can arbitrarily set the election date, which is the current custom.


The United Kingdom’s Parliament passed the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 that introduced fixed-term elections. According to this law, barring certain exceptions, polling day would occur on the first Thursday in May of the fifth year after the previous general election.

Parliament would automatically dissolve 17 working days before polling day.For the sake of certainty and stability, which the Prime Minister prides himself on ensuring, this may be a welcome step in the right direction.

In memory of the late Zainon Ahmad, or Pak ‘Non, who helped me believe in Malaysia.

A House is not a Home

March 29, 2013

A House is not a Home

by Elza Irdalynna

Go to Australia

By the time this article comes out, a close friend of mine will be getting ready to leave the country. Newlywed and pregnant, she will be joined by her entire family to migrate to Australia after obtaining their permanent resident status they applied for nearly a decade ago.

She isn’t the first of my friends to start their lives anew in another country, and she won’t be the last. And while they will be terribly missed, can we really blame them for choosing to leave?

Statistics keep showing an increase of Malaysians migrating with each passing year. The brain drain is a true problem in this country, as more and more of our creative and intellectual minds leave, never to return.Many factors come into play, but at the core of it all, they leave because this land has ceased to become their sanctuary.

In secondary school I wrote a play called “Anak Ikan Lemas di Laut” (Small Fry Drowning at Sea), about a girl struggling to understand and fit in the racial definition bestowed upon her.

This play was written as a direct response to another play I wrote, which did not win at the state level competition for drama as it was “not Malay enough”. Note that this was an English drama competition.

The champion was a play on Hang Tuah. Needless to say, the play mentioned above that questions culture and tradition and its irrelevance to the person she chooses to be, was deemed too controversial to be staged.

However, that feeling of being alien in your own home plagued me since I was a little girl, and it still does till this day. I’m sure many Malaysians experience this same crisis.

Being fluent in English is jeered upon. Forsaking archaic traditions and beliefs is considered immoral. Freedom of expression is either restricted or misunderstood.

Of course, no country is perfect. No government is without flaws and corruption. Yet why do so many choose to go over to the so-called greener patch of grass?

Perhaps it’s largely due to the people who run this country. The societal Mediocrityparents – and how detached we’ve grown from each other. A ruling party more interested in rebranding its name and increasing its number of voters, with no intention of fulfilling its promises as its slogan suggests.

Election is a game

Unlike the set dates for elections in many countries such as the United States, even Indonesia, Malaysia treats its elections like a game – up to the whims and fanies of the ruling government.

Like parents so caught up in chasing wealth, our rulers have abandoned us, and left little reason for true patriotism. The people who leave aren’t traitors to their nation. Instead, they are the ones who have been betrayed. Our rights are stripped, and any attempt at true justice is easily thwarted by new laws that clearly violate the constitution.

If anyone dares to question or challenge these biased laws, they would be threatened with imprisonment for “sedition”. The government doesn’t want  people who can think and stand up for what is right. It wants zombies. Throughout our lives, we are forced to fit ourselves in its definition of what our identities should be.

2 PMsRacial, economic, religious and educational gaps are enforced instead of bridged. Individualism is suppressed. Youths of today are told to be grateful and not question the authority.

They forget: it is the people who gave them that power. Instead of telling the people to serve the country, might I suggest the government start serving the people?

Most of all, this country lacks hope. No amount of 1Malaysia songs it repeats on the radio, or recitals of the Rukun Negara in school could instil faith in the country, when its blatant abuse of power is on display for all to see.

We are no longer blind. We are better informed and we are aware of the mainstream media being used as the government’s tools of propaganda.


Alternative and social media has exposed its trickery, and the people won’t stand for it any longer.That is why many leave. They’ve grown weary of the lies and deceit. They yearn for their rights to be protected, and their voices heard.

Perhaps the country they move to will not be far different from this. But treachery isn’t something they aren’t used to, and maybe it’s better to be betrayed by others, instead of your own countrymen.

Elza Irdalynna writes about art, love, and other things she pretends to understand. She is also an FMT columnist.

Mahbubani on “What is governance?”

March 29, 2013

Mahbubani on “What is governance?”

kishore-mahbubaniKishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”:

Francis Fukuyama has done the West an enormous favor with his essay on “What is governance?” He is subtly introducing a distinction between democracy and good governance, a distinction which is almost inconceivable in Western minds.

To put it bluntly, democracy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good governance. And, yes, it is possible to have good governance without democracy. Anyone who doubts this should look at the record of China’s government over the past thirty years. It is not perfect but it has lifted more people out of poverty, educated more people, increased their lifespans and generated the world’s largest middle class. No other society in human history has improved human welfare as much as the Chinese government. It would be insane to deny that China has enjoyed “good governance.”

The reason why Western minds cannot state this obvious fact is that they believe that good governance without democracy is as inconceivable as a semi-pregnant woman. Yet, as Fukuyama delicately argues in his essay, it is “more of a theory than an empirically demonstrated fact” that “the current orthodoxy in the development community” is right in believing that “democracy and good governance are mutually supportive.”

For the record, to avoid misunderstanding, let me emphasize that democracy is a desirable goal. I do not want to live in a non-democracy. This is why China too will eventually become a democracy, especially after it has developed the world’s largest middle class. The destination is not in doubt but the route and timing are.

This is why it is essential to draw a clear distinction between democracy and good governance and try to understand what good governance is.

Fukuyama’s essay introduces many key elements we have to pay attention to. These include: procedural measures, input measures, output measures and measures of bureaucratic autonomy. But these measures are not enough. They focus more on the methods of good governance than the results. To state the obvious, there is no point having the best processes in place if the results are bad. At the end of the day, the people want to know if they are better off.

Fukuyama asserts that “the quality of government is the result of an interaction between capacity and autonomy.” And on the next page he shows that Singapore stands highest on the axes of capacity and autonomy. Curiously, he does this without any explanation or reference to Singapore in his article.

Having worked in the Singapore civil service for 33 years, I believe that Singapore has done well because it scores high on capacity and on the culture of service. The Singapore civil service has performed brilliantly but it has not done so because it is the most autonomous. It has done so because it has imbibed a culture which focuses the minds of civil servants on improving the livelihood of Singaporeans.

Sadly, the Singapore success story has never been properly studied because most Western minds—with their usual black and white mindset—cannot conceive of “good governance” as an independent and desirable good. The greatest contribution that Fukuyama’s essay can make is to open the Western mind to new possibilities. And when the Western mind opens up, it will discover a treasure trove of examples of good governance, a treasure trove which has become even more relevant to the West given the travails that both the American and European governments are having in delivering even basic levels of good governance to their populations.

Kishore Mahbubani is Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.  His most recent book is The Great Convergence: Asia, the West and the Logic of One World (PublicAffairs, 2013).


What Is Governance?

by Francis Fukuyama

Article first published online: 3 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1111/gove.12035


This commentary points to the poor state of empirical measures of theFrancis Fukuyama quality of states, that is, executive branches and their bureaucracies. Much of the problem is conceptual, as there is very little agreement on what constitutes high-quality government.

The commentary suggests four approaches: (1) procedural measures, such as the Weberian criteria of bureaucratic modernity; (2) capacity measures, which include both resources and degree of professionalization; (3) output measures; and (4) measures of bureaucratic autonomy. It rejects output measures and suggests a two-dimensional framework of using capacity and autonomy as a measure of executive branch quality. This framework explains the conundrum of why low-income countries are advised to reduce bureaucratic autonomy while high-income ones seek to increase it.

This commentary is the beginning of an effort to better measure governance, which at this point will amount to nothing more than an elaboration of the issue’s complexity and the confused state of current discussions. Before we can measure good governance, however, we have to better conceptualize what it is.

The state, that is, the functioning of executive branches and their bureaucracies, has received relatively little attention in contemporary political science. Since the onset of the Third Wave of democratizations now more than a generation ago, the overwhelming emphasis in comparative politics has been on democracy, transitions to democracy, human rights, transitional justice, and the like.

Studies of nondemocratic countries focus on issues like authoritarian persistence, meaning that the focus still remains the question of democracy in the long run or democratic transition. In other words, everyone is interested in studying political institutions that limit or check power—democratic accountability and rule of law—but very few people pay attention to the institution that accumulates and uses power, the state.

The relative emphasis on checking institutions rather than power-deploying institutions is evident in the governance measures that have been developed in recent years. There are numerous measures of the quality of democracy like the Freedom House and Polity measures, as well as newer and very sophisticated ones like the Varieties of Democracy project led by Michael Coppedge, John Gerring, et al. We have fewer measures of Weberian bureaucracy—that is, the degree to which bureaucratic recruitment and promotion is merit based, functionally organized, based on technical qualifications, etc.

One of the only studies to attempt to do this was by Peter Evans and James Rauch back in 2000, but their sample was limited to 30 odd countries and produced no time-series data. The Varieties of Democracy project is also collecting data on bureaucratic quality based on expert surveys. Other bureaucratic quality measures include the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, which “focuses on how effectively policymakers facilitate and steer development and transformation processes,” and the proprietary Political Risk Service’s Group International Country Risk Guide.

Four of the six World Bank Institute’s Worldwide Governance Indicators purport to measure aspects of state capacity (government effectiveness, regulatory quality, political stability and absence of violence, and control of corruption), but these are aggregates of other existing measures and it is not clear how they map onto the Weberian categories. For example, does a good absence of violence score mean that there is effective policing? I suspect that there isn’t much by way of street crime or military coup attempts in North Korea. (These problems are also true of the Bank’s internal CPIA scores.)

Finally, Bo Rothstein’s Quality of Governance Institute in Gothenberg has developed a set of measures of quality of governance for 136 countries worldwide, as well as a more detailed survey of 172 regions within the European Union. It is based again on expert surveys focusing on the degree of a state’s impartiality, which Rothstein argues is a proxy for overall state quality.

The bias against thinking about state capacity is particularly strong among rational choice institutionalists. Most in this school begin with Mancur Olson’s assumption that states are predatory and that the chief aim of political development is the creation of institutions like rule of law and accountability that limit the state’s discretion. This school assumes that all states have the power to be predatory, and seldom raise the question of where state capacity comes from in the first place, or how it increases or decreases over time. Frankly, it would be very hard to develop a rational choice theory of state capacity, as capacity in any organization is so heavily influenced by norms, organizational culture, leadership, and other factors that do not easily fit into a model based on economic incentives.

In addition, there has been a large literature on public sector reform coming out of institutional economics, public administration, and from the communities of practice surrounding development agencies seeking to improve governance. The approaches favored by economists sought to conceptualize governance in a principal–agent framework, and have sought to control corruption and bad administration through manipulation of incentives.

Many of the new approaches under this framework sought to bring market-like incentives into the public sector through creation of exit options, competition, manipulation of wage scales, shortening of accountability routes, and better methods of monitoring and accountability. Many of the techniques of New Public Management was in some sense an outgrowth of these approaches, though their applicability to developing world contexts has been questioned (Grindle 2004; Heady 1991; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2004; Schick 1998; World Bank 2004).

The existing measures of state quality or capacity have a number of limitations. There is an inherent weakness in expert surveys, especially when trying to create time-series data. As the concept of good governance is not well established, different experts may intend different things when responding to the same survey question. For example, there is an important difference between clientelism and outright corruption; in the former there is true reciprocity between patron and client, whereas in the latter there is no obligation on the part of the corrupt official to give anything back.

The economic impact of corruption varies tremendously depending on whether the corruption “tax” is 10% or 50%, and the quality and nature of the services that clients get in return. In China, for example, corruption seems to be pervasive, but the tax rate is lower and the service provision rate much higher than in, say, sub-Saharan Africa. None of the existing corruption surveys are, as far as I know, able to make distinctions of this sort.

Bo Rothstein makes a number of persuasive arguments that impartiality ought to be the core measure of the quality of government. However, it would seem entirely possible that a state could be highly impartial and still lack the capacity and/or autonomy to effectively deliver services. Rothstein argues that impartiality implies the existence of sufficient capacity. This may be true, but it is something that needs to be empirically verified rather than simply asserted.

In addition, there are a number of Rule of Law measures that relate to bureaucratic quality, such as those published by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative and the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. Some Chinese scholars have tried to measure the spread of rule-based decision making by measuring the number of administrative cases filed against government agencies, as well as the percentage of such cases that are won by the plaintiffs.

The rule of law is defined differently by different scholars and can mean, alternatively, law and order, property rights and contract enforcement, observance of substantive Western norms of human rights, and constitutional constraints on the power of the executive (Kleinfeld 2006). Some scholars have distinguished between rule by law, in which the executive uses law and bureaucracy as an instrument of power, and rule of law, in which the executive is itself constrained by the same laws that apply to everyone else. In many respects rule by law overlaps with state quality, as we want states to operate by general, transparent, impartial, and predictable rules. Rule of law in the narrow sense of constitutional constraints on the executive, on the other hand, is closely associated with democracy.

The Prussian/German Rechtsstaat in the 19th century, Meiji Japan, and contemporary China were all authoritarian states that could be said to have rule by law but not rule of law. This means that certain aspects of rule of law would be useful as measures of state quality. On the other hand, many rule of law measures measure what is measurable rather than the underlying quality of law, so we would need to be careful in selecting them.


As a starting point, I am going to define governance as a government’s ability to make and enforce rules, and to deliver services, regardless of whether that government is democratic or not. I am more interested in what Michael Mann labels “infrastructural” rather than “despotic” power (Mann 1984). The reason I am excluding democratic accountability from the definition of governance is that we will later want to be able to theorize the relationship between governance and democracy.

The current orthodoxy in the development community is that democracy and good governance are mutually supportive. I would argue that this is more of a theory than an empirically demonstrated fact, and that we cannot empirically demonstrate the connection if we define one to include the other.

In this initial conceptualization, the quality of governance is different from the ends that governance is meant to fulfill. That is, governance is about the performance of agents in carrying out the wishes of principals, and not about the goals that principals set. The government is an organization that can do its functions better or worse; governance is thus about execution, or what has traditionally fallen within the domain of public administration, as opposed to politics or public policy.1 An authoritarian regime can be well governed, just as a democracy can be maladministered. (As we will see below, this distinction cannot always be maintained quite so neatly; principals can set self-undermining tasks for their agents.)

As Rothstein (2011) points out, it is not so easy to separate governance as implementation from the normative ends that government is meant to serve. It is not clear that a well-governed state is one that has ruthlessly efficient concentration camp guards as opposed to bribable ones. On the other hand, once one starts to introduce substantive ends as criteria for good government, it is hard to know where and when to stop. As Rothstein points out, the existing Worldwide Governance Indicators embed a number of normative policy preferences (e.g., less rather than more regulation) that color the final results. Would we want to argue that the U.S. military is a low-quality one because it does things we disapprove of, say, invading Iraq?

Rothstein argues that use of the criterion of impartiality solves this problem as it is both normative and embeds what most people understand by “good government.” However, for reasons I will elaborate below, I don’t think that impartiality by itself is a sufficient metric.2 I want to put the normative question to the side for the time being, however, particularly because I am interested in developing measures that will work for both authoritarian and democratic regimes.

Focusing on an extreme case like concentration camps should not distract us from the fact that there are many valence issues like provision of education, health, or public safety that are shared by virtually all governments, in which a more instrumental view of quality of governance will suffice.

If we accept this definition of the object we are trying to study, then there are at least four broad approaches to evaluating the quality of governance: procedural measures, input measures, output measures, and measures of bureaucratic autonomy.

Procedural Measures

The most classic effort to define governance in terms of procedures was Max Weber’s famous characterization of modern bureaucracy in Economy and Society (Weber 1978, 220–221). We continue to use the term “Weberian bureaucracy” as an ideal type to which we hope highly corrupt, neo-patrimonial states will eventually conform. It might be useful to review Weber’s conditions here:

  1. Bureaucrats are personally free and subject to authority only within a defined area.
  2. They are organized into a clearly defined hierarchy of offices.
  3. Each office has a defined sphere of competence.
  4. Offices are filled by free contractual relationship.
  5. Candidates are selected on basis of technical qualifications.
  6. Bureaucrats are remunerated by fixed salaries.
  7. The office is treated as the sole occupation of the incumbent.
  8. The office constitutes a career.
  9. There is a separation between ownership and management.
  10. Officials are subject to strict discipline and control.

Conditions 1–5 and 9 are probably at the core of what people think of when they talk about “modern bureaucracy”: They clearly delineate such an organization from the kinds of venal or patrimonial office that existed in Europe under the Old Regime, or that exist in contemporary neo-patrimonial developing countries today. However, characteristics 6, 7, 8, and 10 are more problematic. Condition 6, fixed salaries, is not compatible with the kinds of incentives often offered bureaucrats under New Public Management. Conditions 7 and 8 are not true of many mid-level officials in contemporary America, in both the public and private sectors.

One could say that the United States fails to live up to the Weberian ideal, but it does not seem likely that the quality of bureaucracy in the United States would improve if it were impossible for talented individuals from the private sector or the academy to serve in government for periods of time. And condition 10 is incompatible with civil service protection, which during the Progressive Era was seen as a hallmark of the modern bureaucracy that was replacing the patronage system.

More importantly, condition 10 suggests that bureaucrats are simply robotic agents whose only purpose is to do the bidding of principals. The idea of bureaucratic autonomy—the notion that bureaucrats themselves can shape goals and define tasks independently of the wishes of the principals—is not possible under the Weberian definition.

Nonetheless, certain procedural measures would remain at the core of any measure of quality of governance. One would want to know whether bureaucrats are recruited and promoted on the basis of merit or political patronage, what level of technical expertise they are required to possess, and the overall level of formality in bureaucratic procedure.

Capacity Measures

The problem with all procedural definitions of bureaucracy is that the procedures, however defined, may not actually correlate with the positive outcomes expected from governments. We assume that a Weberian bureaucracy will produce better services than one that is highly discretionary and patrimonial, yet there may be circumstances where the latter’s lack of rules result in faster and better tailored responses.

Enforcement power is not part of Weber’s definition; it is possible to have an impersonal, merit-based bureaucracy that nonetheless is extremely poor at getting things done. To say that a bureaucrat is selected on the basis of “merit” does not define merit, nor does it explain whether the official’s skills will be renewed in light of changing conditions or technology.

The most commonly used measure of capacity is extractive capacity, measured in terms of tax extraction. Tax extraction measures capacity in two ways: First, it takes capacity, however generated, in order to extract taxes; second, successful tax extraction provides resources that enable the government to operate in other domains. Tax extraction rates can be measured both by the percentage of taxes to gross domestic product, as well as by the nature of taxation—that is, whether it is based on income or wealth, or indirect taxation (as income and wealth taxes are much more difficult to extract than indirect taxes).

While tax extraction is a reasonable starting point for measuring capacity, it has several important limitations:

  1. There is a difference between extractive potential and actual extraction rates. Actual tax rates are set not just by extractive potential, but by policy choices regarding the optimal rate and types of taxation.3 The United States proved it had the potential to extract significantly higher levels of taxes during the two World Wars, because it had an overriding national interest in doing so. The peacetime level reflects normative preferences for the optimal size of government, which may vary between countries of identical potential capacity.4
  2. A given level of taxation does not necessarily translate into the efficient use of tax revenues. Revenues can be wasted on poor administration, unproductive transfers, or outright corruption. Bureaucratic outputs are the result not just of resource inputs, but of things like organizational culture. Judith Tendler has written about a poor and underresourced state in Northeast Brazil that nonetheless achieved very good governance outcomes (Tendler 1997).5
  3. For many countries, government revenues are based on resource rents or international transfers rather than domestic taxation. In many countries such rents and transfers constitute the vast majority of government revenues. One could argue that if taxation is going to be used as a measure of state capacity, then resource rents ought to be excluded.

Tax extraction rates are hardly the only possible measures of state capacity. States perform a whole variety of functions, any one of which can be used as a proxy for state capacity as a whole. Taxation is a useful proxy for general capacity because it is a necessary function of all states, and one for which considerable data exist. In an ongoing doctoral research, Melissa Lee and Nan Zhang have suggested using the capacity to generate accurate census data as an alternative proxy for capacity, as population registration is a very basic state function.

Beyond taxation, another critical measure of capacity is the level of education and professionalization of government officials. Central banks in the early 21st century across the developing world are incomparably better run than they were in the lead-up to the debt crises of the 1980s in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, due in part to the significantly higher degree of professionalism in their staffing. A key aspect of state building in the United States during the Progressive Era was the replacement of incompetent political patronage appointees with university-trained agronomists, engineers, and economists.

A focus on the degree of professionalization of the bureaucracy partially solves the problem of how to measure levels of corruption, a measure that is not dependent on expert or perception surveys. All professional education (with the possible exception of business schools) embeds a strong normative element in which service to one’s profession and broader public goals is paramount. A doctor, for example, is supposed to act primarily in the interests of the patient rather than seeking first to maximize his or her individual benefit. Of course, all professionals are also selfish individuals who can act in a corrupt manner. But in modern organizations we trust highly educated professionals with a much higher degree of discretion because we assume or hope that they will be guided by internal norms in cases where their behavior cannot be monitored from the outside.

As state capacity varies substantially across functions, levels of government, and regions, one would ideally want capacity measures for all major government agencies. In Brazil, for example, it has been widely recognized that certain “islands of excellence” exist within the Brazilian state that would be missed by an aggregate measure. Thus, an article by Katherine Bersch, Sergio Praça, and Matthew Taylor develops capacity measures across more than 300 different Brazilian federal agencies (Bersch, Praça, and Taylor 2012).

Obviously, this kind of data does not exist for many countries, and even in Brazil the authors do not have similar statistics for capacity at the state, local, and municipal levels where a great deal of governance happens. For evaluating a country like China, it would be very important to generate this type of disaggregated data, as there is a widely held perception that the quality of governance varies enormously across the different levels and functions of government.

As a kind of compromise between an unachievable ideal of fully disaggregated capacity data and a limited aggregate measure, it might be possible to specify a subset of government functions on which data should be collected. This could be a set of functions theoretically performed by all governments (e.g., macroeconomic policy management, basic law and order, primary and secondary education, population registration), or it could incorporate data on how expansive the functions performed are (e.g., giving extra credit if a government is able to, say, regulate pharmaceuticals).

Output Measures

Good procedures and strong capacity are not ends in themselves. We want governments to do things like provide schooling and public health, public security, and national defense. This suggests an alternative measure of government quality, a measure of final output. One could look at literacy, primary and secondary education test scores, or various measures of health to get some idea as to how governments are performing.

Attractive as output measures sound, there are several big and, in my view, decisive drawbacks to their use. First and most important, outputs like health or education are not simply the consequences of public action; the public sector interacts with the environment around it and the society it is dealing with to produce results. For example, the Coleman Report on U.S. education in the 1960s showed that educational outcomes depended much more strongly on factors like friends and family of students than they did on public sector inputs to education (Coleman 1966).

Joel Migdal’s model of weak states and strong societies suggests that a government’s ability to penetrate or regulate a society depends on the ratio of two factors, state capacity and the self-organization of the underlying society. Two states could have equal regulatory capacity but unequal regulatory outcomes because the society in one is far better organized to resist state penetration than the other (Migdal 1988).

A second problem is that measuring output is itself problematic methodologically. Public sectors produce primarily services, which can be notoriously hard to measure. For example, standardized test scores, a common way of evaluating educational outcomes, have long been under attack as poor measures of education, and for creating incentives to “teach to the test.” Measures of rule of law, like time to trial, rate of case clearances, etc., say nothing about the quality of the justice being produced by a legal system.

Finally, outcome measures cannot be so easily divorced from procedural and normative measures. A police state may succeed in controlling street crime by massively arresting and torturing suspects, yet most believers in liberal democracy would accept a higher degree of crime in exchange for procedural protections of individual rights. Even if one is morally neutral about whether torture is justified as a police method, one would want to know whether it is employed routinely in evaluating a government.

My own sense is that the problem of the tainting of output measures by exogenous factors means that they should not be used as state quality measures in the first place. One could employ a variety of econometric techniques to control for these exogenous factors, but that entails another layer of complexity and problems. In fact, it might be better to leave output as a dependent variable to be explained by state quality, rather than being a measure of capacity in itself. If output is not a valid measure of state quality, it implies that we also cannot generate useful measures of government efficiency as a measure of state quality, as the latter represents a ratio of state inputs to outcomes.

Bureaucratic Autonomy

A final measure of the quality of government is the degree of bureaucratic autonomy possessed by the different components of the state. Samuel Huntington makes autonomy one of his four criteria of institutionalization; highly institutionalized political systems have bureaucracies with high autonomy. The opposite of autonomy in Huntington’s terminology is subordination (Huntington 2006).6

Autonomy, properly speaking, refers to the manner in which the political principal issues mandates to the bureaucrats who act as its agent. No bureaucracy has the authority to define its own mandates, regardless of whether the regime is democratic or authoritarian. But there are a wide variety of ways in which mandates can be issued. Ideally, the principal should set a broad mandate to the agent, for example, procurement of an advanced strike fighter. But the principal can also issue many other mandates as well regarding the way in which to carry out the broad mandate, such as purchasing a strike fighter using contractors that increase employment in Congressional districts X and Y, or through minority and women-owned businesses, or to achieve Z degree of performance desired by a rival service. In other cases the principal can issue mandates regarding the bureaucracy’s recruitment and promotion of personnel, requiring that they hire certain individuals, or else setting detailed rules for personnel management.

Political principals often issue frequently overlapping and sometimes downright contradictory mandates. Indeed, there can be multiple principals in many political systems, that is, political authorities with equal legitimacy able to issue potentially contradictory mandates. State-owned utilities, for example, often have mandates to simultaneously do cost recovery, universal service to the poor, and efficient pricing to business clients, each promoted by a different part of the political system.

These different mandates obviously cannot be simultaneously achieved, and generate bureaucratic dysfunctionality. Amtrak could become a profitable and efficient railway if it were not under Congressional mandates to serve various low-volume rural communities. In China there are often duplicate functional agencies, one reporting through a chain of command that goes through national ministries, the other reporting to municipal or provincial governments; it is not always clear how conflicts between them are to be resolved.

Autonomy therefore is inversely related to the number and nature of the mandates issued by the principal. The fewer and more general the mandates, the greater autonomy the bureaucracy possesses. A completely autonomous bureaucracy gets no mandates at all but sets its own goals independently of the political principal. Conversely, a nonautonomous or subordinated bureaucracy is micromanaged by the principal, which establishes detailed rules that the agent must follow.

An appropriate degree of bureaucratic autonomy does not mean that bureaucrats should be isolated from their societies or make decisions at odds with citizen demands. Indeed, if the general mandate is to provide high-quality services in health or education, the bureaucracy would need considerable feedback and criticism from the citizens that it is trying to serve. It also does not exclude extensive collaboration with private sector or civil society organizations in service delivery. Indeed, an appropriately autonomous bureaucracy should be able to make judgment calls as to when and where to engage in such collaborations.

It would seem that the relationship between autonomy and quality of government would look like an inverted U (see Figure 1). At one extreme, that of complete subordination, the bureaucracy has no room for discretion or independent judgment, and is completely bound by detailed rules set by the political principal. At the other end of the x-axis, that of complete autonomy, governance outcomes would also be very bad, because the bureaucracy has escaped all political control and sets not just internal procedures but its goals as well. This is basically the idea contained in Peter Evans’ concept of “embedded autonomy”: Bureaucrats need to be shielded from certain influences of social actors, but also subordinate to the society with regard to larger goals (Evans 1995).

Figure 1. Bureaucratic Autonomy and Quality of Government


There are myriad examples of excessive subordination leading to poor performance. One of the worst forms is when bureaucracies lose control over internal recruitment and promotion to the political authorities and are staffed entirely by political appointees. This is in effect what happens in clientelistic political systems. But even in the absence of clientelism, bureaucracies can be excessively slow moving and indecisive because they are excessively rule bound. However, the curve in Figure 1 slopes downward at the left end of the x-axis, which represents full autonomy.

Both Imperial Germany and Japan in the periods before World War I and World War II, respectively, suffered from this problem. Both countries had developed very high quality, autonomous bureaucracies, particularly their military services, which then took over from the political authorities the task of formulating foreign policy.

The inflection point of the curve in Figure 1 is shifted to the right, however, due to a general recognition that the dangers of excessive micromanagement are greater than those posed by excessive autonomy. A high degree of autonomy is what permits innovation, experimentation, and risk taking in a bureaucracy.

In Daniel Carpenter’s The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy, both the Post Office and the U.S. Forest Service are portrayed as high-quality autonomous bureaucracies during the Progressive Era precisely because they innovated and devised agendas not strictly spelled out by Congress (Carpenter 2001). This same insight is embedded in the evolution of the U.S. Army’s basic field manual for combined arms operations, FM 100-5.

In rethinking combined arms doctrine in light of the Vietnam War, the drafters of the manual shifted emphasis from centralized command and control to more flexible Mission Orders under which the commander only set broad goals, and devolved implementation to the lowest possible echelon of the command structure. The latter were in other words agents who were permitted a high degree of autonomy, which included toleration of failure if they sought to innovate or experiment.7 More broadly, one could argue that modern private sector organizations have evolved over time away from rigid “Taylorite” hierarchies reflecting strict Weberian criteria to more flexible, flatter organizations that delegate far more authority to lower levels of the organization.

If an appropriate degree of bureaucratic autonomy is an important characteristic of high-quality government, then neither the Weberian nor the principal–agent models can stand intact as frameworks for understanding how bureaucracies ought to work. The Weberian model, as noted earlier, assumes that bureaucrats are essentially rule-bound implementers of decisions made by political authorities; they may have technical capacity but they do not have the authority to set agendas independently.

The principal–agent framework is inadequate as well because it, too, assumes that agents are simply tools of the principals, whereas in a good bureaucracy authority often flows in the reverse direction, from the agent to the principal (the latter point, basic in an older tradition of public administration, is made by Herbert Simon; Simon 1957).

How do we measure bureaucratic autonomy? I believe that this is one of the most central and difficult issues in constructing a good measure of government quality. The most common approach is to use expert surveys in which experts are asked to evaluate the autonomy of a given bureaucracy. Expert surveys are particularly problematic in this area because the very concept of autonomy has been poorly specified, and it is not clear exactly what it is that experts are being asked to judge. Do they have adequate criteria for judging what proper and improper mandates are, or to look for multiple or conflicting mandates as a measure of subordination?

It would be nice therefore to have a more objective measure of autonomy. As autonomy is the opposite of subordination, one could use the degree of clientelism or political interference in bureaucratic operations as a measure. One could look, for example, at the relative number of classified versus political positions in a bureaucracy. However, this gets at only one type of subordination related to personnel. Political principals can hamstring bureaucracies by issuing multiple contradictory mandates that have nothing to do with staffing, or by setting excessively detailed rules for bureaucratic behavior.

Capacity and Autonomy

It would seem to be the case that the quality of government is the result of an interaction between capacity and autonomy. That is, more or less autonomy can be a good or bad thing depending on how much underlying capacity a bureaucracy has. If an agency were full of incompetent, self-dealing political appointees, one would want to limit their discretion and subject them to clear rules. The assertion embedded in Figure 1 that the optimal amount of autonomy is shifted to the right is true only in high-capacity countries. In very low capacity countries, the opposite would be the case: One would want to circumscribe the behavior of government officials with more rather than fewer rules because one could not trust them to exercise good judgment or refrain from corrupt behavior.

This is why Robert Klitgaard coined the formula Corruption = Discretion − Accountability (Klitgaard 1988). This is also why development agencies have been advising poor countries to limit bureaucratic discretion in recent years. On the other hand, if the same agency were full of professionals with graduate degrees from internationally recognized schools, one would not just feel safer granting them considerable autonomy, but would actually want to reduce rule boundedness in hopes of encouraging innovative behavior.

Figure 2 illustrates how the optimal autonomy curves would differ for four hypothetical countries of differing levels of capacity. For each, the curve slopes downward at the extremes, because every bureaucracy can have too much or too little autonomy. But the lower-capacity countries have their inflection points shifted to the left, while they are shifted right for higher-capacity countries.

Figure 2. Optimal Levels of Autonomy for Differing Levels of Capacity


One can control the behavior of an agent either through explicit formal rules and incentives or through informal norms and habits. Of the two, the latter involves substantially lower transaction costs. Many professionals are basically self-regulated, due to the fact that (1) it is hard for people outside their profession to judge the quality of their work and (2) part of their education, as noted previously, consists of socialization to certain professional norms that seek to preclude certain types of self-seeking behavior. The higher the capacity of a bureaucracy, then, the more autonomy one would want to grant them. In judging the quality of government, therefore, we would want to know about both the capacity and the autonomy of the bureaucrats.

One would want, in other words, to be able to empirically locate the agency on the matrix shown in Figure 3. The line sloping downward and to the left represents the line drawn through the inflection points of Figure 2, representing optimal levels of autonomy for a given level of capacity. Bureaucracies that were to the left of the line would be hobbled by excessive rules; those to the right of it with excessive discretion.

For the past decade, international donors have been advising developing countries to decrease the amount of discretion in the behavior of their bureaucracies. From Figure 3 it would appear that this is only contingently good advice; in a high-capacity state, one would like to have more rather than less discretion.

Figure 3. Autonomy and Capacity


The framework in Figure 3 suggests that there are two quite separate approaches to public sector reform. One always wants to move up the y-axis to higher capacity, particularly with regard to the professionalism of the public service. This, however, is not something that can be done easily, and it is not something that can in any case be accomplished in a short period of time. If a country cannot significantly upgrade capacity in the short run, one would want to shift the degree of autonomy toward the sloping line. This would mean moving toward the left in a low-capacity country, and toward the right in a high-capacity country.

Figure 4 contains some hypothesized positions, aggregated across the whole government, for different countries, and suggests that while Nigeria and China need to move left, the United States needs to move right. However, China needs to end up at a point with significantly more autonomy than Nigeria because of its much higher capacity.

Figure 4. Reform Paths


Trying to locate India on this matrix demonstrates some of the complexities of this analysis. India is famous both for high levels of corruption and clientelism, and for simultaneously having excessive rules and bureaucratic red tape. India clearly needs much greater state capacity across the board. But does it need more or less autonomy? The answer to the latter question is probably both, dependent on specific context.

Given the recent scandal, the agency handling spectrum auctions needs to be subjected to much stricter rules; on the other hand, the Hyderabad Municipal Water Authority needs to be relieved of its multiple and conflicting political mandates if it is to function properly. This then suggests why devising single aggregated measures for quality of governance can be inadequate and misleading.


It is clear that in evaluating the quality of governance in large, complex countries like China or the United States, the existing quantitative measures are woefully inadequate. If we are to establish desiderata for better ones, we would have to answer the following questions:

  • If we are to use procedural measures of government quality, which on Weber’s list do we want to keep?
  • For how many countries could we collect disaggregated capacity data?
  • If we cannot collect a full set of capacity measures, what are the best proxies for aggregate capacity? Beyond tax extraction levels, can we come up with measures of bureaucratic professionalization?
  • How do we distinguish between actual and potential capacity, with regard to a commonly used measure like tax extraction?
  • How, exactly, are we going to define bureaucratic autonomy, and what measures are available as proxies for it?
  • How important is it to have quantitative measures at all, as opposed to qualitative descriptions of process, or else case studies of particular areas of governance?

This commentary does not pretend to answer these questions, but only to serve as a basis for discussion. As we cannot measure what we cannot adequately conceptualize, we have to start with the concept first. I have laid out two separate dimensions of governance, capacity and autonomy, and suggested some of the components that make them up. Capacity, in particular, consists of both resources and the degree of professionalization of bureaucratic staff. I have further posited that quality of governance is ultimately a function of the interaction of capacity and autonomy, and that either one independently will be inadequate as a measure of government quality. Finally, I have also suggested that states need to be disaggregated into their component parts, by function, region, and level of government, and that we need both capacity and autonomy measures for all of these components. Obviously, this volume of data does not exist for most countries, and may not exist for any country. How much could be generated? It might be useful to start with a large, relatively data-rich country like the United States, and see how far we could get.


This commentary has been extensively revised based on presentations and discussions generated by the Governance Project at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. I would like to also thank the reviewers at the Center for Global Development for their comments.


  1. 1

    This distinction was made in Woodrow Wilson’s famous article (Wilson 1887). It is also made in Max Weber’s equally famous essay, “Politics as a Vocation” (Weber 1946).

  2. 2

    One would have to say that a concentration camp guard who executed everyone he was ordered to kill was more impartial than one who played favorites or spared certain individuals in return for bribes or sexual favors. This points to the difference between impartiality of policies compared to the impartiality of the way in which policies are executed.

  3. 3

    Mancur Olson and others in the rational choice tradition argue that states are predatory and that all states will seek to tax at a maximal rate, subject only to limitations on capacity, and the time discount rates of the sovereign. There is, however, considerable historical evidence that this is not true, and that states have deliberately taxed well below their theoretical capacities for a variety of reasons (Fukuyama 2011, 303–305; Olson 1993).

  4. 4

    Marcus Kurtz in his forthcoming book on the state in Latin America makes use of this distinction (Kurtz 2013).

  5. 5

    On the general importance of organizational culture, see DiIulio (1994) and Wilson (1989).

  6. 6

    One could use the term “accountability” as the antonym for autonomy; however, accountability has certain normative implications that subordination does not.

  7. 7

    This field manual was based on the operational doctrine that had been developed by the German army from the end of World War I through the beginning of World War II; Mission Orders are an American version of Aufstragstaktik (Fukuyama and Shulsky 1997).


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  • Mann, Michael. 1984. “The Autonomous Power of the State: Its Origins, Mechanisms, and Results.” European Journal of Sociology 25 (2): 185–213.
  • Migdal, Joel S. 1988. Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Olson, Mancur. 1993. “Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development.” American Political Science Review 87 (9): 567–576.
  • Pollitt, Christopher, and Geert Bouckaert. 2004. Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Rothstein, Bo. 2011. The Quality of Government: Corruption, Social Trust, and Inequality in International Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Schick, Allen. 1998. “Why Most Developing Countries Should Not Try New Zealand Reforms.” World Bank Research Observer 13 (8): 123–131.
  • Simon, Herbert. 1957. Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization. New York: Free Press.
  • Tendler, Judith. 1997. Good Government in the Tropics. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Weber, Max. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
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  • Wilson, James Q. 1989. Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It. New York: Basic Books.
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  • World Bank. 2004. World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Appendix: Appendix: The Inadequacy of Existing Measures of China’s Quality of Government

If we accept the fact that quality of government is a mixture capacity and autonomy, and that governments are themselves complex collections of organizations, then it becomes clear that existing measures of governance are highly inadequate. The Worldwide Governance Indicators produced by the World Bank Institute (Kaufmann and Kraay 2009), as well as finer-grained measures like Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, treat single sovereign nations as the unit of analysis. Yet it is obvious that the quality of governance varies enormously within countries, both by specific government function and by region. Moreover, one cannot look at governance problems at one level only; many occur because of interactions between levels of governments. A poor national government can reduce the performance of a good local one, and vice versa.

The problem of single country indicators is evident when we consider something like Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. The 2011 index lists China as the 75th most corrupt country in the world. It does a bit better than Brazil and Tunisia (both #73), it tied with Romania, and it is just slightly better than Gambia and El Salvador. Yet this number is virtually meaningless because it does not take account of the diversity of outcomes within China. It is widely believed in China, for example, that local governments there are much more corrupt than higher-level ones. We do not in fact know whether this is true or not. Corruption varies not just by level of government, but by region and by function; the railroad ministry is very different from, say, the Central Bank.

There is also something very strange about the Worldwide Governance Indicators rankings of China (see Table A1).

Table A1. China’s 2010 Performance, Worldwide Governance Indicators (Scores Range from −2.5 [Weak] to 2.5 [Strong])
Category Score Percentile
Voice and accountability −1.6 5
Political stability/no violence −0.77 24
Government effectiveness 0.12 60
Regulatory quality −0.23 45
Rule of law −0.35 44
Control of corruption −0.60 33

China’s low rankings for Voice and Accountability and Rule of Law are not surprising, given that no one argues either of these are China’s strong suit. The other four measures relate to what we are defining as governance. While both the score and ranking for government effectiveness are higher than for any other measure, China still places only in the 60th percentile. But what possible meaning can such a figure have?

Clearly many local Chinese government authorities have huge problems; on the other hand, others perform far better. In my purely subjective estimation, the effectiveness of China’s national government with regard to macroeconomic management of a hugely complex modernization process over the past three decades has been nothing short of miraculous, given the fact that China was not just managing an existing set of institutions, but also transforming them in a more market-friendly direction. Its performance since the Asian financial crisis has arguably been better than that of the United States, which nonetheless ranks in the 90th percentile.

In terms of the three categories above, what do existing measures of governance measure? In the case of the WBI Worldwide Governance Measures (WWGM), it is hard to say, because they are an aggregate of many other measures. Many of them are perception surveys or expert estimates, which often reflect output measures, but may also include evaluations of procedures and capacity. It is not clear whether any of the WWGM components explicitly seek to measure bureaucratic autonomy.

Presumably categories like Political Stability/Control of Violence are exclusively output measures (where China’s low 24th percentile ranking seems a bit bizarre). The Rule of Law measure has big problems, beginning with the lack of definition of what is being measured. If rule of law is defined as constraints on the executive, China should rank even lower than it does as there are no real legal constraints on the behavior of the Chinese Communist Party.

If on the other hand this category means something more like rule by law (which would make it a component of governance), the ranking should be considerably higher. Most Rule of Law measures tend to be related to procedures or capacity rather than output, because the output of a legal system is so hard to measure. But we actually have no idea what the Chinese numbers actually mean or purport to measure.


  • Francis Fukuyama is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. Dr. Fukuyama has written widely on issues relating to democratization and international political economy. His book, The End of History and the Last Man, was published by Free Press in 1992. His most recent book, The Origins of Political Order, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2011. Other books include America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, and Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap between Latin America and the United States.

The Election Guessing Game: Najib needs Divine Help

March 28, 2013

The Election Guessing Game: Najib needs Divine Help

by Jeswan Kaur@

A nation’s election is a litmus test that reveals the aptitude of politicians; but for Malaysia, elections have become a ground for politicians to make false promises, cheat and engage in corrupt acts.


Not only that, Malaysia might just be the one and only nation where politicians treat elections like a circus, hopping onto different bandwagons as and when timing dictates.It is also in Malaysia that politicians dastardly underestimate the rakyat, treating voters at their whims and fancies.

Najib needs divine helpAnd after 55 years of independence, leaders of this beautiful country continue to disrespect the 28 million Malaysians as is being done by the current unelected Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who is busy keeping them in the dark about the status  of the 13th general election.

Despite repeated calls for Najib to declare a date when the next general election will take place, he remains indifferent and irresponsible towards the rakyat, contradicting his claim of having the rakyat’s best interest at heart.

Judging by the Premier’s refusal to announce the election date, there is little reason for the rakyat to be convinced that the leader who keeps proclaiming that “people first” is worthy of their trust.

The election guessing game is wearing everyone out but Najib continues with his nonchalant stance.Even the call by political analysts that Najib should follow the move by his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard to declare elections earlier has fallen on deaf ears.

Either arrogance or desperation seems to be Najib’s current preoccupation, so much so that he has forgotten his duties and accountability towards the rakyat when it involves the nation’s fate.

Rakyat must make the right choice

The election hide-and-seek that Najib is taking pleasure in must teach the rakyat a lesson – that there is little the people can expect from a politician who continues to belittle their anticipation of the coming general election.

Two months ago Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah hit the nail on the head when he remarked that waiting for the announcement of the 13th general election is “unfair for all parties” and is a “lesson that must be learned by all”.

“An ideal situation is the US system where it (election date) is stated in the datuk saifuddin abdullahConstitution. Everyone has no choice but to follow the date.In the Malaysian context, it is too late for GE13 but we may be able to do something for GE14. It is bad for investors, tiring for politicians, and unfair for the rakyat if the wait is too long.Our system and Australia’s is almost the same. The date for election is not fixed by the constitution but by the government. In this case, Gillard announced it early and we should follow suit,” Saifuddin had said.

Two months later and Najib continues to play Russian roulette in determining the country’s well-being.

Najib, BN lacking confidence

Using its position as the Federal government, the Barisan Nasional coalition continues to yield the upper hand by delaying the general election date; Malaysia serves as a classic example where the BN government witholds information on when the elections will be held.

The never-ending guessing game being played by the Najib leadership in sharing the election date with the voters is also a sign of the BN administration’s faltering confidence in facing the coming general election, slated to be its most challenging thus far.

Speak OutBN’s lack of confidence is not the rakyat’s concern – what bothers the people is that the continued delays in announcing the election date will only cause them hardship when it comes to applying for leave to vote or serve as election monitors to ensure the elections are held in a free and fair manner.

In this respect, Najib who is also BN chief is on a wicked ‘mischief’ when with each passing day he refuses to disclose the election date; it is his desperate tactic to deny the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance ample time and opportunity to do their homework in preparing for and facing the 13th general election.

At the BN supreme council meeting which Najib chaired in January this year, the Premier had said that the distribution of seats among BN component parties and the list of candidates for the 13th general election had almost been finalised.

But on the pretext of buying more time, Najib claimed that the selection needed further scrutiny to make sure the candidates were of the right choice, not just from the aspect of capability but acceptance in the constituency they would be contesting.

“We will decide and make the announcement. There are some views that we need to discuss but have not made any decision yet.

Asked then of the possibility that Parliament would be dissolved simultaneously with the Johor state assembly on March 21, this was what Najib had to say:

“We will know when the time comes. We are still guessing, never mind go ahead and guess. I like this guessing game.”

While the rakyat keeps wondering when the 13th general election will finally take place, Najib continues to shift gears in placating the people, trying all means possible to “buy” their trust.

Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.

Who is the Enemy?: Certainly not us Malaysians

March 28, 2013

Who is the Enemy?: Certainly not us Malaysians

Kua Kia Soongby Dr. Kua Kia Soong@

COMMENT: As the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, GDAMS 3.0 (April 15, 2013) approaches, it is time for Malaysians to ask: Who are Malaysia’s enemies and what appropriate weaponry do we need?

One would think this is the first question the Ministry of Defence should ask in the multi-billion decisions to procure armaments now that the arms merchants are here again for LIMA 2013. Yet our National Defence Policy has never even been properly debated in Parliament.

Just a few months ago, the Ministry of Defence would not have said that Malaysia’s enemies were among the Suluks who have been coming back and forth between Southern Philippines and Sabah all these years.

After all, hadn’t we helped to train MNLF fighters there against Marcos in hishammuddin-hussein-in-lahad-datu-300x225the seventies? Wasn’t this the reason why the Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein(right) said that the invaders at Lahad Datu were “neither militants nor terrorists” during the two or three weeks that they were already there?

And haven’t we got a “Rapid Deployment Force” (10 Paratrooper Brigade) ready to be dispatched to any flashpoint? One wonders what flashpoint scenarios they are trained for?  Are they ready to be deployed only when there are secessionists fighting to take East Malaysia out of the federation? They certainly hadn’t been prepared for the Sulu Sultan’s army to “turn”.

Don’t be surprised if the “defence analysts” in the Ministry have now shredded all their previous analyses about Malaysia’s perceived “enemies”. With the new-found enemies of the Malaysian state, the arms lobby has at last found a raison detre for their fabulous arms procurements.

Heck, didn’t we finally get the chance to use our F18 fighter bombers and Hawk 208 fighter jets against this so-called “rag-tag army”? Wouldn’t armoured cars and tanks and mortars have sufficed in that four square kilometer area of land against that motley crew? In the end, were Malaysians given a clear picture of the efficacy of those fighter jet sorties?

Whatever the reasons for sending in the fighter bombers and jets, the international arms merchants have now come to town to peddle their wares. The French have started advertising their ‘Rafale’ fighter jets in our mainstream newspapers, alongside bargains by ‘Giant’ and ‘Tesco’ for the attention of Malaysians.

BAE-Systems-Typhoon-_fast air

BAE are also desperately trying to flog their ‘Typhoon’ jet fighters in a RM10 billion deal they hope to clinch with a “Buy 1 – Get 1 free” gambit. They lost out recently to the French when the Indian government opted to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets instead, and are still fuming.

But do we need any fighter jets at all, considering their cost is spiraling way out of control and they so quickly become obsolete? They will be even more obsolete when future air wars are fought using drones (Unarmed Aerial Vehicles)!

Malaysians should be aware that the latest (US) F35 fighter jets cost at least half a billion ringgit a piece? Can we keep up with the race? What race? Who are we racing against? Who are our enemies?

Appropriate vessels for RMN

When the bombardment finally began at Lahad Datu, it was mentioned that the navy had formed a cordon to prevent the intruders from getting away. It became clear that there has never been a cordon to prevent any intruders from getting INTO Sabah all these years.

malaysia military navy teluk sepanggar naval base sabah 030908 02Looking at the geography of the area, it is evident that our two submarines (costing more than RM7 billion) sitting pretty in Sepanggar Bay and our six New Generation Patrol Vessels (costing RM9 billion) were not the most suitable vessels in such circumstances.

This mismatch raises the question of the need for our navy to prioritise the deployment of appropriate alternative vessels.  As part of the RM5 billion arms deal signed between Dr Mahathir and Margaret Thatcher in 1989, we procured two corvettes built by the Yarrow shipbuilders costing RM2.2 billion. (NST, Novembe 11, 1991).

At the time, the Royal Malaysian Navy said they required sixteen offshore patrol vessels but due to financial constraints, the RMN could only afford four or five of these locally-built OPVs. Mindef had budgeted RM85 million per OPV. (NST, November 25,1991).

Najib-Op DaulatNow, in the light of the latest incident at Lahad Datu, Malaysians will be in a better position to see the appropriate vessels that would be more suitable to secure the Sabah coastline.

Before the Lahad Datu incident, the main “enemies” testing the capacity of our armed forces were the pirates in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

There were no bigger “enemies” than those seafaring marauders. Are state-of-the-art fighter jets and submarines the appropriate defence equipment against pirates? These would likewise be inappropriate if “international terrorists” and suicide bombers choose to target Malaysia.

So, exactly how are decisions made in the Ministry of Defence to purchase the submarines, the corvettes, the frigates (costing billions) instead of more effective patrol boats to guard our coastlines?

ASEAN needs to take ZOPFAN more seriously

There is no end if we choose to embark on an arms race with our neighbouring countries. We simply cannot afford such an arms race and it is time ASEAN countries seriously talk about disarmament and joint defence agreements instead of an arms race within ASEAN.

pulau batu putih pulau batu puteh 230508Our economic priorities need to be diverted away from military production toward production for human needs, and public expenditure diverted to more and better social services throughout ASEAN.

Any disputes over territories should be settled through international arbitration as was done over Pulau Batu Putih with Singapore. The dispute of the Spratly Islands should be resolved the same way.

M’sian people not the enemy

The Lahad Datu incident should act as a wake-up call for the Malaysian government that seems preoccupied with treating its own people as the enemy. When we bear in mind that throughout the tenure of the Internal Security Act since 1960, more than 10,000 people had been incarcerated for being “threats to national security”.

But hardly any have been charged for any crimes involving violence against Tian Chuathe state. Then again, there have been at least two cases of Malaysians who have been killed in neighbouring countries for alleged terrorist activities. Yet, none of them were ever arrested under the ISA!

This goes to show that our intelligence service has been focusing on the wrong suspects. As a former ISA detainee who was incarcerated for being a “threat to national security”, I can vouch for the wanton wastage of security personnel on Malaysians who are simply not “enemies of the state”.

When I think of the number of state operatives who had been spying on me, arresting me, guarding me, interrogating me, accompanying me on family and hospital visits, I immediately wonder how they could be better deployed to prevent crimes being committed and watching out for the real enemies of the state.  And when we multiply the cost 10,000 times since 1960, we will realize the enormous waste of human resources that could be better put to use!

It was recently reported in the New York Times (March 13, 2013) that Malaysia is among 25 countries using off-the-shelf spyware to keep tabs on citizens by secretly grabbing images off computer screens, recording video chats, turning on cameras and microphones, and logging keystrokes:

“Rather than catching kidnappers and drug dealers, it looks more likely that it is being used for politically motivated surveillance,” security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire was quoted by NYT as saying.  This is what I mean when I say our intelligence service is not focused on the job but wasting valuable resources spying on and apprehending the good guys!

Indeed, if the Malaysian state had only focused on the job of catching the real criminals, Malaysia would be a much safer place instead of being the “nation of guarded communities” it has become today.

Militarism serves ruling class

Zahid at LIMA2013Apart from the huge commissions that can be creamed from multibillion ringgit arms contracts, the ruling class requires militarism to contain the oppressed and disgruntled sections of the population.

A strong military is necessary to prop up the ruling class. At the same time, the military-industrial complex promotes the development of a specially favoured group of companies engaged in the manufacture and sale of munitions and military equipment for personal gain and profit. These armaments companies have a direct interest in the maximum expansion of military production.

Arms production is a green issue

Military spending and arms production are very much green issues. The military- industrial complex not only produces toxic products, they produce weapons that kill indiscriminately. LIMA and other defence fairs are certainly not congruent with Malaysian leaders’ stated commitment to peace and spiritual values.

The green movement has a responsibility to work toward an end to the culture of war. This involves re-ordering our financial priorities away from wasteful and destructive arms production and procurement to the social well-being of the people.

Ultimately, working towards a culture of peace is a vision that is only attainable in a society that respects human dignity, social justice, democracy and human rights.

Chinese Navy makes waves in South China Sea

March 28, 2013

Chinese Navy makes waves in South China Sea

by Calum MacLeod and Oren Dorell, USA TODAY 6:49p.m. EDT March 27, 2013

BEIJING – The appearance of a Chinese navy flotilla at an island chain 1,120 miles from its home shores is a clear sign that the new Communist regime is moving to enforce its claims to the entire South China Sea, experts said Wednesday.

James Shaol

James Shoal is 50 miles from the coast of Malaysia, one of several countries that have appealed to the United States for help in countering China’s aggressive attempt to seize 1 million square miles of fishing and energy resources.

The Chinese military drills in the southernmost part of the sea show that the Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot,” which the White House said will refocus U.S. defense assets from the Middle East to East Asia, has produced few results for countries such as the Philippines and Japan, says Michael Auslin, an East Asia specialist at the American Enterprise Institute.

“We’re losing credibility with our allies and friends by not getting involved,” he says. “China has interpreted U.S. inaction as a green light to go forward.”

Chinese Navy Ships

The flotilla includes China’s most advanced amphibious landing ship. Sailors on the ship’s helicopter deck declared their loyalty to the ruling Communist Party and vowed to “struggle arduously to realize the dream of a powerful nation,” said Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency.

In 2010, China planted a monument on the shoal declaring it the Chinese territory of “Zengmu Reef.” The act was part of China’s claims to all islands, fishing grounds and energy resources in a sea shared also by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. The South China Sea is also a major transit route for global shipping; half of all cargo in the world passes through the sea.

Malaysia says China’s claims are bogus and merely an attempt to seize resources such as possible oil and gas deposits that are well within the internationally recognized coastal territory of Malaysia.

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Northeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group, a non-profit working in conflict prevention, said the naval exercise is consistent with China’s “shift from a land-focused power to a maritime power.”

The strategy has been pushed over the past two years, during which China has grown more assertive over its maritime claims, she said.

Gary Li, a senior analyst with IHS Fairplay in London, described the flotilla mission “a surprisingly strong message” from the new Chinese leadership recently installed under President Xi Jinping.

“It is not just a few ships here and there, but a crack amphibious landing ship carrying marines and hovercraft and backed by some of the best escort ships in the fleet,” he told the South China Morning Post, adding that jet fighters had also been used to cover the task force.

“We’ve never seen anything like this that far south in terms of quantity or quality.”

Auslin said the United States should respond in its longstanding role of ensuring the sea is not controlled by any single nation. He said the White House should increase the frequency of U.S. warship formations in the area to show China “we’re going to be present.” It would also boost the confidence of allies that the U.S. is standing up to challenges from their mighty neighbor, he said.

The White House has said it wants all sides to settle their disputes peacefully through international legal structures. But in light of Chinese behavior that many in the region view as aggressive, that sends a message that the United States will not confront China, Auslin says.

China’s behavior could undermine 100 years of U.S. policy that “might makes right” cannot prevail in sea lanes open to all, Auslin said.

“Do we want to see that environment change to where relations between countries are determined by the strongest? That’s the 19th century world,” he said.

MacLeod reported from Beijing; Dorell from McLean, Va.

In Politics, irresolution is a dead end.

March 28, 2013

In Politics, irresolution is a dead end.

by Terence Netto@

COMMENT: Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak must be mulling the thought that with allies like Dr Mahathir Mohamad he does not need adversaries.

Mahathir again

Almost daily, the retired former Prime Minister has something to say about current affairs, not all of it benign to the interests of the incumbent Prime Mime . Few believed that when he retired in October 2003, after 22 years as Prime Minister, Mahathir would go gently into the good night of political retirement and memoir writing.

Still fewer expected that he would continue to stalk the political arena, spewing darts from his blowgun. After all, he was an advanced septuagenarian when he retired, an age that’s not exactly hospitable to a post-race lap. Further, he disclaimed any interest in a Lee Kuan Yew-like minister mentor role.

But just like General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz’s observation that war is the continuation of politics by other means, so too Mahathir’s retirement from prime ministerial office is the resumption of political leadership from vantages other than the bully pulpit.

Dr M and Badawi-Handing OverFrom the sidelines, Mahathir exerted his influence, especially when matters on successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s watch were not going according to his taste. When and if they did, he was loud in remonstrance, even to the extent of threatening to quit UMNO.

One is reminded of Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s sally that Mahathir was more useful to the opposition if he was still a member of Umno than if he were out, which was what the ex-PM threatened to do at one stage of his harassment of the hapless Abdullah.

In high dudgeon over Abdullah’s leadership, Mahathir at one stage threw in his resignation from UMNO but was mollified by Najib enough to have it rescinded.

Noose tightening

Just now, Najib must be feeling rueful about that exercise in pacification of Mahathir because it has brought him no dividends. From the start of his premiership four years ago, Najib has bent over backwards not to offend the supposed retiree, all in the euphoric hope that he won’t court the fate of his predecessor Abdullah who had to run the gauntlet of Mahathir’s carping criticisms until he caved in to the pressure.

With the latest comments by Mahathir that the PM would have to2 PMs relinquish his position as UMNO President if he but wins GE13 narrowly, Najib must have felt the noose tightening around his neck.

True, Mahathir is no respecter of the proprieties governing intramural political conversation – he only abides by the rules when it suits him – still, his reminder to Najib that the latter is dangling by a shriveling thread must be considered unhelpful, what with Najib facing a tight general election.

Talk of confidence-building measures, this is like telling a friend who faces the prospect of being hung in a few weeks’ time that you have withdrawn your support for the abolition of capital punishment.

Najib has misjudged Mahathir’s character which is the epitome of Charles de Gaulle’s dictum that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies; there are only permanent interests.

Mukhriz MahathirFor GE13, Mahathir’s interest lies in a Najib victory that is narrower than Abdullah’s was at GE12. That way, Najib will be challenged for the UMNO presidency – Mahathir would prefer he vacates it as Abdullah did – by current deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, whose elevation would pave the way for Mahathir’s son, Mukhriz, to rise in the party hierarchy.

Mahathir has taken care to deny any interest in the prospects for upward mobility of Muhyiddin, but that is a denial that is more for the sake of form than for actual content.

Seen as weak and ineffectual

When Mahathir retired in October 2003, he exerted pressure from behind the scenes on successor Abdullah to name Najib as the deputy which Abdullah was reluctant to do, preferring to leave the selection to an elective assembly of UMNO that he intended to convene only after seeking his own mandate at a general election.

But Mahathir, to forestall a possible Abdullah preference for Muhyiddin over Najib, forced the PM’s hand and had Najib named as deputy PM in January 2004.

Two months later, in March 2004, Abdullah won an overwhelming endorsement at GE11, a victory that would have made his preference of a deputy, subtly conveyed of course, irresistible to UMNO delegates at the subsequent elective assembly of the party.

Mahathir’s leadership preferences chop and change, but his interests – self more than party-centred – remain permanent. That these are now running counter to Najib’s best interests is clear.

Najib-razak-rMahathir’s comment yesterday that, if he were PM, he would have called the election last year is the sort of smart talk on hindsight that is disdained as cheap by incumbents and retirees alike from high office, especially when they belong in the same side of the political divide.

The comment only serves to emphasise Najib’s ineptness in deferring the election to the point that it shows he is scared stiff of the probable results. His disinclination to offend Mahathir and his dithering over when to call the general election has shown him up as weak and ineffectual.

They have brought him no benefits, underscoring the point that in politics, irresolution is a dead end.

Kulim’s Pak Kadiaq comments on Election Uncertainty

March 28, 2013

Kulim’s Pak Kadiaq comments on Election Uncertainty

by Anisah Shukry@

kadir sheikh fadhir

Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir (above) says over the past year, the country has lost out on billions ringgit worth of investment and people-oriented projects because of polls uncertainty.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s delay in announcing the general election has frightened off investors, distracted leaders from public service, and lost the country revenue worth billions in ringgit, a former UMNO veteran said.

Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, who quit UMNO in 2012 after being a member of the party for 56 years, told FMT in an exclusive interview that Najib was making a big mistake in not declaring the polls date in the last year and a half.

“Because of this uncertainty created, for the last one year… I heard a lot of investors who wanted to come to the country started postponing things until they are sure of the election results,” said Abdul Kadir, who is also Executive Chairman of property development group Sazean Holdings Sdn Bhd.

“Billions and billions of investments that could have come into the economy was held back because of the uncertainty created.”

The Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia (Ikatan) founder said that in addition to declining investments, the rakyat were also losing out on government projects because of the uncertainty.

“The politicians… have been doing nothing but politicking for the last one year or so and government’s money is being spent not on… projects which are really a priority, for the benefit of the people, but on projects that benefit them politically. Political projects, so to say,” said Abdul Kadir.

The political veteran, who contested and won in elections from 1978, 1982, 1986 and 2004 for the Kulim-Bandar Baharu seat, noted that this was the longest yet period of uncertainty prior to a general election.

“I think it is very sad, I think the country has lost a lot because of this uncertainty created by the postponement of the election.So I think Najib might as well use this opportunity, since we are coming to the end of the parliament’s term on April 28, he might as well… let it be dissolved by itself on April 28 and have elections in two weeks or so.

Introduce fixed terms

Abdul Kadir also stressed that Najib should take advantage of his “political transformation programme” to change the laws and allow for a fixed-term government to avoid future delays and uncertainty in the polls date.

“Every five years, go for elections, so every government elected is sure it has five years. But of course, give some flexibility, choose the right date, say, for example, three months before the end of that five [year] term,” he suggested.

“So there is certainty there… so every party can really know that the elections are going to be within this [certain] period, and they can make all their preparations, including the government.”

He added that it was “unwise” for the government to be allowed to call for elections any time it wished as this would not benefit the rakyat, the country, nor its economy.

“As you can see, everybody is politicking day and night, nothing else. No one is concentrating on how to develop the country and economy. Even though we have Lahad Datu… our mind is still on the elections,” he said, referring to the armed incursion in Sabah by the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army.


Ambiga responds to The Star’s “Political Pundit”

March 28, 2013

Ambiga responds to The Star’s “Political Pundit”: Four Reasons? What Crap is that, Mr Ampu Wong

by RK Anand@

Ambiga-FMTThe BERSIH chief dismisses the four reasons given by the Star’s group editor-in-chief for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s delay in dissolving Parliament.

In a comment piece published on the front-page of the Star today, the MCA-owned daily’s group Editor-in-Chief Wong Chun Wai stated four reasons for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s feet-dragging on the dissolution of Parliament.

However, BERSIH co-chairperson S Ambiga is not convinced with the four “good” reasons, which were:

  • A caretaker government cannot enter into agreements at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (Lima).
  • Finishing touches to some projects and programmes.
  • Barisan Nasional’s candidates’ list not finalised.
  • Impossible at the moment for politicians to campaign freely in Lahad Datu.

Commenting on the first reason cited, Ambiga told FMT that it is not a licence to dig into the public coffers to embark on a spending spree.

“LIMA contracts were all foreseeable. If this was an aim, then why lead the public on a merry ride and threaten to dissolve Parliament for more than a year?” she asked.

Ambiga stressed that it is morally wrong to extend the dissolution date on this premise, adding that the move smacked of utter desperation. “The way they [the incumbent government] are spending suggests that they are not certain of returning to power. And that is the whole point of a caretaker government: they should not make any contracts which the next incoming government would be bound by; you must uphold the status quo.

“It is wrong to rush into contracts when it is very close to the caretaker period,” she added.

As for Wong’s second point, Ambiga argued that putting the final touches on projects and programmes is also something that was foreseeable in the past.

“This once again suggests that they are not confident. It seems that for the first time, there is a confidence crisis [in BN] with regard to retaining Putrajaya. However, your nervousness does not justify spending the rakyat’s money so close to the election and for keeping us on hold regarding the election date,” she said.

‘Automatic dissolution is shameful’

Chicjken Najib

Chicken Najib

On BN still finalising its list of candidates, the BERSIH chairperson dismissed this as the weakest possible excuse. Ambiga said the list has to be finalised before any general election, and since Najib has been toying with the people over the election date for more than a year, BN should have worked on the list a long time ago.

“This is a pathetic excuse for delaying the dissolution of Parliament,” she added.

As for the security in Lahad Datu being used as a reason, Ambiga expressed puzzlement. “We were previously given the impression that everything was fine and safe… for the election to be held there. This is news to me. It seems like the government is caught in its own web of misinformation… I would like to know the truth about the situation there,” she said.

Commenting on the automatic dissolution of the Negeri Sembilan State Legislative Assembly last night, Ambiga said this is not something to be proud of as it meant that the incumbent government is being booted out of power by the Federal Constitution.

“…unless we amend the Constitution and have fixed dates for elections. Then everybody’s life goes on until the date of election; now everyone’s life is on hold… this is the psychological point and it is shameful,” she added.

Furthermore, Ambiga stated that automatic dissolution is a constitutional safeguard against recalcitrant regimes.

“Let me stress again that there was nothing to be proud of allowing for an automatic dissolution, although it was legal. No self-respecting government would allow that to happen,” she added.

Najib’s delay in dissolving Parliament has led to a litany of speculations, ranging from a lack of confidence to more last-minute plots being hatched against the Opposition.

Parliament is scheduled for automatic dissolution on April 27.

Shah Alam’s Star MP and Former ISA Detainee speaks

March 28, 2013

Shah Alam’s Star MP and Former ISA Detainee speaks

by Lisa J Ariffin@

“I speak out on corruption, the deficit budget and ballooning national debt, as well as on safety and security in the country”.–Khalid Samad

Khalid SamadDespite his appointment as first-term parliamentarian after the 2008 general election, PAS’ Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad is not a new face in Malaysian politics.

The brother of former Minister, Tan Sri Shahrir Samad, has been a vocal proponent of the party since joining  it in 1983. He contested in four parliamentary seats prior to winning Shah Alam.

Little known to many, Khalid was detained for nine months under the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA) during Operation Lalang in 1987.

In an exclusive interview with FMT, Khalid speaks of his achievements as first-term MP, the controversial Allah issue, and gives his views of his former colleague Dr Hasan Ali.

FMT: Will you be defending the Shah Alam parliamentary seat?

We will wait until last minute (to name candidates ). However, it is standard practice for incumbents who perform well to maintain their seat for at least two terms. To give two terms is good practice. About a week or so after the dissolution of Parliament, PAS will name its candidates.

Will PAS be fielding any candidates in Sabah and Sarawak? If so, how many?

Khalid: I don’t have the figure with me now, but I believe we are fielding candidates in Kota Belud, and possibly Sandakan and Tawau. There are a few seats in both states we are taking and it will be a bit more than in 2008. We will make sure no seat is won by BN uncontested.

Who will be PAS’ choice for Selangor MB? Would you still stand by (incumbent) Khalid Ibrahim?

So far, there is no talk of change. Khalid has his weaknesses, but his strengths outweigh his weaknesses. Even if he does not become MB again, he will have a prominent role in determining state policies.

In the end, it is PKR’s choice assuming they win most seats in Selangor again. But if PAS has a candidate who is better and can be considered, we will put his name on the table. We want the best person at the helm.

Has the Allah issue been sorted out? How will the issue affect voters in Selangor?

Khalid: As far as PAS is concerned, it is sorted out. The problem is we didn’t have a chance to give proper and full explanation in the mainstream media.

Our position is in the middle where we acknowledge that the term is universal and can be used by everyone, but specifically in the BM translation of the bible, “Tuhan” is the proper translation for God. “Allah” is an Arabic word, while “Tuhan” is BM.

While allowing non-Muslims to use the word “Allah”, its translation should not be encouraged.

However, we are still open for discussion. Currently, the decision made takes into consideration society as a whole. The official stand taken by PAS leadership and Majlis Syura (spiritual council) acknowledges problems exist in society.

It is an eye-opener for current society for us to even say the universal term can be used by everyone. It shows that PAS takes consideration the realities of society and will be more open. After Pakatan takes over, the issue can be discussed, and won’t be politicised anymore.

Has the sacking of Selangor exco and former member Dr Hasan Ali, affected the party?

Khalid: There has been no impact because of his departure. PAS is not built around individuals. Regardless of who leaves the party, the party will still carry on.

In the past, we even had Presidents leaving the party, but we carried on. Of course, it is sad to see colleagues change. Hasan tried to bring in strong Malay elements, that’s why the party rejected it.

We don’t have to bring in the element of race to strengthen to party. We believe in religious ideals and principles. Race is race; it is not principles, ideology and vision.

We talk about religion and its teachings, and not based on the colour of birth. What he wanted to do was alien to the party. Hasan did well for a time, but in the end it was his strong belief that led to his downfall.

In your own words, can you tell me more of your achievements as MP?

Khalid: My role is categorised into four levels: parliamentary, state, local council, and  grassroots. As an MP, I voice out my opinions and put pressure on the Federal government to get certain things done in Shah Alam.

The main issue is the building of the Shah Alam Hospital, which is behind time. I have been criticising the way it was awarded, its delay and how its implementation was handled. I speak out on corruption, the deficit budget and ballooning national debt, as well as on safety and security in the country.


On the state level, I take part in Pakatan’s weekly meetings and give input with respect to state government policies. At the same time, I also assist the government to disseminate messages and explain policy decisions. There has been a lot of confusion because our policies have not been given due promotion.

On the PBT (local council) level, I act independently without interference. I act as a go-between for the rakyat and local council. If there are services not provided to the rakyat, I will inform the PBT.

At the same time, I convey messages from the PBT to the public. The intention is for the public to get the best possible service.

I look into roads, drainage, utilities and the rest. The pressing issue at that point in time when I took over as MP was the “cow head demo” at the Hindu temple. I finally managed to shift the temple to Section 23, albeit to an industrial area but along a main road.

It has been a longstanding issue of over 20 years, and having solved that, the Malay-Muslim residents who complained that the temple was smack in middle of their housing area, is happy and the Hindu population is satisfied with a bigger and more comfortable area.

I managed to satisfy the needs of both communities without them being at loggerheads with each other.

At the grassroots level, I move around and meet people. I listen to their complaints. I meet them in mosques, malls, and even coffeeshops. I try to be as visible as possible. Currently, it’s demanding because I’m involved in a lot of talks, but I make it a point to be in Shah Alam everyday.

The Star’s Political “Pundit” comments on GE-13

March 27, 2013

The Star’s Political “Pundit” comments on GE-13

by Regina Lee@

Previously speculated dates for the dissolution of Parliament have come and gone, and The Star‘s Executive Director/Group Chief Editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai reckons there are several reasons why the Prime Minister is still waiting.

In an interview with SwitchUp TV’s election programme Wednesday, he said the ongoing unrest in Lahad Datu was most likely Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak‘s paramount concern.

“No one had expected that there would be this kind of intrusion from the Filipino militants. Even as the Police are mopping up the area, we can still read of some shooting every now and then,” Wong told host Anne Edwards in the taping of the show GE13: The Showdown.

He added that with a number of parliamentary and state seats affected by the intrusion, it would be impossible for politicians to go there to campaign effectively.

At the same time, Wong said it looked like there were still several more programmes and policies up Najib’s sleeve that he may have yet to announce.

“Najib would have completed four years in office by April 3. He is a very methodological person, he likes to follow things a certain way, he’s very punctual and meticulous and he has said that he wants to complete many things before the dissolution.

“So I think there are still some things that he wants to settle and maybe put some finishing touches to his favourite projects.I think that he may have a few more programmes to announce as his fourth year report card,” said Wong.

He also said the candidates’ list not being finalised yet on Barisan Nasional’s side could also be a big spanner to dissolving Parliament.

“I hear many names and seats not being finalised yet. If they can’t finalise it, then he can’t call for elections,” he said.

Wong said Pakatan Rakyat was also facing the same problem with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim still having to grapple with the issue of candidacy and swapping of seats among its component parties.

He cited the example of Johor PKR chief Datuk Chua Jui Meng, who has purportedly gone on protest leave as no seat had been found for him yet.

The ongoing Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition, which will only end this Saturday, as well as the upcoming ASEAN Summit to be held in Brunei on April 24 may also prove to be a dampener to dissolution plans, Wong said.

“If you are a leader of a caretaker government, you cannot enter into an agreement with any parties,” he said, adding that defence was a multibillion-ringgit industry with a man costly deals to be made.

“I’m also sure that Najib would want to attend the ASEAN Summit as a full-fledged leader,” he said. However, he said that it was unlikely that Parliament would be dissolved Wednesday, or else there would have been indications by now.

“I think things will be clearer in the coming week,” Wong said. Parliament is expected to be dissolved in the coming weeks to pave the way for the country’s 13th general election.

The last general election was held on March 8, 2008 and the current Parliament automatically dissolves at midnight on April 27.


Conversation with the Malaysian Prime Minister

March 27, 2013

Conversation with the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak

The Prime Minister said that he wanted to ensure that his Transformation Agenda is working. Now he is happy with the progress achieved since 2009, and is ready to hold election because we are heading for the big time. Remarkable, he said, given the fact that external environment is weak. After 3 years, GNI has increased tremendously. But still the election is delayed. Wonder why? Listen and make up your mind.Din Merican

The Passing of My Journalist Friend, Zainon Ahmad. Al-Fatihah

March 27, 2013

The Passing of My Journalist Friend, Zainon Ahmad. Al-Fatihah


KOTA BARU, March 27 — The Sun Daily’s Consultant Editor Zainon AhmadZainonAhmad_6 died due to liver cancer today. He was 70.

According to his daughter, Zuhailawati, Zainon died at 2.25pm at the Raja Perempuan Zainab II Hospital (HRPZII) here. She said her father was admitted to the hospital after complaining of chest pains at their house in Jalan Bayam here at 1am yesterday.

HRPZII director Datuk Dr Mohd Ghazali Hasni Mat Hassan confirmed Zainon died at the intensive care ward at 2.25pm.

Zuhailawati said her mother Hasnah Abdullah, 65, and two siblings were at his bedside when he died. According to Zuhailawati, her father’s body will be brought to their house in Jalan Bayam here before being laid to rest at the Banggol Muslim cemetery in Kota Baru tomorrow.

Zuhailawati said her father had contracted liver cancer for quite sometime and it began to get serious in October last year. She said before this, her father had been getting treatment at a private hospital in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

Zainon, who was a teacher for three years before joining journalism 35 years ago, was the Assistant Group Editor of The New Straits Times Group. He later joined The Sun as the Editor-in-Chief in 2002.

He was a regular speaker on the role of the media at local and international conferences and was active in various young journalist training programmes.

He was bestowed the Media Personality Award in 2010. Zainon held a degree in History and a Masters’ degree in International Relations from Universiti Malaya. He had also studied newspaper management at the Thomson Foundation, London and was a fellow of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tuft University, Boston in the US. — Bernama