Ethnic Inequalities in Malaysia remain after 57 Years of Independence


August 27, 2014

Ethnic Inequalities in Malaysia remain after 57 Years of Independence

by Jenni Dixon (received via e-mail)

Mahathir and his wards

Ethnicity has played a major role in Malaysian political and economic policy since the inception of the federation in 1963. The launching of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, with the primary aim of promoting economic growth, with particular emphasis on exports, had another important objective: to promote unity and harmony in one of the most ethnically diverse of nations.

The laudable idealism of the project, which attempted to raise incomes and reduce unemployment in all ethnic groups, to reduce poverty and create a restructured society in which race played no part may have kept ethnic differences, prejudices and jealousies at bay while the country prospered, but the simmering tensions below the surface of society were bound to boil over as the country’s economy began to decline.

However, while many observers do accept that the NEP reduced overall poverty, it has to be said that it was only partially successful in achieving its goals. The policy of Bumiputera, which gives preferential treatment to the Malay ethnic majority, has gone some way towards reducing disparities in income and wealth, but has sharpened the rift between Malays and the other main ethnic groups, the Chinese and Indians. New policies following on from the NEP after 1990 have adhered to its philosophy of affirmative action. These have targeted education, employment and the development of new enterprises.

Programmes aimed at halting the decline of standards in primary and secondary education, increasing the manufacturing base and stimulating regional development have benefited some sectors of the urban population while neglecting the problems of the Malay rural and urban poor. While the reality of Malaysia’s social problems may be seen more clearly from a perspective of class, as a division between rich and poor, the country’s more visible ethnic differences colour much political analysis so that the division between the Malay/Muslim sector and the rest of the population has perhaps been allowed to dominate more than it should.

Playing the percentages

In 1971, over 66% of the Malaysian corporate sector was foreign-owned, while the indigenous Bumiputera, who made up 60% of the population, owned only around 2%. The NEP target was to increase Bumiputera holdings to 30%, that of other Malaysians to 40%, and reduce foreign holdings to 40% by 1990. The outcome was disadvantageous to the Bumiputera, who increased their holdings to only 20.4%, while the other Malaysians, mainly Chinese, benefited most with a rise to 46.8% that exceeded expectations, against a decline of foreign holdings to 25.1%. However, a booming economy during the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century ensured that all sectors increased the value of their holdings, which went some way to disguising ethnic resentments.

The current slowdown in the economy has only deepened the distrust between Chinese and Malays. Prime Minister Najib Razak has appeared to ignore these rising ethnic tensions in favour of strengthening his Malay support base. For several years he had been pressing for a review of Bumiputera policy. His recent close election victory, with his ruling National Front coalition winning a majority in the lower house with only 47% of the popular vote, compared to the 51% who voted for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, has put into sharp relief his lack of support among the ethnic Chinese, causing him to consider the benefits of pursuing policies favourable to the ethnic Malays. Indeed, in the autumn of 2013, he announced a new low-price housing policy aimed only at Malays.

Prejudices and disadvantages

Over the decades since 1970, when Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamed delineated the controversial ‘Malay Dilemma’, which helped to create the political climate for the instigation of the NEP, political rhetoric has only accentuated the fallacious negative image of Malays as struggling to overcome their ethnic inferiority. For those who want to believe these prejudices, Bumiputera policies that introduced quotas for education, scholarships and business contracts only seemed to confirm their validity. The false logic of this argument says that because Malays needed help in these areas, they were clearly lazy, uneducated and lacking in the business acumen for which the Chinese and Indians were renowned. Malays happen to make up the majority of the rural population, where there is a lower per capita income and more people live in poverty.

Social problems associated with poverty are necessarily more common among Malays; for example, the percentage of people needing help for drug abuse is far higher for Malays, which in 2008 was 74.97% against 12.61% for Chinese and 9.75% for Indians, and drug rehabilitation programmes show a recidivism rate of over 50%. On Anti-Drug day 2014 Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Malaysian families to do everything in their power to prevent their children becoming prey to drug addiction. These sorts of problems associated with poverty are better remedied in this way, in giving general encouragement and advice and relieving poverty than targeting a particular ethnic group.

New Bumiputera policies

In March 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the new Bumiputera Business Expansion Fund worth RM200 million, which is designed to help Bumiputera technology companies to expand internationally. These will be flexible loans offered without the need for collateral with a generous payment period of six years, beginning two years after the beginning of the loan. Another RM25 million has been given to the Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit, to be managed by the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation, and a further RM1.4 billion in Facilitation Fund Grants had already been approved for Bumiputera companies to develop 132 projects, creating about 23,000 new local jobs. The Prime Minister said that the loans were aimed at businesses in the cutting edge of a wide range of technological industries, and stressed that each proposed project must have a clear prospect of profitability and expansion.

The downside of Bumiputera is that while it is an attempt to stimulate the economy by preferential loans, it also by definition ignores other important sectors of the population. It has caused many Chinese Malaysians to emigrate as well as put off Chinese nationals from coming to study in Malaysia. The signs of a new ‘Malay Dilemma’ are already there to see, which may not be easy to remedy. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, preferential treatment is given to Malays for jobs and University places, and Malay shop owners and restaurateurs enjoy lower rents and ease of access to premises. Chinese resentment over these inequalities has created increased ethnic tension.

Sources

http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/Malaysias-ethnic-tensions-rise-as-its-economy-declines

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2012/06/21/nep-the-good-and-the-bad/

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2012/06/21/nep-the-good-and-the-bad/

http://www.academia.edu/531386/Rethinking_the_Malay_Problem_in_Singapore_Image_Rhetoric_and_Social_Realities

https://my.news.yahoo.com/najib-announces-rm200-million-bumiputera-business-expansion-fund-112631364.html

http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/02/19/PM-urges-families-to-unite-against-drug-abuse-Establish-a-happy-and-trusting-home-environment-says-N/

http://hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/50340/

http://www.malaysia-today.net/how-to-criticize-bumiputera-policies-101/

Hawker Food: Penang’s Legacy


August 22, 2014

Hawker Food: Penang’s Legacy

by Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal (08-21-14)@www.nst.com.my

Anwar FazalTHE controversy over migrant workers being allowed to cook Penang hawker food is, like the banning of soup kitchens in Kuala Lumpur saga, a sad story bereft of fundamentals of reality, history, humanity and foresight.

FIRST, Penang’s hawker food has largely been the beautifully enjoyable creative outcome and legacy of generations of waves of migrant workers, creating a grass roots cuisine: for example, nasi kandar, mee jawa, Hainan chicken rice, roti bengali and roti canai.

The informal business of street food vendors or hawkers, as they are more popularly called, was often denigrated and despised by the authorities during our colonial history but later became legitimised and subsequently celebrated as the wondrous smells, colours and flavours of the “Pearl of the Orient”.

Hawker Food Penang

Now, the street food business is among Penang’s leading tangible and intangible assets. Penang has often been described as the “street food capital of the world”. I have often challenged anyone to show me a place with better four-point “Street Food Index” measures — taste, diversity, cleanliness and economy.

If they show me any place better on these four counts, I will treat them to Penang laksa or pasembur for the rest of their life. No one has yet been able to come forward with anything better!

SECOND, we urgently need a new paradigm in the way we manage and treat migrant workers. We can no longer deal with them as the new “coolies” subject to all the inhumanities of servitude of the slavery kind. We need to reach out to them as brothers and sisters and as human beings deserving our care and compassion.

I have a dear friend, a former distinguished lawyer, whose family treated their maid as one of them. They taught her to drive a car, and sent her for part-time courses in language and computer classes. The maid’s time in Penang became her liberation for a new great life back home. She was ever grateful and will never forget the family, the place and their kindness and help.

There is now a United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families.

Penang should take leadership and work with groups like Jaringan Utara Migrasi dan Pelarian (JUMP), the northern network for migration and refugees in Malaysia, and put that convention into practice, at least in spirit, until the Federal Government itself decides to accede to the convention. That move forward will then be like the innovative Speakers Corner at the Esplanade and become another one of Penang’s special public places and practices.

THIRD, if the “crime” is that a migrant worker assisting or cooking at a stall is not skilled enough, we should recognise humbly that so are some locals. The most unconscionable solution is to ban them from engaging in cooking. Instead, they should be taught the skills, the art and the science of these culinary delights.

Schools of popular local cuisine like the amazing Nazlina Space Station in Campbell Street, George Town, the centre of the Slow Food Movement in Penang, stands out as a shining example of creative positive responses. The Station organises daily tours, which involve marketing at the local wet market, getting to know herbs and spices, preparing food and then enjoy eating their “handiwork”.

Hundreds of foreigners have gone through the culinary delights of Penang’s food and experience in this way. We need more of such places and regular classes. A project to set up in Penang — a unique culinary campus in cooperation with the Slow Food Movement’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy — is very possible and should be explored to champion “good, clean and fair” foods.

FOURTH, foreigners will create and enlarge the demand for our unforgettable culinary delights. Penang laksa and other great dishes will start appearing in cities and villages all over the Asia-Pacific region as they have already done in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and other places where Malaysian “outbounders” have settled.

I recently had the opportunity to officiate the opening of an International Exhibition on Street Foods in Penang, Malacca and Bandung, Indonesia, by one of the leading architecture schools in the region based at the National University of Singapore.

The street food culture is an amazing story, locally and globally, and needs research and development. What we must champion is an International Street Foods Institute and what better place to locate it than in Penang. This would be an innovation and an investment for global leadership in the culinary area from bottoms up and put Penang on the world map as a leader in research and development of both a tangible and intangible culture.

FIFTH, punishing poor struggling migrant workers and depriving them of development opportunities is the way of inhumanity and pettiness. Penang is a place recognised globally by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as a world heritage site for its universal values, its multiculturalisation and as a great learning centre.The wonderful culinary experience must also be the essence of this great joy, diversity and beauty.

The negative measure of banning immigrants from learning, assisting and cooking local hawker food will only demean Penang’s reputation as a happy, caring, people-centred place. The idea of prohibiting migrant workers from learning and working as cooks at hawker places should, therefore, be abandoned for positive and creative solutions.

penang-street-food1

If not, this place of great migrant history will join the ranks of certain hypocritical governments of countries that colonised vast areas outside Europe, appropriated history and now, sadly and vindictively, have growing movements that demonise the so-called new immigrants. And tragically, many of these “new” immigrants come from conflict zones too often created or linked to the geopolitic interests of these very nations.

The greatness of any civilised people is in its care of “the other”. Penang has been special for that, including its iconic “Street of Harmony”, which the former President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam, described as a magnificent school for the whole world for learning humanity and living together.

Let us continue to be a beacon of compassion, caring and creativity and not degenerate into anti-migrant stances that are sadly no better than bigotry and racism.

Dato (Dr.) Anwar Fazal also initiated the compendium ’Understanding International Migration — a Sourcebook’ while serving as the head of the United Nations programme for good urban governance in Asia and the Pacific.

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Malaysia Airlines will be fully owned by Malaysian Government


August 9, 2014

MAS Restructuring : Leave no stones unturned

by Din Merican

Azman MokhtarWell done, TS Azman Mokhtar for making this strategic move at this time, when Malaysians of goodwill are with our government following MH370 and MH17 tragedies where lives were lost. We look forward to know the details of your plan to restructure our national flag carrier.

We hope you will be tough with the MAS Staff Union, and not allow it to dictate what Khazanah should do in the national interest. So reduce staffing. Deal with crony contracts. Review the routes and financing of aircraft; and appoint competent professionals to manage the airline, and have a truly independent Board of Directors,  and finally please seek the advice of MAS elders like Tan Sri Rama Iyer, Tan Sri Saw Huat Lye, Tan Sri Aziz Abdul Rahman and Dato’ Kamaruddin Ahmad.

All of us want MAS to succeed but the restructuring must be comprehensive so that the rot that has plagued our national flag carrier in recent years can be eliminated. Let us face the moments of truth with a healthy corporate culture. Therefore, make use of this opportunity to start on a clean slate. Let us hope Prime Minister Najib has the political will to make a new beginning for MAS.

Malaysia Airlines will be fully owned by Malaysian Government’s Khazanah

by Thomas Fuller@www.nytimes.com

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/business/international/malaysia-airlines-to-be-taken-over-by-government.html?ref=asia

BANGKOK — Mired in debt and reeling from two aircraft disasters this year, Malaysia Airlines will be fully taken over by the government as a prelude to a restructuring, the Malaysian government said Friday.

MASKhazanah Nasional, the investment arm of the Malaysian government, formally requested the delisting of the airline in a letter to the Malaysian stock exchange on Friday and offered to buy back shares at a price 12.5 percent higher than Thursday’s closing price.

Malaysia Airlines had been losing money for several years when five months ago, a flight bound for China disappeared, and no trace of the aircraft or its 239 passengers has been found. Just over three weeks ago, another Malaysia Airlines plane exploded over Ukraine, killing almost 300 people.

Khazanah was vague about its plans for the airline, saying only that it intended “to undertake a comprehensive review and restructuring” and that the airline had “substantial funding requirements.” Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, said a “holistic restructuring plan” would be announced by the end of the month.

“This process of renewal will involve painful steps and sacrifices from all parties,” he said in a statement that specifically mentioned the need for support from, among others, the airline’s creditors, raising the possibility of a debt write-down.

The share buyback, which would cost Khazanah about 1.4 billion ringgit, or $437 million, still needs approval by private shareholders, who own about 30 percent of the company. Khazanah’s offer price of 27 sen, 0.27 ringgit, a share appears favorable to stockholders: That price was last reached in February, before the company’s two tragedies.

The disappearance in March of Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing remains a mystery, and a search in the southern Indian Ocean is still underway. On July 17, 298 passengers on a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed when a company Boeing 777 was shot down over Ukraine.

The disasters aggravated what was already poor financial performance by the airline, which has lost money for the past three years and has been squeezed by nimbler rivals, like Air Asia, the privately owned, low-cost airline also based out of Malaysia that has grown exponentially since beginning operations more than a decade ago.

Malaysia Airlines, which began as Malayan Airlines, in 1947 during the British colonial period, has suffered a number of sharp losses in recent decades. It has often been managed by business executives close to the governing party, the United Malays National Organization, and was bailed out by the government at least once. Like many other government-linked companies in Malaysia, the airline is saddled with ties to influential contractors connected to the party, which has governed the country since independence in 1957.

The Malaysian government sees the carrier as a national strategic asset. In a statement Friday, Khazanah said the goal of the restructuring was to make the airline profitable but also for it to “serve its function as a critical national development entity.”

Tan Sri Halim Saad set to take Sumatec up the corporate ladder


July 31, 2014

Tan Sri Halim Saad set to take Sumatec up the corporate ladder

by Sharen Kaur@www.nst.com.my – 31 July 2014 @ 1:15 AM

ASSET INJECTION: Firm targeting more than RM1b profit by 2018, say sources

FORMER Renong Bhd Executive Chairman Tan Sri Halim Saad is scaling up Sumatec Resources Bhd, which is set to make more than RM1 billion in net profit by 2018.

Halim Saad3

Halim controls 24.9 per cent of Sumatec and has been maintaining his shares since last November as he believes that the company can grow fast. “He is not selling his shares any time soon. He plans to build up the company by injecting more assets into it. He is eyeing some oil and gas (O&G) assets in Central Asia,” said a source.

Sumatec expects to produce 30,000 barrels of oil a day in Kazakhstan by 2018. Sources say the company is targeting an average net profit of US$30 (RM95.30) per barrel. “This means it will make around US$900,000 a day from 30,000 barrels, or more than US$328.5 million a year, compared with less than US$20 million currently from existing operations,” said the source.

For the financial year ending December 31 2014, Sumatec is projecting RM69 million in profits. The firm is producing oil at the Rakuschechnoye field with Markmore Energy (Labuan) Ltd, which is 99 per cent-owned by Halim.

Sumatec expects to produce 5,000 barrels of oil and gas a day from this field in the next three years. It is also acquiring Borneo Energy Oil and Gas Ltd, which owns 100 per cent of Buzachi Neft LLP, for US$250 million in cash and shares.

Buzachi has two 25-year contracts  to explore and produce oil and gas in the Karaturun Vostochnyi and Karaturun Morskoi fields, also known as Buzachi Fields.

At a recent media briefing, Sumatec Chief Executive Officer Chris Dalton said he expects the acquisition to be completed by October. He said the two assets will contribute US$1.62 million to Sumatec’s profits in the fourth quarter.

Sumatec is targeting to produce 25,000 barrels of oil and gas a day from the Buzachi Fields.  Meanwhile, Sumatec is expected to move out of its  PN17 status by next month and will submit its application to the Securities Commission soon.

BOOK REVIEW: Shankaran Nambiar’s The Malaysian Economy: Rethinking Policies & Purposes


July 30, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Shankaran Nambiar’s new book, The Malaysian Economy: Rethinking Policies & Purposes 

by Tricia Yeoh@ http://www.thesundaily.com.my

FEW writers and analysts are able to both identify precisely the challenges facing the Malaysian economy as well as communicate these in a manner easy to digest. Shankaran Nambiar’s new book, The Malaysian Economy: Rethinking Policies & Purposes does so with bold and relevant commentary. Dating from 2003 to the present, this compilation of writings focuses on six broad themes including the need to strengthen institutions, the importance of competitiveness, regional trade, fiscal reform and finally, the reality that is the influence of elections and politics over economic policy.

?????????????????????What is prevalent throughout the book is the clear economic position he takes, arguing for a more open and free economy, one in which companies and traders would be able to compete without the shackles of a large and interventionist government. He takes cognisance that our neighbours are moving at a rapid pace, and mentions specifically China in its ability to out-compete many in the region, but that Malaysia would need to “develop our human capital and readjust our institutional framework to align it with global requirements.”

Of course, on the economic ideological continuum, criticisms often abound of the far-right leaning liberal position. More specifically, public sentiment in Malaysia has weighed heavily against the free market and privatisation. This is not surprising, since the Malaysian version of “free market” and “privatisation” is anything but. It has been but a muddied example of what a free market could actually do to improve the quality of goods and services.

Nambiar does not shy away from this oftentimes-controversial debate. He states explicitly, “privatisation, in theory, implies giving markets a bigger role … privatised companies have to be efficient … and cannot rely on the government to bail them out.”

Theoretically, yes. But in the execution of it – and Malaysia has done a poor job at this – privatisation has not been done in a fair, competitive way. In fact, what took place in our context is that when public entities were privatised, instead of improving efficiency, things got worse. Again, Nambiar hits it squarely on the head: “What was once a government monopoly now becomes a private monopoly. One form of inefficiency is substituted with another.”

Reading the book, one would initially conclude that he is a hard-hitting liberal – libertarian in American circles – and based on many principles, indeed this is so: his firm belief in competition, economic freedom, strong institutions and a legal framework, property rights and so on.

But what is refreshing to note is that he does not blindly accept what would typically be a liberal’s position, but views all subjects with a critical mind. Instead, he agrees with the need for a minimum wage because based on empirical research, this would transform the economy into one that is technologically advanced and contribute towards high value-added growth. A hardcore liberal economist would usually argue against the minimum wage as it is a false and forced imposition by government, which does put many small and medium companies out of business.

 

Finally, as many things seem to be in Malaysia, economic policy is subject to political influence, and this is evident in the many examples Nambiar provides, such as how the federal government transfers revenue to individual state governments, Najib’s electoral position determining whether or not the goods and services tax is introduced, and other “inappropriate policies” that are introduced “because of the polls”, which is “as if we have an economy balancing on the tip of a pin”, which is dangerously accurate.

Many proposals have been expressed elsewhere, on the need for fiscal reform and discipline, addressing structural issues (income distribution, corruption, crime, education), and so on. But the book’s beauty lies in its concise and deft articulation of problems and solutions. The commentaries are candid, and arguments tight. He also comes across as rational and fact-based, criticising or praising whenever necessary. This neutral, non-partisan position of analysing economic (or any other) conditions in the country is rare and must be valued.

As Malaysia enters into its final year of the 10th Malaysia Plan in 2015, and draws up its next set of policies for what would be the last five-year plan before the year 2020 – the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016 – 2020) – it is certainly worth examining Nambiar’s publication that spans the last decade or so. Where exactly are we going? Will the problems raised in his book 10 years ago start to manifest themselves in the next 10? What happens to an economy that pays little attention to such recommendations, and fails to strengthen its institutions?

Policymakers, politicians, academics and students ought to pick up this slim and thoroughly readable volume to gain a historical perspective of good and bad policy. History may not repeat itself, but its leaders may very well do – so it is up to the electorate like us to know which pressure points to press, well before the alarm bells start ringing.

MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted


July 20, 2014

MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted

by Neil Khor (07-19-14)@http://www.malaysiakini.com

MASPride of Malaysia dented by Tragedy

COMMENT: The loss of 298 lives as MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine has come too soon on the heels of the loss of MH 370. An airline that had a near perfect record for the past 30 years since its inception is now suddenly the most blighted in the aviation industry.

Crying for Loss of Loved OnesThe manner in which we recover, and there is no doubt that we will, shall determine our collective destiny as a nation. Like many Malaysians, I was in shock and disbelief at midnight on Thursday as news of the loss of MH17 filtered through social media. Since the loss of MH 370, I have made it a point to fly MAS whenever possible come what may.

I have grown up with MAS, as a toddler traveling from Penang to Singapore in the 1970s right through my student days at UM, when the airline was kind enough to extend to students with AYTB (Asian Youth Travel Bureau) cards tremendous discounts allowing us to go home on the cheap.

In those days, it was a grueling nine-hour bus ride down Malaysia’s trunk roads from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. A MAS flight not only provided comfort and speed, it assured that students got home safely.

Like the airline, those of us born in the 1970s, have come of age to find a world changed beyond all recognition. It is not that we cannot adapt to change but the changes have come so rapidly and so brutally that nobody has had the time to make sense of it all. We may have been brought up to believe in God and Country (Rukunegara) but globalisation have altered our allegiances.

Similarly, the aviation industry, too. has not fared too well in this globalised world. The pacific period, from the 1960s to 2000, is over.

In those days, emerging nations like Malaysia personified themselves through national airlines. We broke away from Singapore to form MAS, which not only flew the flag but also assumed the burden of unprofitable but necessary domestic routes. The growing up years was characterised by good service, which by the 1980s, was amongst the best in the world.

Flying on MAS was a privileged and entire families would go to the airport to receive or send relatives off. It was definitely not the era of “everybody can fly” but rather “now you have arrived”. Cheap fossil fuels and better-designed plans made flying cheaper and more accessible. By the time the budget airlines appeared in the sky, the entire attitude towards aviation had changed as well.

MH17 Crash Site2 National carriers had to compete like any other in the industry resulting in spectacular bankruptcies, including that of Japan Airlines! With this fundamental change, attitudes towards flying also transformed. Malaysian society changed the most in the last 15 years. The Internet continues to be a great leveler. No single Prime Minister, no matter how powerful, can decide with impunity or set the tone of discussion on national issues like Dr Mahathir Mohamad.In short, MAS like many other “national” organisations has continued to come up short, never meeting the rising tide of expectations. Since September 11, 2002 when two planes slammed into New York’s Twin Towers, air travel has never been the same. I remember traveling from Minneapolis to Louisville in Kentucky with a guide dog as a fellow passenger.

There was hardly any security with checkpoints that were no more stringent than at a bus stop.  That was in 1999 but today the US is imposing full body scans, check-ups on laptops and security scanning of mobile phones. Soon security procedures will take as long as inter-continental flights in all major airports.

From the sad and painful experience of losing MH370, we have learned that the aviation industry itself has not kept up with technological change, with planes entering blind spots and much dependent on 1940s radar technology. There is also very little improvement on how to track planes to ensure better monitoring. Till this day, black box technology still relies on batteries that only last a maximum of 30 days.Now four months onwards, we have lost MH17, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over a route that was deemed officially safe by the IATA. Yes, some airlines have avoided this route over the Ukraine but many airlines flying from Europe to Asia were using this prescribed route.

Political maturity in short supply

How high an airplane fly is also dictated by the air traffic controller of the country whose territory one is flying across presumably they know what other flying objects will be flying over their airspace at the same time. As someone who flies on MAS, Emirates and SIA regularly from Malaysia to Europe, this route above the Ukraine is very familiar.

I have also flown frequently to neighbouring Georgia, crossing the Caspian and Black seas. There was really no way to have anticipated that a civilian plane would be shot down. If the European authorities had red-flagged the area as two other Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down, they should have banned all commercial flights over Ukraine airspace.

Having lost two aircraft involving the loss of more than 500 souls is a very bitter pill for Malaysians to accept. For the longest time we have developed and made giant progressive strides forward. Yes, political maturity is still an on-going battle.

Religious and racial extremism is on the rise but most of us have enough to eat, some even able to share with the less fortunate by supporting soup kitchens.

Never take things for grantedMalaysia is still a great country, blessed with natural resources and a cultural diversity that is the envy ofMH17 Crash site 2 the world. But the loss of our two MAS flights has taught us never to take things for granted. Whilst we can plan and make the best preparations, we cannot foresee how these plans will unfold.

In the case of MAS, some hard decisions may have to be taken to make it viable again. There is no loss of face if we have to start again from scratch. To all those who have lost friends, families and loved ones in MH370 and MH17, my most heartfelt and sincere condolences.

Malaysians the world over are united in grief and sorrow. But I am sure we will emerge stronger and better, at least strive to be better people to ensure a stronger nation going forward.

NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks require better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia’s future.