A Debate on William Easterly’s New Book: The Tyranny of Experts

April 14, 2014

Public Event

A Debate on William Easterly’s New Book: The Tyranny of Experts

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – 10:00am to 11:30am


William Easterly

Professor of Economics and Co-director, Development Research Institute, New York University

Owen Barder
Senior Fellow and Director for Europe, Center for Global Development

Moderated by
Nancy Birdsall
President, Center for Global Development

Why does poverty persist across so much of the world, despite billions of dollars in international aid and the efforts of development professionals? William Easterly’s answer, as proposed in his new book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, is a lack of respect for liberty—not just on the part of governments of impoverished countries but also, more provocatively, on the part of the development experts. Owen Barder, Director of CGD in Europe and a noted development expert himself, disagrees. A vote of the audience will determine who wins the debate, which will also be streamed live.


Dani Rodrik: Has sustained growth decoupled from industrialization?

April 9, 2014

The George Washington University, Washington DC–Growth Dialogue


Dani Rodrik: Has sustained growth decoupled from industrialization?

Watch Prof. Dani Rodrik’s full presentation at the Symposium on Frontier Issues in Economic Growth.

Tengku Razaleigh’s Speech at the launching of “Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians”

April 4, 2014

Tengku Razaleigh’s Speech at Sultan Sulaiman Club, Kg Baru, Kuala Lumpur, 8 pm on April 3, 2014 on the occasion of the launching of “RICH MALAYSIA, POOR MALAYSIANS”, authored by Anas Alam Faizli

Ku LiYBM Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

I am honoured at having been invited by Anas Alam Faizli to launch his book, “Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians”, a collection of essays reflecting his thoughts on energy, the economy and education of our beloved country. I applaud Anas for his intellectual discipline to pursue writing which demands mental toughness, quiet tenacity and absolute patience. Indeed, he deserves our admiration.

He deserves our respect given that Malaysians are notoriously apathetic to reading, let alone writing. I respectfully submit that we do not write enough, both fiction and otherwise in comparison to, say, our sprawling archipelagic neighbour to the south. It is in this context that our author deserves our commendation – my commendation in particular – for a task well done, even though the themes are serious and difficult. Well done, Anas.

Book Launch on April 3, 2014Having skimmed through the book, I must admit that I have more than just a passing interest in it; and at least for two reasons. I am always interested in writings on the subject of energy, be they articles for lay reading or academic treatises. I feel especially close when oil and petroleum are discussed. This is because of my task previously to see through the legislation of the Petroleum Development Act, 1974; the negotiation of the production sharing contracts with oil majors whose roles were redefined as contractors to the national oil company in the post-PDA era; and, establishing and developing PETRONAS into a professionally reputable and internationally respectable national oil company.

Secondly, having been schooled in economics, I follow its development keenly, both at the national and international levels. This is strengthened further by my having once been the Minister of Finance charged with the financial and economic management of the country. And of course, given the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, national policies on such subjects as education interest me greatly.

Let us reflect, for a moment, upon the situation regarding the supply and consumption of petroleum in the country and the downstream role of PETRONAS in the retailing of this essential and strategic product. Given our continuous inability to guide the country out of the middle income trap into the high income bracket, we have been using, for long spells, petroleum subsidisation to solve the problem of its affordability by ordinary people in the lower strata of the economic chain. While the subsidising of consumer goods is not the most efficient of ways in managing the high cost of living, it is fairly understandable if the government extends a helping hand to the small man in that manner.

What is sinful and cannot be forgiven is the ease with which the power that be had been dishing out subsidies to such entities as the national power supplier, the independent power producers and some other non-power outfits. As has been pointed out by Anas, since 1997 this subsidy has amounted to RM136.5 billion. The sad part is that while these power producers continue to enjoy subsidised fuel price, petroleum subsidy to the consumers – which purportedly cost the government RM14 billion in 2011 – was partly discontinued recently.

It is glaringly obvious that the government has been treating PETRONAS as a cash cow. Anas continues to point out that over 37 years from 1974 – 2011, the government had been paid some RM529 billion in dividends, taxes, petroleum proceeds and export duties from the national oil company. The reliance on PETRONAS to help outfits with strong linkages to the government out of financial trouble has been going on from as far back as 1985. In that year it rescued Bank Bumiputera with a RM2.5 billion bailout and again in 1991 when it coughed up another RM1 billion. In 1997, Petronas had to rescue the financially ailing Konsortium Perkapalan Berhad for RM2 billion.

The national oil company was also made to underwrite the construction of the Twin Towers in the heart of the KL golden triangle for RM6 billion and the building of the extravagant Putrajaya for RM22 billion. In all, more than a half trillion ringgit have been spent. This amount could have been used more productively to fund a national pension programme for Malaysians as has been done by a certain Scandinavian country.

This extravagance that had been forced on to PETRONAS has also deprived the company from the much needed cash build-up for reinvestment which would ensure its business sustainability. Given the finite nature of hydrocarbon as a resource, it is important for PETRONAS to look further afield at investments in businesses outside of oil and gas.

Looked at from this perspective, it is all the more critical for the corporation to have a strong cash reserve for reinvestment purposes. It was this need for prudence that had led Tun Razak, the Prime Minister of the day, to impress upon me the need to ensure that Petronas would enjoy parity with such multinational companies as the once much touted seven sisters, two of which ultimately became its contractors.

Today PETRONAS is at par with the oil majors and it is ranked as one of Fortune 500’s largest and most profitable oil and gas companies. But sadly, it is being abused and treated as the piggy bank whenever the government needs cash in a hurry.

Ladies and gentlemen, why is this so? Why is there a discrepancy between what was visualised by the founding fathers of PETRONAS and what it has turned out to be 40 years on; that is, as a banker of sorts to the government.

The truth is that there had been consistent political interference and this had affected PETRONAS, even though it is a professionally well run corporation. There is a blurring of lines demarcating the party in power and government, and by extension, the party supremo and the head of government. Cynics would contend that it was done on purpose to facilitate the development of politics of patronage. This, in turn, led to the growth of crony capitalism.

This inter-ethnic dichotomy is no more than a duplication of effort which result in the inefficient application of resources. It is worsened by the economic disparity that continues to be persistently reflected along racial line, notwithstanding the efforts made to blur and wipe it out. As explained by Anas, the bottom 40% of Malaysia in economic terms is still made up of Bumiputera households.

Transpose this against the notion that about 90% of their incomes are made up of wages and salaries which are hardly commensurate with the relatively more rapid increases in living costs, this problem takes on a much darker hue. As an illustration of how low Malaysian income generally is, it is worthwhile noting that the EPF had been known to report that about 79% of its contributors earn RM3,000 or less a month.

This reality becomes more significant when we realise that disposable income contributes much to purchasing power, especially among the relatively poor as opposed to the wealthy where purchasing power is additionally sourced from assets other than salaries and wages. A report on the national human development goes further to say that the “Chinese has a higher purchasing power compared to other ethnic groups…” More problematic and easily a potential source of politico-economic problem is the assertion by the report that there is “homogeneity in the purchasing power gap.” It asserts that the super-rich, regardless of ethnicity, has about 18 to 20 times more purchasing power.

Purchasing power has a graver ramification from the standpoint of economic wellbeing. This has to do with the reality that a person who enjoys a high income is not necessarily guaranteed a better quality of life. Neither does the effort to improve the quality of life through high income mean much if the cost of living rises rampantly. Again, an observation by Anas is very illuminating here. He contends that a graduate who entered the job market for the first time, say, in 1978 on a monthly salary of RM1,000 could afford a lower-end car of RM12,400 or 12 months’ salary and take out a mortgage, perhaps, on a RM62,000 house in a fairly upscale Kuala Lumpur suburb.

Today, a fresh entrant into the labour market on a monthly salary of RM2,500, which is two and half times higher than his earlier counterpart, would find a roughly similar car costing him RM178,000, roughly 71 months of his salary. A house outside the Greater Kelang Valley area, in Nilai for example, would set him back by RM350,000. This situation could get worse in all probability.

Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge before us is to mitigate the socio-political issues and problems to a minimum. This will ensure that they do not become a part of our political culture and, by extension, our way of life. We must have the will to stop patronage and cronyism. In this way rent-seekers would be cut off. But herein lies the problem.

Political leaders are loath to upsetting the apple cart and disturb their cosy symbiosis with rent-seeking cronies. More often than not, these are the people whom they rely upon for political funds in their effort to continue to latch on to power.

What then could be done given this near-checkmate type of a situation? I say pressure must be brought to bear and it must be made known that we will not tolerate any more politics that is less than ethical. We must clearly and loudly make it known that politics must be practised with a high level of integrity. No, politics is not dirty but its practitioners, more often than not, are. In the longer run and in order to ensure that ethical politics of impeccable integrity is practised, we must overhaul our education system.

We need to shift our education paradigm from a system that emphasises regurgitating what is learnt by rote to amass distinctions to one that puts a premium on logical and critical thinking in which source as well as general reading is a major activity in providing the primary material. We must revisit our educational philosophy in order that we may give equal importance to classroom and off-classroom activities in educating the young Malaysian into a potential leader material for the public or private domains. Of course, this is a huge and important subject that needs proper addressing at, perhaps, another forum.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the last several minutes I have shared with you my thoughts on the subjects addressed by Anas in his book. I hope it has generated enough interest to trigger off your critical thoughts on the subjects or other related subjects. In the process it is hoped that some of you will go a step further to put pen to paper as Anas had done. On that note, I take this opportunity to congratulate the author for making the book available to the public which I have much pleasure in introducing. Thank you and I wish you a pleasant day ahead.

*This speech was delivered by former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah at the launch of the book “Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians” by Anas Alam Faizli.

Anas Alam Faizli speaks in Bahasa Malaysia on his book, “Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians at Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, Kg. Baru. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 3, 2014 (below):

Book, Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians

Yang dihormati dif-dif jemputan yang terhormat,

YBM Tengku Razaleigh

Dr Syed Husin Ali, YB Saari Sungib, Tan Sri Kamal Salih, TokSu Norizam,

Pak Chong, Siraj, Azlan, Dato Din Merican, Sharaad,…

Para hadirin-hadirat yang dihormati sekalian,

Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh dan salam sejahtera,

 Saya ingin merakamkan setinggi-tinggi penghargaan kepada YBM Tengku Razaleigh yang sudi merasmikan buku Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians dan Malaysia Kaya, Rakyat Miskin. Kredibiliti Tengku tidak dapat dipersoalkan – pengalaman Tengku sebagai Founding Chairman dan CEO Petronas yang juga pernah memegang tampuk kementerian kewangan dan perdagangan antarabangsa serta mantan pengerusi Bank Bumiputra.

Dalam pendidikan pula, Tengku pernah mengatakan pada bulan Julai yang lalu bahawa “Sistem pendidikan negara kita gagal dan kita tidak boleh mempertahankannya lagi. Tambah beliau, satu tindakan yang ikhlas, berani dan radikal diperlukan bagi mempercepatkan proses pembaharuan dalam pelajaran dan pembelajaran.”

Buku kerdil ini juga telah diangkat nilainya ke tahap yang lebih tinggi kerana sumbangan dua orang pemimpin yang saya sangat kagumi dan hormati- pemimpin yang mewakili gen-Y dan juga generasi veteran. Terima kasih yang tidak terhingga diucapkan kepada YB Nurul Izzah dan Senator Dr Syed Husin Ali yang telah mencurahkan pemikiran mereka seterusnya menyuntik kehebatan permulaan kepada buku kerdil ini. Terima kasih juga buat barisan panelis yang sangat tersohor, En Mohamed Siraj, En Azlan Awang, Dato’ Din Merican dan juga moderator Mr Sharaad Kuttan.

Anas Alam FaizliBuku ini merupakan himpunan esei yang telah ditulis dalam tempoh setahun. Manuskrip versi Inggeris dan Bahasa telah siap serentak tetapi versi Inggeris diterbitkan dahulu untuk menilai sambutannya. Walaupun ia merupakan himpunan esei tetapi Alhamdulillah berjaya disusun dalam satu bentuk kronologi yang mempunyai kekuataan tersendiri. Sebuah himpunan esei yang berbicara tentang isu-isu nasional dan global seperti isu tenaga, ekonomi, pendidikan dan kesukarelawan, yang saya harap mampu mencetuskan wadah bicara kritis dan berguna untuk semua.

 Penulisan dimulakan dengan berkongsi amanat almarhum Atok saya, Mohd Zain bin Abu dengan tiga prinsipnya iaitu:

1-  Pendidikan ialah perkara paling penting dan akan sentiasa menjadi keutamaan

2- Elakkanlah seberapa banyak permusuhan dengan orang lain

3-  Dan jadilah orang yang memberikan banyak manfaat kepada orang lain

Buku ini antara lainnya satu usaha untuk memenuhi wasiat Atok, dengan kerendahan diri, satu percubaan kecil untuk menjadi seorang yang bermanfaat.

Idea utama buku ini ialah satu penerimaan bahawa , Malaysia ialah sebuah negara kaya dengan hasil mahsul bumi.  Beratus tahun di jajah dan hasil kekayaan di larikan penjajah,  kita kembali memegang daulat sebuah tanah yang kaya dan mewah. Maka kerana itu,  sebaik sahaja merdeka, tanah ini tidak pernah  putus memberi sumbangannya baik daripada bijih timah, getah, kelapa sawit, bijih besi, bauksit, kayu balak dan terkini minyak dan gas yang menyumbang 40% hasil pendapatan negara.  Semua ini ialah sumber tidak ternilai yang perlu dihargai dan digunakan sebaik mungkin.  Oleh itu,  adalah sangat penting masyarakat umum memahami sebanyak mungkin mengenai industri yang menjadi “cash cow” negara ini.

Bahagian sumber petroleum Malaysia ini dimulakan dengan persoalan adakah kisah Petronas ialah kisah si tanggang? Beberapa soalan penting seperti – bilakah minyak akan habis? Dimanakah industri perkhidmatan tempatan dan isu-isu yang lain telah dikupas malah diakhirnya turut diberikan beberapa cadangan penyelesaian. Kemudiannya, satu penerangan mengenai sejarah Petronas, bagaimanakah ia beroperasi dan sistem fiskal Malaysia diperjelaskan. Konsesi vs PSC. Persengketaan Royalti Minyak juga telah disampaikan secara terperinci daripada perspektif semua negeri yang terlibat. Bahagian ini ditutup dengan cadangan pemberian ekuiti Petronas kepada negeri pengeluar minyak berbanding penambahan Royalti.

Bahagian Sosio-Ekonomi pula dimulakan dengan merungkai 8 realiti Malaysia dan mengapa pendidikan tinggi wajar dibiayai oleh kerajaan. Saya ambil jalan berbeza dan tidak membandingkan dengan negara lain tetapi melihat perspektif kaca mata Malaysia itu sendiri dan menyimpulkan mengapa kita perlukan pendidikan tinggi. Slogan saya dalam buku ini, 1 Keluarga 1 Graduan.

Esei berikutnya menghuraikan dengan panjang lebar apa yang dimaksudkan dengan Negara Berpendapatan Tinggi, Rakyat Berpendapatan Rendah. Malaysia Kaya, Rakyat Miskin.

Ilustrasi disampaikan dengan fakta dan diterangkan secara halus. Kemudiannya saya membuka kisah Mitos Si Kaya dan Si Miskin diikuti dengan penerangan bagaimana sebuah Negara Berkebajikan akan meluncurkan Malaysia kearah masa depan yang jauh lebih baik.

Menuju kearah demokrasi yang lebih kukuh dengan dua parti dominan negara, saya juga menulis bagaimana kaedahnya untuk memahami dan membuat analisis kritikal ke atas manifesto yang dijanjikan oleh parti-parti bertanding.

Bahagian ini ditutup dengan penjelasan panjang mengenai perjanjian TPPA yang sedang dirunding oleh Malaysia.

Seterusnya,  saya mengupas isu pendidikan dengan analisis pencapaian ranking antarabangsa Malaysia. Saya kemudiannya menyeru membina budaya membaca buat menuju mentaliti negara dunia pertama. 1996 – 2 muka surat, terkini 2 buku berbanding Jepun Perancis 10, AS dan Kanada 17 buku. Kemudiannya saya menyeru kepada penyemaian budaya berfikir dengan beberapa cadangan. Saya juga mempersoalkan jika sekolah moden itu satu pengkhianat kepada pendidikan. Bahagian ini ditutup dengan cadangan mendefinisikan semula falsafah pendidikan negara dengan cadangan Cinta sebagai Pedagogi dan FPN yang baru.

Saya percaya pendidikan boleh dijadikan penyelesaian kepada semua masalah yang dihadapi negara.

Bahagian terakhir menyentuh mengenai kesukarelawanan dan satu penulisan panjang yang menghuraikan mengenai bagaimana kesukarelawanan boleh berjaya dan menyumbang kearah pendidikan yang lebih baik. Saya juga nukilkan konsep kuasa ketiga dan bagaimana kesukarelawanan boleh menjadi agen menyubur demokrasi dengan memberi ruang suara kepada semua pihak.

 Buku ditutup dengan epilog bahawa gerakan massa Reformasi adalah milik semua  dan rakyat perlukan satu Rejuvenasi.  Seperti yang saya sering utarakan, penulisan ini adalah milik umum, dan saya seru warga umum untuk mengulas, mencabar dan memperkembangkan idea-idea di dalam buku ini. Usul-usul kritis yang padat di dalam buku ini saya mohon diperhaluskan dan semoga dapat dimanfaatkan oleh semua.

Akhir kata, Baca, Faham, Fikir dan Bertindak. Berjuanglah!

Terima Kasih.


Irene In Memorium

April 2, 2014

Irene Fernandez: Champion of the Helpless and the Explioted

by Steve Oh (April 1, 2014)@http://www.malaysiakini.com

OBITUARY: A beacon of hope is extinguished and Malaysia is a darker place for its irreplaceable loss. News of the passing of Tenanganita Co-founder and Director Irene Fernandez was not what I had expected to read in Malaysiakini yesterday.

Irene F

I am saddened by the death of a remarkable and irreplaceable woman, a towering and selfless Malaysian who devoted her life to helping the helpless, comforting the exploited and soothing the wounds of the tortured in a once bright place that is blackened by corruption and that has lost its way.

Often she faced insurmountable odds against the might of the powers-that-be and its institutions of persecution. The political tyrants made life unfairly difficult for this intrepid, irrepressible and humble Malaysian ‘Joan of Arc’ of maltreated migrants and repressed refugees in her country.

It is incredible how such an amazing woman who spoke out for the voiceless and right-less can be charged in court for doing good for others, and it is an indictment of ourselves that we allowed the good to be called evil and the evil good and Irene to be bullied by those who abuse their powers and disgrace their humanity and country.

It is hard to speak of Irene without recalling the hostile environment where the authorities are unwilling to be scrutinised and held accountable for their deeds. She overcame the untold hardships she suffered at the hands of the overbearing authorities that had harassed her.

I first learned of this amazing woman some years ago when news of her court case emerged in the local newspapers and Malaysiakini. This unassuming and soft-spoken woman had been unfairly persecuted and prosecuted for her role in highlighting the plight of migrant workers.

It was the irony of her plight and her unwavering commitment to her cause and forbearance under unfair persecution that earned her a place in my heart. She was my hero not found among men in her ‘jihad’ for the unjustly treated. When proud men pursued gain and glory,  this woman of women chose to side with the poor and oppressed.

Twisted persecution

Malaysiakini co-founder Steven Gan, then a reporter for The Sun, and his colleagues had in 1995 written an incriminating report of the government on 59 primarily Bangladeshi inmates who had died of preventable and treatable diseases such as typhoid and beri beri at the Semenyih immigration detention camp.

The Sun had refused to publish the damning report so Gan turned to Irene who published information from it under the title, ‘Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres’ and for that she was hounded for the rest of her life by the government.

She was arrested and charged in 1996 with “maliciously publishing false news” and found guilty in 2003 after a seven-year trial. But her trials, courtesy of the government, continued outside the court. They are well-documented in local newspapers and even some outside.

In this sort of twisted persecution when politicians abuse their powers in government to prosecute the innocent who help others against the politically connected, Irene is no different from Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng when he was jailed for not dissimilar reasons.

As with Opposition leaders Anwar Ibrahim and Karpal Singh, what Irene’s political enemies could not achieve in the popularity stakes, they did by using the court to hamper her attempt to attain political office by turning her into a criminal, thus disqualifying her from running for Parliament.

While the wielders of power in darkness tried to tarnish her name, the enlightened world saw differently, and she was chosen in 2004 to receive a Right Livelihood Award, also referred to as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize.’

A woman not filled with bitterness

I have met Irene twice, and regrettably, not more. The first was when my wife and I saw her in her office in Petaling Jaya when we visited Kuala Lumpur. My wife, a medical doctor, had always been interested in the plight of sex slaves and wanted to find out more from her about the subject.

Some months later, Irene and her husband and son were sitting in front of me as we shared dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Perth. I had asked her to give me a call when she visited her son in Perth and she did. Then I noticed that Irene had looked frail and had trouble walking and used a walking stick as aid.

During our dinner, my wife and I learned more about her work. I got a greater insight into her work and role and I remember a woman not filled with bitterness or one would expect to be full of acrid remarks for her cruel persecutors and political enemies after all the injustices she had been put through.

Instead she merely stated what was true regarding the plight of the migrants, what they were up against, and even in such normal discourses, it is difficult not to note the injustice of all she had undergone. But Irene had shown no ill-will toward her cruel persecutors and our conversation was about those who she helped.

She overcame what her persecutors had dished out to her and with her passing, the plight of the refugees becomes more urgent with the need for more people to stand behind the work of Tenanganita she began.

I had learned much from our brief time together and if I have regrets in life, surely one must be in failing to follow up with Irene because we were overtaken by other pressing things and soon lost touch with her.

As I write, I recall the strength of this remarkable woman in whose stoic countenance were etched the sufferings of a saintly woman, sufferings not the fruit of personal making but from helping the helpless in their pitiful plight. The troubles and sorrow of the suffering became as much hers. I was with greatness and regret not having realised it.

A life of many trials

Malaysia came to its senses when on November 24, 2008, justice Mohd Apandi Ali overturned Irene’s conviction of ‘maliciously publishing false news’.

For 13 years since her arrest and charging in 1996, Irene had lived a life of many trials, her passport was held by the court, she could not stand for parliament in 2004, and was the subject of many police visits to her office and questioning.

Yet I had observed she had not been shy in making timely and relevant comments when needed on the plight of migrant workers and refugees. In a place where many are cowed and timid, Irene roared like a lioness without fear and favour, and political correctness was not in her vocabulary.

In her quiet dignified manner, she seemed a tower of insurmountable strength on an unshakeable urgent mission. In fact, I see in her a regal quality that only great  people like Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa display. Such people of conviction are rare these days.

Malaysia has many women of noble character who make their country a better place. They are the salt of the nation. Irene stood tall among them, if not above most, and has left a legacy that will be a challenge to match, if at all possible.

With other Malaysians and those who have been beneficiaries of her compassion and commitment, I share the grief of the passing of a great Malaysian and I know would have been a great friend had we had not let that opportunity slip.

My wife and I pass on our condolences to Irene’s family. Good night, Irene, good night – see you in the morning.

Inside Singapore’s Socio-Economic Success

April 2, 2014

Singaporean Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam  on Singapore’s Socio-Economic Success

port-of-singaporePort of Singapore

Ground the RMAF over MH370 Fiasco

March 29, 2014

Ground the RMAF over MH370 Fiasco

by Mariam Mokhtar@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

 The RMAF has failed everyone on board MH370 and let down a whole nation.


Seven years ago, two RMAF jet engines disappeared and ended up in South America. That loss was never fully explained. The Defence Minister in 2007/8 was Najib Tun Razak.

Today, a passenger jet with 239 people on board has also disappeared. The circumstances of each are different but the way in which we handled the situation, and the manner in which our leaders dismissed our concerns, is worrying. It is business as usual after the event.

The price of irresponsibility has been high as we have seen in MH370. Lessons must be learned but Malaysian leaders must stop the art of saving face and start facing up to their responsibilities for once. Undoubtedly, several heads must roll.

hishammuddin-hussein-in-lahad-datu-300x225Last year when the Sulu army invaded Lahad Datu, the response from the erstwhile Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (left) was pitiful, “it is only a ragtag bunch of old men having a picnic”.

He ignored the fears of the public. They questioned the role of intelligence gathering and the poor air and sea defences which had failed to note the invasion by armed and uniformed Sulu militants.

The questions I posed last week remain unanswered: “Where was the RMAF when Flight MH370 traversed Malaysian air space in the early hours of Saturday March 8, 2014?” and, “How did the radar operator know from the radar blip that the plane was non-hostile?”

Military radar signals showed that after MH370 disappeared from civilian radar the plane climbed sharply to 45,000ft, higher than the approved ceiling for the Boeing 777, before turning sharply to the west and descending to 23,000 ft. The plane then climbed again this time heading north-west towards the Indian Ocean.

What did the radar operator and the air force do with this information? The “non-hostile” plane acted strangely with funny twists and turns in the air. These must have been the first signs that MH370 was in trouble.

A few days ago the Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri made a rash statement and said that the air force assumed that Flight MH370 had been ordered to turn-back by the civilian air traffic controllers.

The following day when he was attacked for making this statement Abdul Rahim backtracked. He said that he had made this assumption. This U-turn is a typical tactic of the government of Malaysia.

Now Malaysians will not learn whether the RMAF really made this assumption or Abdul was forced to retract his statement and become a fall-guy for the RMAF which is being widely criticised for its apparent blunders.

Common sense mistake No 1: Never assume. The popular urban definition of assume is “Don’t make an ass out of u and me.”

The Air Gorce radar operators failed to double check with the air controllers in Subang. Is it beyond their intellect and curiosity to make a quick phone call?

Local of communication

Perhaps, they were not at their radar screens. Remember the MACC staff who were implicated in Teoh Beng Hock’s death? Their work computer hard drives showed that they were surfing pornography and shopping sites, instead of working. The consequence of making assumptions has been the loss of 239 lives. Precious time was wasted. If only fighter jets had been sent to intercept the unidentified aircraft.

This is what Abdul Rahim said in Parliament: “The turnback was detected in our radar, only we thought the turnback was done by MAS, an aircraft that was not hostile or a friendly aircraft, so we thought maybe it’s an order from control tower.”

“….only we thought…..!” In any civilised country, the public outcry would have demanded the mass resignations of the Defence Minister, his Deputy, the Chief of the Armed Forces, the RMAF Chief, and the Prime Minister. If this had been a wartime situation, Abdul Rahim and all the squadrons of air force planes could have been obliterated.

Common sense mistake No 2: Not keeping abreast of news and not reading enough. Are the radar operators unaware that the two passenger jets which were deliberately flown into the New York Twin Towers were the weapons of death and destruction? In a hypothetical scenario what if a passenger jet had traversed Malaysian air space and hurtled into the Petronas Twin Towers, or other sensitive locations?

Common sense mistake No 3: Never assume that the rakyat are as clueless as the Defence Chiefs. Abdul Rahim Bakri failed to mention the lack of communication between civilian and military aviation authorities. Was he hoping we would not remind him?

On March 12, military radar detected an aircraft some 200 miles northwest of Penang in the Straits of Malacca. At 2.15am on the same day it went missing. We are told that there was no way to determine if the blip was MH370.

Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali DaudThe Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief Rodzali Daud (left) claimed that Malaysia was working with experts to confirm that blip was the missing plane. The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) Director-General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman explained that the primary radar used by the military could only show the presence of an aircraft and nothing else.

The chief of the Armed Forces Zulkifeli Mohd Zin claimed that the unidentified aircraft was first noticed in the spot where MH370 had disappeared. He claimed he ordered ships to be despatched from Lumut that night towards the suspected location of the aircraft. He then claimed that a C-130 plane was sent to scout the area the following morning.

Air-space is unprotected?

If none of the military brass were aware what the blip meant that night why was Zulkifeli confident enough to despatch ships to that particular location? Was he simply making a remark after the event to pretend he had done something useful? What made him think he was looking at a potential crash scene that night? What else is the military hiding from us?

Why did they make a mistake with the time? MH370 was in trouble an hour into the journey.Is the radar viewed in real time or was the radar operator looking at recorded radar information? If it is not in real time, then are our skies open to invasion?

We know that security checks and passport controls are lax. No wonder Najib Tun Razak wants to guarantee that his spouse, the self-styled First Lady of Malaysia, travels safely on private jets when flying overseas.

More importantly, it appears that our air-space is unprotected. Perhaps, it is time we grounded the Air Force or rename it the Royal Myopic Air Farce. The RMAF wasted those first few hours. We could have at least known where to look for MH370. The RMAF has failed everyone on board MH370 and let down a whole nation.

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.

Poor Quality in Malaysia is Worrying, says World Bank Economist

March 25, 2014

COMMENT: We do not need a World Bank Economist to tell us that imageour education system (and the standard of education) sucks. You and I have been commenting on this subject since I started this blog in 2007. It has since worsened. Today, we are lagging behind Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Singapore other countries in our region and around the world.

Nobody in government seems to be concerned about it or even dare to act to correct it except at the level of political discourse. Even parents who should be worried about their children’s future in a globalized world are not interested in pushing for a comprehensive educational reform. In stead, we have allowed politicians to play around withthe education of our young. As a result, our children are unable to speak proper English, and they lag behind children of other ASEAN children in Mathematics and Science.

The same can be said of our universities which are year in and year out churning out thousands of graduates who cannot be employed by industry except government. Just watch the press briefings by public officials in connection with MH370 over the last 17 days, and you can see how inept  our public officials are in handling the international media because of their inability to converse and communicate in English. It is time for Malaysia to act. Stop playing politics with the future of our generation of Malaysians.–Din Merican

Poor Quality in Malaysia is Worrying, says World Bank Economist

by Sheridan Mahavera, http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

education blueprintWhat Happened to Blueprint, Deputy Prime Minister?

The poor quality of Malaysia’s education system is more worrying than the level of debt in its households, said a World Bank Senior Economist in Kuala Lumpur today.

This is because the country’s substandard education system would affect the pool of skilled talent it needs to grow its economy to become a highincome nation, while high household debt is not necessarily a problem if the economy continues to grow and citizens are gainfully employed.

Dr Frederico Gil Sander, who is Senior Economist for Malaysia, said Malaysians should be “alarmed” that their children were doing worse in school than children in Vietnam, a country that is poorer than Malaysia.

“Rural Vietnamese students do better than Malaysian students,” said Sander, when met a forum that is part of the Global Malaysia series organised by the Economic Transformation Programme.

Sander was referring to a world student performance assessment test called PISA which had measured how students in 65 countries did in mathematics, science and reading. According to PISA’s 2012 results Malaysian students scored below average or ranked 52 out 65. In contrast, Vietnamese students ranked 17 out of 65.

Malaysia’s poor PISA results spotlighted the weakness of Malaysia’s school system, despite the fact that education gets the largest share of funds every year from the national budget.

Critics have pointed out that the PISA results contradicted the government’s insistence that Malaysia had a world class education system. Critics have also questioned the real worth of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) which produces many students who scored As, but who can’t compete with their peers from Singapore, China and Taiwan.

Gil Sander said an efficient education system should be decentralised to give more power to schools to make their own decisions based on their local circumstances.

“At the same time, parents should be provided with information on the performance of each school in their area so that they can send their children to the best schools,” he said.

On the other hand, Gil Sander claimed that Malaysia’s rate of household debt is not necessarily bad, so long as the economy keeps growing and incomes keep rising.

“Low levels of debt could be an indicator of no access to finance, but if a person borrows money to buy a car to go to a good job, that is not a bad thing.The important thing is that salaries keep rising,” he said

Lacking a consistent vision for educational reform says Penang Institute

March 12, 2014

Lacking a consistent vision for educational reform says Penang Institute

On March 7, 2014, the Penang Institute hosted an education roundtable involving a diverse group of experts, researchers, academics and stakeholders. The following conclusions were reached:

(i)That Malaysia lacks a persistent and consistent vision for educational outcomes and reform, especially given that education policies constantly change every few years following changes of Education Ministers.

(ii) That Malaysia lacks a commitment to comprehensive and broad education goals. The discourse of the current framework gives too much focus on economic outcomes rather than incorporating other important social objectives.

(iii) That the implementation of changes in education policy is not well planned and hastily executed without proper pilot projects and trial periods.

(iv) That the current education system does not take into account the challenges faced by those from marginalised backgrounds and does not allow them to improve their life chances and opportunities.

(v)That many parents are choosing to send their children to private or alternative schools because they lack confidence in national schools.

(vi)That the current School Based Assessment (SBA) has many shortcomings including over-centralisation, the lack of capacity at the state (JPN) and local district (PPD) levels to implement SBA, poor IT infrastructure, the lack of understanding among teachers about the educational principles underlying SBA, just to name a few.

(vii)That Malaysia has an overly centralised education system at the federal level according to most studies.

(viii)That the current education system has many problems that need to be addressed including but not exclusive to: grade inflation, falling standards as indicated by Malaysia’s TIMSS and PISA scores, lack of infrastructure especially in the rural schools, low motivation among teachers, lack of engagement with the teaching force, focusing on the teaching rather than learning, the lack of an authentic learning culture in our schools, the lack of opportunities for NGOs to work with schools, the training in our teacher training colleges (IPGs) and in-service teacher training, the proficiency of reading and writing of our students, the role of PIBGs in the system, overcrowded classrooms in certain schools, the de-skilling and de-professionalisation of our teachers, the current quality of the teaching force, the lack of a flexible and fluid system to monitor and assess performance, just to name a few.

(ix)That while the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) addresses some of these concerns, it is not far-reaching enough in its proposed reforms and does not sufficiently address the underlying structural problems.

(x)That the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) only proposes de-concentration of power and responsibilities within the Education Ministry to the state (JPN) and local district (PPD) levels but does not allow for decentralisation to give room and opportunities for other stakeholders to have greater powers and responsibilities in the education system.

(xi)That decentralisation should be investigated as a possible solution to some of the problems highlighted above.

The problems which have been highlighted during this Education Roundtable are not necessarily new. There are complex and multifaceted reasons as to how these problems emerged and how they continue to plague our education system. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can address all the problems highlighted above, nor is decentralisation the prescribed cure.

However, given the paucity of the research on the potential impact of decentralisation of the education system in the Malaysian context, it will be tremendously helpful if a more in-depth exploration of this topic can be conducted. With this in mind, a research project which focuses on the potential impact of education decentralisation on key areas of educational outcomes such as equity, access, identity and quality will be proposed.

It is hoped that such a research project would be able to lay the groundwork to spur more informed public discussion on the impact of decentralisation on our education system. Such a research project will also be designed for the benefit of education policymakers should they wish to explore education decentralisation that goes beyond what the current Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) proposes. Details of this proposed research project will be released at a future date.

PENANG INSTITUTE is the public policy think-tank of the state government of Penang.

Islam At the Crossroads in Malaysia

February 8, 2014

Islam At the Crossroads in Malaysia

dato-din-mericanby Din Merican

I am writing this as I contemplate the fate of our country while resting after being involved in a nasty accident last week. I feel very sorry that my wife’s car, Dr Kamsiah’s black beauty, is now a total wreck and we are not sure how long the adjusters will assess the loss as a total loss or whether it has to be repaired.

I hope the insurance company and its adjusters would be kind to my wife and I by not prolonging the painful process of making an insurance claim. The positive thing from that accident was that the driver of the other car, a non-Muslim Chinese and I, a Malay Muslim, did not have a quarrel. We resolved matters in the manner that accidents are resolved. We showed care and compassion for each other to ensure that neither of us suffered grievous bodily injury. We were civil despite our different race and religion even in those tense moments. We behaved as how civil people behave. We behaved like we are one people, like true Malaysians.

Airbags from the car!

Airbags from the car!

What was heartening also was that I received an immediate message from my young friend, Lawyer Rosli Dahlan, who heard about the accident although he was away. He was so concerned to make sure that we were not injured and made prayers for us from Makkah. Apparently, he was in Jeddah for a meeting and entered Makkah to perform umrah and made doa’ (prayers) for our safety.

To Rosli, I say thank you. At my ripe age, doa from well wishers are very meaningful. Alhamdulillah, I am safe in one piece although I was pretty jolted when the airbag exploded. I pray to Allah that the driver and passengers of the other vehicle will also recover as I have.

Religion and Politics

This brings me to the topic of religion that has plagued the country in the last few months. Since 2012, the politics of religion in Malaysia has taken a worrisome development. While Malaysia has long been known as a moderate Muslim country, that perception is beginning to change and change dramatically.

Malaysia’s moderation which is also a characteristic of Malay culture has, in the past, earned us respect in many Muslims countries. It is well known that Malaysian Muslim pilgrims for Haj and Umrah are well liked because in overseas countries Malaysians are extremely polite and rarely act in a radical way, unlike the hooliganism that they now show back at home. I am sure Rosli is one of the example of a pleasant Malay pilgrim. Moderation has become our national emblem, a badge of pride that we can wear on our chest.

Islam Hadhari disappeared when Badawi resigned as Prime Minister

When Abdullah Badawi became PM, he wanted to capitalise on that moderation by conceptualising it as  Islam Hadhari. But, like all slogans, that slogan also went out of fashion and is rarely heard today. As always, Malaysian leadership is less concerned about the substance of leadership and good governance but more concerned with popularity. And that is the problem we face today with the administration of PM Najib Razak.

badawi1Ex-PM Abdullah Badawi was brought down by his own party, UMNO, as he was seen to be ineffective– sleeping on the job, as Dr Mahathir would put it. And then, enter Najib Razak as PM. Malaysians were hopeful of him. There could not be a politician with a better pedigree than Najib. He is after all the son of Tun Abdul Razak, one of the most respected of Malaysia’s Prime Ministers. However, it did not take long for Najib to show that what his father Tun Razak had built, Najib would in a short time almost destroy.

You may ask- is that a fair comment? That is a fair question. So, let us analyse briefly why I expressed what most Malaysians are already saying.

Najib came up with this slogan – Satu Malaysia (1Malaysia). But today,we, as a nation, are not at all one united people. We can’t be more divided than ever. We quarrel about almost everything, including something so flimsy as the proprietorship of the word “Allah”. Thus, it was apt that my friend Tan Sri Robert Phang had rhetorically posed – “Why are we quareling about God?” in his New Year Message. Lim Kit Siang has taken that tag line to raise the same question in his open letter to PM Najib.

Malaysia is becoming to look like a Taliban State where the religious authorities have become so intolerant of different what more dissenting views in the area of religion, religious thought or for that matter anything concerning God, as if we own God. But more worrisome is that they are wrong in the things they did, yet they did not care.

The Borders Case remains unresolved thanks to AG Gani Patail

nik-raina-and-dr-kamsiah1In 2012, JAWI raided the Borders Bookstore and seized books by Canadian author Irshad Manji titled “Allah, Liberty and Love”. When JAWI couldn’t find anyone else to charge, JAWI decided to charge the poor Malay store manager Nik Raina Nik Rashid (seen with Dr. Kamsiah). She was charged for selling a banned book at a time when it was not banned yet.

Lawyer Rosli Dahlan successfully persuaded Tudung Judge Dato Zaleha Yusof to make a bold declaration that JAWI’s raid, seizure of books, and prosecution of Nik Raina were illegal. Judge Zaleha also declared that the Islamic Offences Act used to charge Nik Raina was ultra vires and unconstitutional and chided the Minister of Home Affairs and Minister in the PM’s Dept in charge of Religion for abdicating their constitutional duties in not clarifying the confusion that had disrupted the harmonious relationship in multiracial and multireligious Malaysia.

Despite the High Court ruling, the Syariah court refused to release Nik Raina. Although the law is now clarified that the Islamic Law Act used by JAWI is unconstitutional, yet A-G Gani Patail did not seem to consider it to be his duty to advise the government on what is the proper thing to do. He would rather cause a conflict of laws between civil and islamic law without regard to the disharmony it is causing amongst Malaysians.

I suppose A-G Gani Patail feels that he can survive better when there is anarchy in the country as that would make him more useful to those in the corridors of power. Otherwise, his position would be under threat from lawyer Tan Sri Shafee Abdullah, who has openly declared recently that he is ready to assume the role of Attorney-General to replace Gani Patail who is just a 3rd Class law graduate from University Malaya. That is what happens when the country is led by people of mediocrity.

The Allah Issue

Perkasa Rally on AllahThen the “Allah” issue erupted again, this time in a more virulent way. Unheard of NGOs like ISMA started to appear and condemned Marina Mahathir as a Dalang for LBGT and as anti-Islam. Thus, the line is a drawn between the Axis of Evil and the Defenders of Islam. Any muslim who spoke on the “Allah” issue in a manner not consistent with the Malaysian Standards of Islam (as if there is one!) projected by the likes of JAWI and JAIS are immediately branded as the enemies of Islam. You then see a herd of Malaysian politicians singing in chorus branding Islamic scholars like Professor Tariq Ramadan as liberal muslims. I am appalled.

Tariq Ramadan is the son of Said Ramadan, author of “Islamic Law: Its Scope and Equity”Tariq Ramadan and the grandson of Hassan Al Banna, founder of Ikhwanul Muslimin. Yet, Malaysian politicians conveniently branded him as such just because he gave an impartial and objective opinion about “Allah”. I will not elaborate on this as so many people have already written on the “Allah” issue.

All I would like to add is that PM Najib showed a total lack of moral courage on this issue which is now dividing Malaysians more than ever before. When he eventually made a comment recently, it was at best disappointing. Najib had no qualms about showing that his government will not honour the 10 point agreement.

Najib showed the same lack of courage over the death and burial of Chin Peng.  My counterparts in Thailand informed me that former Thai PM Chaovalit Yongchaiyudh had attended Chin Peng’s funeral in honour of an independence fighter of the time likening Chin Peng to Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam and Che Guevara of the Cuban Revolution and yet Malaysia dishonoured its own son and the treaty that it entered with the CPM. That is how dishonourable the Najib government behaved.

PM Najib also coined the slogan- Rakyat Di Dahulukan (People First). It was a beautiful slogan to show a caring and people oriented government. To demonstrate the government’s care and concern, the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BRIM) was introduced as Najib geared up for  GE13. All kinds of asssistance and handouts were promised to bribe the Rakyat to vote for BN. Yet, immediately after winning the elections (and losing the popular votes), the Rakyat was burdened with price increases– from petrol price increase to tariff hikes in electricity, property assessments, tolls and all other kinds of tariffs. That is how PM Najib’s government betrayed the people. Rakyat didahulukan with all kinds of burdens!

Rosmah Mansor’s Opulence and Defiance

Rosmah and NajibWhen the Rakyat complained, PM Najib asked them to be thrifty, to be austere and so on, whereas all the while his domineering wife is jet-setting all over the world in a government jet, costing taxpayers to the tune of RM44 million. This did not yet take into account the numerous color Hermes and Birkin handbags (not the Shenzen or Petaling Street versions) that Rosmah Mansor is reputed to tot around costing not less than RM100 thousand each. She does not care what the Rakyat thinks about her lavish spending. Sheer defiance of public opinion.

Then, in a blatant display of grandiose and opulence, Riza Aziz, Rosmah’s son from an earlier marriage suddenly emerged in Hollywood as a big budget movie producer. The movie Wolf of Wall Street is nothing but sheer debauchery. I don’t give a hoot that it starred Leonardo Di Caprio or that it was directed by Martin Scorcesse. All I care is that there are enough stories out there in the Internet that Rosmah’s son is flaunting his very deep pockets to fund such big projects. The question on everybody’s mind is where did he get all that money? What is worse, the MACC chose not to investigate the young man.

With all these scandals surrounding his family, PM Najib has no moral authority to lecture the Rakyat about austerity when his wife and family display extreme opulence and questionable wealth.  Najib has no credibility to tell the Rakyat about how fortunate we are to be able to eat cheap kangkung when his family’s lifestyle of the rich and famous are posted all over youtube.

That is how sick the country is that leaders and those in authority cannot be trusted to take care of the Rakyat. And worst still when religion is used to rob people of their property. I read in the Malay Mail a case of the Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Batang Berjuntai conspiring with JAIS to rob a chinese company of its 26 acre land purportedly to build a mosque. I have not seen a 26-acre a mosque especially not in a kampung area like Batang Berjuntai. I became more interested when I saw that the lawyer acting for the chinese company is again Rosli Dahlan.

That makes me wonder if Rosli went to Makkah feeling guilty for acting against the religious authorities or if he was  seeking forgiveness and atonement because of all the condemnations he must be receiving for acting against the  likes of JAWI and JAIS which pretend to be the defenders and guardians of the Islamic faith. If that is why he is in Makkah, I have this to say to Rosli– don’t feel guilty. Seek justice and God will protect you.


Rosli should take it as his karma, taqdir, predestination or whatever you call it for him to be acting in such causes of justice without discriminating the race, color or religion of the oppressed party. That is what Islam is about- justice and compassion. And that’s  what our country and leadership are not. That is how sick our country is. We are at a crossroad where our professed islamic identity is made a mockery by the leadership and then aped by the Muslim mobs like PERKASA and ISMA.

Islam should be presented without any fanaticism. Without any stress on our having the only possible way and the others are lost. Moderation in all forms is a basic demand of Islam.

Islam should be presented without any fanaticism. Without any stress on our having the only possible way and the others are lost. Moderation in all forms is a basic demand of Islam.

That reminded me of the title of a book by renowned Islamic Scholar Muhammad Asad- “Islam at the Crossroads“. In case the likes of PERKASA, ISMA and their ilk are not aware, Muhammad Asad was born and raised as a Jew in Austria by the name of Leopold Weiss. So, one of Islam’s respected scholars of the recent century is actually a Jew! It was a Jew who correctly projected that Islam is at a crossroad. And I will borrow Asad’s title to say that Islam is indeed at crossroads in Malaysia. It is heading in the wrong direction because of politics of manipulation and subjugation by UMNO of Malay Muslims.

The Great Moderniser of Thailand: King Chulalongkorn

January 27, 2014


The Great Moderniser of Thailand: King Chulalongkorn

Irene Stengs, Worshipping the Great Moderniser: King Chulalongkorn, Patron Saint of the Thai Middle Class

Singapore and Seattle: NUS Press and University of Washington Press, 2009. Pp. xiii, 316; photographs, notes, bibliography, index.

Reviewed by Erick D. White.



The dramatic heyday of the cult of Chulalongkorn has passed. Arising in the early 1990s, in the middle of the Thai economic boom that lasted from the mid-1980s until the crash of 1997, its prominence has nonetheless persisted into the post-crash 2000s and beyond. Along the way it has gradually declined from a feverish public passion into an accepted and persistent modality of faith and ritual on the kingdom’s mainstream religious landscape. Bangkokians still gather at the Equestrian Statue on the Royal Plaza on Tuesday evenings to show their devotional respect. Practitioners across the nation still petition the deceased monarch before his statues in a myriad of temples and public spaces. Consumers still buy amulets and portraits of Chulalongkorn to adorn their bodies and home altars.

Spirit mediums are still regularly possessed by the monarch and thus able to offer advice and assistance to those in need. But since the dramatic emergence of the cult in the heady boom times of the 1990s, other devotional movements, centered on other deities (Princess Suphankalaya and Jatukamramathep, for example) have by now come and gone, part of the relentless churn of religious innovation and inspiration that characterizes popular religiosity in contemporary Thailand. That devotionalism to Chulalongkorn remains popular is not surprising: it is centered on a Chakri monarch in an age of high royalist revival and continuing, if more contested, general public reverence.  Nonetheless, the cult of Chulalongkorn no longer evokes quite the same excitement, quite the same breathlessness, or quite the same exuberance. The cult of Chulalongkorn also does not evoke scholarly investigation and analysis as it once did.

And yet its settled, conventional, accepted, and taken-for-granted status as a devotional movement is itself instructive about not only contemporary Thai religiosity and social change, but also the deeper relationship among monarchy, royalism, Buddhism, and popular religiosity in the increasingly unsettled twilight of King Bhumibol’s reign.

Irene Stengs’s monograph, Worshipping the Great Moderniser: King Chulalongkorn, Patron Saint of the Thai Middle Class, critically analyses and insightfully opens up for investigation a range of questions about royalty, religiosity, and devotionalism amidst nationalism and consumer society. Her study is based on multi-sited field research carried out between 1996 and 1998 in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. In Bangkok her fieldwork centered primarily on the Equestrian Statue and an organization called the “Prayers Society”, while in Chiang Mai she focused on a temple that was a center of Chulalongkorn worship as well as the abode of a spirit medium possessed by the king.

The study’s long incubation allowed the author to step back and take a somewhat more measured approach, one informed by the passage of time and new or additional scholarship. As a modestly revised version of her dissertation, the monograph’s substance and argument retain much of their original thematic focus and analytic tack, with a limited number of topics expanded or highlighted.

The remainder of this review is accessible here.

The Return of an Autocrat?

January 24, 2014

The Return of an Autocrat?

by CT Ali@http://www.freemalaysiatoday

rosmah-najibA disturbing reality in Malaysia today is our constant worry of what tomorrow will bring to our country, for our people and most worrying of all, for our future.

We start 2014 with that most worrying of all our concerns:Do we have, in Najib Tun Razak, a leader capable of providing this nation with the leadership it must have if we are to survive the annus horribilis that we all went through in 2013?

This is not the frivolous musing of a pro-Pakatan Rakyat anti-UMNO/BN activist whose main preoccupation is finding fault with the Barisan Nasional government.

Before we go into corruption, money politics and everything else that is wrong about the government, let us first ask ourself if there is someone, anyone, in government today in whom we trust. Someone whom we believe will have our interest at heart? Is there someone who has the intellect, the empathy and the humility to lead?This is about leadership of our nation.

From the outcome of the last general election it is clear that the majority of our people have not agreed that the leader chosen by UMNO, and by default that chosen by Barisan Nasional, namely Najib Tun Razak, is the leader they want.The people have made their choice and the answer is No; what then has the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional decided? Will UMNO and BN continue with a leader that has been rejected by a majority of the electorate, or has a process started to find a replacement for Najib? The truth lies somewhere in the mass of contradictions and conjectures that is UMNO and BN today.

Common sense will tell you that the process for change within UMNO started after the calamitous 12th general election in March 2008 when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi won a second term as Prime Minister with a reduced majority.

A year later in April 2009 Abdullah tendered his resignation. We are familiar with the circumstances of Abdullah’s resignation and we only need to look at the circumstances surrounding Najib today to see that he, too, is now in similar circumstances.

Abdullah had his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin to thank for his demise and Najib has his wife mahathir-Rosmah. Like Abdullah, many in UMNO are now undermining Najib. Like Abdullah, Najib is now facing Dr Mahathir Mohamad, albeit in a more civilised and structured manner.

Leaders of branches, divisions and states as well as UMNO’s warlords are all lining up their allegiance and their “periuk nasi” (rice bowl) according to their take on whether Najib or Mahathir will carry the day when push comes to shove within UMNO.

Wait and hide

Mahathir relishes a battle. Najib will do what he always does in any fight: wait, hide, wait, hide and still wait until a winner emerges, and if Mahathir has the numbers, Najib will lose. Najib has never seen himself as a contender to any position – not even to wear the trousers in his own home. He will prefer to feign disinterest, imagine himself to be above the fray of internal politics, even play dead, anything but be confrontational.

For me there is no doubt about the outcome. Who Mahathir decides will be King will be King. Whether it will be Muhyiddin Yassin, Mukriz Mahathir or Mahathir himself is to be seen but in the scheme of things to come, you can be assured that UMNO will come out of this whole sordid episode wiser.

We have the best seat in the house to see this political drama unfold before our eyes.When UMNO wants to pillage and plunder our nation, they do so with a vengeance and nothing stands in their way – not the Police, not the MACC, not even the Judiciary. Public opinion be damn.

When they want to exert their political dominance, they do so from the ground up, and populating the nation with bumiputeras was the logical place to start.And if this meant importing “pendatangs” who will become bumiputeras by the millions, so be it, and this they have done to perfection!

And if they want to politically dominate Malaysia for the next half century as they have done in the last half – and they do! – you can be rest assured that they can and will do so with a focus that will exclude all other considerations but that which matters to UMNO.And who is Najib Tun Razak to stand in UMNO’s way?

I do not hold any doubt that UMNO will succeed in its endeavours to cleanse itself of those riff-raff that passes for UMNO’s first-tier leaders today by virtue of their parentage or political pedigree.What ultimately matters in UMNO is that you take care of UMNO first and UMNO will take care of you – and nobody is a disciple of that belief more than Mahathir.

In his 22 years as leader of UMNO, Mahathir’s focus was to have power reside within him, which, by extension of him being the leader of UMNO, meant that political power resides within UMNO.

Nothing stood in Mahathir’s way – not the people’s interest, not the opposition’s interest, not even his wife or family !You have to respect that man’s determination and single-minded focus on the task then at hand – Machiavellian he may be but 20 years as Prime Minister of Malaysia is an achievement by any criteria.

Smart leader

Once again UMNO will have to up its ante and raise above the mediocrity of a leader who has no clue as to what he is doing in government and has no sense of what is unfolding around him.

We have given our verdict of Najib. Let us now see what UMNO will do to a leader who doesmay the force be with you not lead, a president who does not preside, a Malay who appealed to the Chinese at the last election for support and was severely rebuffed, a Malaysian who talks of 1Malaysia when UMNO wants 1Melayu and a husband who stands helpless in the face of a wife who dominates.

mukhriz-mahathir2The only thing that stands in Mahathir’s path is his age – or to be more exact – will his health hold up to being numero uno in UMNO. No doubt he will have Mukhriz and others with him, but Mahathir will be sorely tested by the effort needed to take Malaysia out of the conundrum that it has fallen into after his exit.

I have no affection for the manner Mahathir has conducted himself in the past but having seen what has come after him, I yearn for the crisp sure and firm focus he had been doing for what is best for Malaysia.Yes, he did not always succeed but in the times that he did, none of his successors have been able to emulate his efforts.What will keep Mahathir in check today is social media. He will now have to answer directly to the people for everything he does.

Another Ops Lallang is simply impossible to arrange given the ability of the people to mobilise opposition to anything they disagree with.Cronyism ala Mahathir would be exposed before it could even be executed. Say what you like about the old man but he knows what is expected of him and he knows the pulse of the nation.

Mahathir is on top of everything. And most critical of all, nobody in cabinet or government second-guesses him. If there is corruption it is because he allows it. If there is cronyism or money politics it is because he said yes to it. And by any criteria I would rather have that than the wholesale jamboree of cronyism, corruption and money politics now being done by politicians in government or opposition.

Since Mahathir left we have regressed. The point is this – such is our present situation that aKangkung, Kangkung return to Mahathir can only do us good, and UMNO can do away with the riff-raff that now passes for UMNO’s first-tier leadership.

Mahathir is smart enough to know what the people want and he will deliver and make UMNO into the likeness of the party our people aspire to – maybe not too open, maybe not too transparent – but it will be a government that will deliver the future that the people aspire.

Autocratic Ethnocracy is UGLY for Malaysia

January 21, 2014

Autocratic Ethnocracy is UGLY for Malaysia

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, CEO, Center for Policy Initiatives

TeckGheeIn early 2011, I provided a paper to the United Nations system in Malaysia on various scenarios facing the country, giving special emphasis to the impact of political and economic issues on social development. In it, I explored three scenarios:

• A best case one where the government can achieve its goals and targets as set out in various government documents;
• A midway scenario where targets are partially achieved; and
• A worst case scenario where targets are mostly not achieved and where the economic, political and social situation deteriorates significantly over the medium-term.

Unfortunately, the worst case scenario is becoming a reality. Excerpts from the report below identify the key steps and processes leading to the establishment of an autocratic ethnocracy which would be a huge step backwards for the country.

It is still not too late for the Prime Minister and other leaders, especially from the BN and UMNO, to lead the country away from the worst case scenario outlined in the paper.But time is running out.

Socio-cultural scenarios

The possibility of a best case socio-cultural situation is tied to the government’s determination to advance its 1Malaysia concept and its removal of constraints and obstacles that stand in the way. Minimum proactive measures include removing or neutralising those institutions and individuals most guilty of sowing and escalating racial distrust and religious disharmony, in particular that emanating from the ruling circles and the bureaucracy, especially from UMNO ranks and the official or UMNO-owned print and electronic media, particularly Utusan Malaysia and TV3.

It also includes supporting the inter-faith panel and other similar nation building bodies and providing them with a higher profile in improving inter-faith and ethnic relations. In this scenario, the leaders of the other Barisan Nasional component parties that have previously been silent, indifferent or impotent towards the escalation of the hate politics of race and religion find their voices and successfully put pressure on the BN government to be even handed in the management of ethnic and religious relations in the country.

Other key stake players such as PAS and Muslim NGOs in this scenario also play a positive role by dampening hard line Islamist positions. External events such as growing freedoms and liberalisation in the Middle East countries and key Islamic nations can also play an indirect role through influencing Islamic elements in the country towards more progressive positions that can contribute to improved relations between the various communities and religions.

The middle case scenario sees a holding pattern in ethnic and religious relations and the socio-cultural situation. New tensions and conflicts at local or sector levels will erupt and even if they do not get out of control, they have the effect of generating mistrust and rifts between the various communities and religions as a result of weak leadership and poor management skills.

The growth of ethnic group consciousness that has a strong emotive content continues unabated, dividing individuals and communities into “us” versus “them”. The Malay print and electronic media and Malay-Muslim bureaucracy continue to play on the racial and religious insecurities of the community, and Muslim NGOs import into the country sympathy for extreme Muslim positions from the outside that will further radicalise Muslim values and attitudes. At the same time, non-Malay and non-Muslims individuals and groups also pander to the insecurities of their communities and remain skeptical of the government’s 1Malaysia programme.

In the middle case scenario, a few encouraging signs are also to be found. Some integration and convergence in culture takes place and lesser importance is attached to ethnic identity and consciousness, especially due to Malaysians from East Malaysia where there has been greater inter-ethnic marriage, and racial and religious polarisation is less pronounced. Some moderate or reformist Muslims organisations also speak out against state dominance and religious orthodoxy, and cultural dissidents encourage the younger generation towards greater tolerance and acceptance of pluralist forms and messages.

At the same time, the middle class continues to grow and is better educated and more informed about the issues pertaining to the nation’s survival. Finally most Malaysians continue to be generally tolerant, accept the plurality of cultures, way of life, etc and are not stressed out by the fragile co-existence that has been a characteristic of the country for so long.

In the worst case socio-cultural scenario, the country’s racial and religious tensions and divisions reach a breaking point, with the minorities very much on the defensive. The politicians are no longer able to maintain control and the authorities are reluctant to intervene or act except in favour of the majority.

The rule of law becomes the rule of the majority, and the business community and most ordinary Malaysians lose respect for it whilst perpetrators of racial and religious hate feel that they can get away with actions aimed at maintaining dominance or curbing dissent. The country’s basic tolerance gives way to hardened and polarised positions on all sides, setting the stage for instability and social strife.

Autocratic ethnocracy 

The final obstacle in the country’s progress to a highly developed society is the way in whichKu Li the state institutions have been politicised to maintain the current government in power. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, one of the country’s most respected political leaders, has placed the blame for the loss in credibility and integrity of state institutions such as the Judiciary, Police, electoral agencies and others on the corruption that has seeped deeply into UMNO.

Similar views on the need to change the authoritarian character of Government, and its manipulation of the institutions of the state to perpetuate BN rule have long been expressed by the opposition parties and many civil society organisations. In the Pakatan Rakyat’s “Common Framework” document, the emphasis on change and transformation is not solely directed towards an economic agenda as appears to be the case with the BN.  It provides just as much attention to issues of ethnic and religious relations management and the reform of state institutions and political life necessary to preserve communal harmony should the opposition come to power.

These expressions of concern on the authoritarian and repressive nature of the state mainly articulated by opposition politicians and civil society dissidents are also being voiced by the business elite, including supporters of the BN government, though in nuanced and less explicit terms. According to the constitution, Malaysians enjoy constitutional rights such as the right to personal freedom, freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of expression; freedom of association; and equality before the law without discrimination. However, a thicket of arbitrary laws has stood in the way of the objective of a democratic and liberal society as envisaged in the country’s Vision 2020.

The impact of repressive legislation selectively applied, the politicisation of state institutions, and the authoritarian nature of the state clearly affects every sector and every population group in the country. This – together with its ethnocentric character (a single ethnic group dominates and controls virtually all key positions in the judiciary, public administrative organs, the police and the armed forces) and a trend of increasing Islamisation – is the biggest stumbling block to the development of a robust democracy.

In this context, it would be too optimistic to expect meaningful change in the country’s political and socio-economic situation unless there is wide ranging political reform. For such reform to take place, a higher calibre of leadership is required than has been demonstrated.

Overall future scenario

The most likely scenario then, in the country in the next five years (or at least until the 14th general elections is held), is maintenance of the current status quo with time running out on attainment of economic targets and with further fraying of an already dangerously fragile social fabric.

najib-frowningThe momentum of continued political bickering and ethnic and religious discord if not broken – especially against a backdrop of economic stagnation – could set the stage for the next momentous development in the country’s evolution: either a dramatic break with the past through deep reforms – this appears a distinctly unlikely possibility; a sharper turn towards an Islamic conservative future; or a retreat to emergency rule in which UMNO-led right wingers, and other powerful stake players including the monarchy – tied to maintaining an authoritarian ethnocracy – make a bid for, and successfully seize power.


Southeast Asia and The Challenge of Managing Fractured Societies

January 13, 2014

Southeast Asia and The Challenge of Managing Fractured Societies

by Rodolfo C Severino, ISEAS(01-11-14)

SeverinoPolitical unrest, economic divisions, social turmoil, outright insurgency and civil war are common problems in the modern age.

In Southeast Asia such problems are pertinent currently in Thailand and perennially in the Philippines. Elsewhere, they seem to be characteristic of the troubles in Ukraine and in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and other Arab countries. What do these countries have in common?

Some have to do with ethnicity.Some with religion. Some with geography. Others with gaps in income. Others with differences in education and exposure. Others with the rural–urban divide. Still others with a combination of two or more or all of these at once.

Media commentators and academic analysts emphasise one or another of these phenomena in their analyses of developments in individual countries.

The current upheavals, some violent, others unarmed, all unsettling, it seems can be best summarised as being caused by cultural divides or gaps between the forces of modernisation and those of tradition, between the educated elite mostly in the cities and the teeming masses mostly in the countrysides.

The eruption of all this telegenic conflict heightens the perception of social inequality within nations, affecting social cohesion at a time when cohesion is needed most.For example, the rule of law may bring advantage to those who know the law. Thus, they may wave pieces of paper issued by governments giving them title to certain parcels of land. Others may think that they own what they and their forefathers before them have cultivated for centuries, but have no legal title to it. Thus they cannot get the legitimate sources of credit to consider that piece of land as rightful collateral. The former measure real-estate property by square metre, for instance, while the latter measure it by how long it takes for a stick of cigarette to be smoked.

What may be condemnable, regrettable and/or punishable corruption or ‘vote-buying’ to the city-slicker may be just another source of livelihood or survival for others. They have different conceptions or interpretations of justice, with the former adhering to and invoking laws passed by an elected legislature and the latter focusing on social justice.

The former generally uphold the sovereignty and writ of the state within internationally recognised national boundaries. The latter regard those boundaries — drawn and laid down in any case by foreign colonisers long ago — as irrelevant to their daily lives and to their dealings with brethren on either side of what to them are artificial national borders, even assuming that they are aware of such borders at all.

Not least, and perhaps most important, is the notion of one-man, one-vote elections — the right to rule bestowed by the ballots of the majority of electors. It is the idea of democracy itself.

Related to all this is ‘populism’: what some may consider as vote-buying through ‘populist’ measures, others may regard as long-overdue manifestations of attention to the downtrodden masses whose interests have long been ignored by the ‘urban elite’.

What happens if the person or persons elected, admittedly by the majority of the people in a state, rides roughshod over the interests, if not the lives, of people now becoming a minority and fearful of the loss of their privileges, if not their lives and livelihoods? Will that minority be justified in seeking the overthrow or replacement, through extra-legal means, of those who had been voted in according to laws that the elite themselves — or, more accurately, those whom they themselves had used to consider as their representatives — drafted, passed and accepted?

These are difficult questions. As far as I know, no text book, on civics or otherwise, provides any answers to them. Each society will have to resolve them by itself, as they are being resolved in some countries today.

In any case, the traditional, mostly countryside masses seem in all societies to be moving towards the rule of law, anti-‘corruption’ as a form of social justice, and rationality as against tradition or what they regard as tradition.

This trend is largely caused by the general opening up of societies, the market-driven operation of technological developments in transportation and communications, and the resulting efficacious and widespread transmission of ‘universal’ norms, which have exposed state decision-making to the influence of increasing numbers of people and generally shortened the tenures in office of many elected national decision-makers.

The convergence may take place slowly in some societies, suddenly in others, and at different paces in all; but the trend seems to be inexorable. In all cases, the process will take time, and patience.

No small degree of humility, and the ability to consider the argument on all sides, is called for.–http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Rodolfo C Severino, a former ASEAN Secretary-General, is head of the ASEAN Studies Centre in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. The views expressed here are solely his own.

Pak Kadiaq: Talking Tough on Najib

January 8, 2014

Pak Kadiaq: Talking Tough on Najib

by V. Anbalagan, Assistant News Editor@www. themalaysianinsider.com

kadir_jasin_350_238_100Pak Kadiaq

Pro-government supporters should realise that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is not above criticism for Putrajaya’s cost-cutting measures which had resulted in price hikes, says a former editor of an UMNO-linked newspaper.

Veteran journalist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin  wrote that Najib and his advisers were not above criticism when the public reacted to Putrajaya’s way of managing the national economy.

“It was Najib and his advisers during the general election who promised the people that prices will not be raised. So, who is going back on their word?” he asked in a posting in his The Scribe blog yesterday.

He also questioned whether the Prime Minister was an absolute monarch who could not be criticised or questioned. Or is he a living saint who is free from any kind of slip-ups?” asked Kadir, who was the Group Editor-in-Chief of the New Straits Times when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the Prime Minister.

Since September, Putrajaya has introduced a series of cost-cutting measures to rein in a chronic budget deficit which includes a reduction of fuel subsidies, removal of subsidy for sugar, allowed an increase in power tariffs and confirmed the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST). Putrajaya is also mulling a revision of toll rates while the 20% rebate offered to frequent users of tolled roads in the Klang Valley is being scrapped.

The increasing cost of goods and services had also triggered a protest on New Year’s Eve by an undergraduate non-governmental organisation, Turun, which attracted more than 10,000 people.

In defending his strident criticism of Najib, the veteran journalist also rebuked his critics who had claimed that he only lambasted the Prime Minister on “economic management but did not offer advice and pointers”.

Kadir felt his critics did not read his long “advice” to Najib and his government through his blog and also through his writings elsewhere.Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the Prime Minister following drastic hike in the price of fuel and cooking gas which resulted in the price increase of essential items and services.

“I had written several articles then to remind the government on the implication and ways to reduce the burden of consumers,” said Kadir, who owns Berita Publishing which produces the Malaysian Business magazine. He added it was not his responsibility to teach Putrajaya economic management for that was the responsibility of ministries, government agencies and the advisers of the Prime Minister who were learned.

“My job is to offer feedback. However, there are those who equate that to going against the establishment. This is the result of a society who are not critical and extremely partisan,” he said.

Kadir also said that he had repeatedly stated that subsidy was unsustainable, distorted the market and led to the people to rely heavily on the government. “But I only questioned the way the government, especially under Abdullah dan Najib, managed the subsidy, price control, distribution of savings from the subsidy and ways to reduce financial wastage,” he added

English Proficiency in Malaysia: Time for Urgent Action

January 7, 2014

English Proficiency in Malaysia: Time for Urgent Action

by BA Hamzah*

ba-hamzahEnglish proficiency in Malaysia has reached a critical level that it can undermine the well-being and international prestige of this country in the absence of genuine efforts to curb its decline. It is impossible, for example, to conduct diplomacy and commercial relations without a strong command of English.

In 2011, more than forty- thousand Malaysian graduates from public Universities could not get jobs in the private sector because they were not proficient in English. A large number of them were Malays from the rural areas. Their “unemployability” puts a drag on the country’s economic growth.

The poor, especially those living in rural areas, will suffer from the lack of proficiency in English. Not only English has become the world’s lingua franca, it is also the language for science, mathematics, finance, diplomacy, trade as well as in other fields of humanities and social science.

English proficiency provides access to the international job market, which can help the poor get a decent, good paying job.

Since the Asian financial crisis (1997-1998), economic growth in Malaysia has not recovered fully. Whether the country can achieve a more robust economic recovery if the workforce has higher proficiency in English is debatable.

There are, however, empirical studies, which correlate proficiency in English with higher economic productivity.To move out of the middle- income trap Malaysia needs a work force with innovative skills to take nation to the next level.

Higher proficiency in English could probably increase the much-needed innovative skills to handle the ever-complex enabling technologies.

According to the Economist Intelligence (2012), 70 per cent of the executives surveyed said to expand their corporate vision they needed more than fifty per cent of their work force to be proficient in English. The same study shows a positive relationship between employability and English proficiency, worldwide.

The strong correlation between gross national income and proficiency in English is now an accepted dictum. Many maintain that the correlation between English proficiency and gross national income is a virtuous cycle, each mutually reinforcing each other. One study shows that proficiency in English can increase job employability and better salaries.

English proficiency among the poor can level the uneven playing fields and close the income gap between the ethnic groups in this country. It could even unite the diverse communities, which have been gravely polarised by narrow ethnic interests.

Admittedly, language can be emotive as it is cultural specific. This essay does not suggest that we do away with vernacular schools and the national language. On the contrary, the essay calls for the nation to embrace a productive global language that can complement the national language.

The decline of English proficiency in Peninsular Malaysia is traceable to the Razak Report in 1956, which recommended Malay as the medium of instruction. Had our political masters adopted the recommendations in Barnes Report (1951) to use Malay in primary schools and English for secondary and tertiary education, we could have avoided the current predicament.

The recently proposed changes to the teaching of English in the National Education Blueprint are too shallow, myopic and cosmetic in nature; no real structural changes, such as reinstating English schools, for example.  Without deep structural changes to the teaching and application of English, more people will just lose confidence and trust in our education system. Such cosmetic changes are insignificant; good only for cheap publicity.

In fact, poor command of English has begun to erode academic excellence in public Universities. Before 1971, when English was the medium of instruction, our public Universities were highly rated for their academic scholarship. They were at par with the best in the British Commonwealth.

Today is a different story altogether. Universiti Malaya, the pride of the nation, managed 156th place in the QS World University ranking for 2013. Compare this with the National University of Singapore (24), Seoul National University (35) and Nanyang Technological University (41). Surely, something is amiss with our education system for the international academic community to rank our public Universities so lowly.

The Government must do more to reverse the decline in English proficiency, and has to do it with utmost urgency. Do it now in the national interest.

*BA Hamzah is a keen student of political pedagogy. He can be contacted at bahamzah@pd.jaring.my

Arshad Ayub: Liberator of the Malay Psyche

January 4, 2013

Arshad Ayub: Liberator of the Malay Psyche

by Dr A. Murad Merican@http://www.nst.com.my

Tan Sri Arshad Ayub with FriendsTan Sri Arshad Ayub and Friends

WHEN Tan Sri Arshad Ayub visited Ohio University at Athens, Ohio, on June 23, 1970, he made known his interest in establishing a journalism and communications programme at the then Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM). The early syllabus was based on language, liberal arts and professional specialisation.

Even before he visited Ohio’s College of Communication and its School of Journalism, Tan Sri Arshad had advocated the teaching of journalism in Malaysian higher education as far back as the mid-1960s.

Graduates from what began as the School of Mass Communication (popularly known in Bahasa Melayu as Kajian Sebaran Am) and now the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, should realise that their intellectual “father” is Tan Sri Arshad Ayub.

This dawned upon me while researching the beginnings of journalism education in Malaysia some years ago at Universiti Teknologi Mara archives. I met Tan Sri Arshad on several occasions. Once, we were on the same panel on the topic of education in Malaysia, and the other, having the honour of the man chairing a session in a seminar where I delivered a paper on life-long learning.

Many know of Tan Sri Arshad as a pioneering educationist. He was instrumental in ITM’s growth. He was a paradigm basher. He opened up minds, identities and values. Many know him as a task master.

But perhaps not many know him as an early advocate of the liberal arts and the humanities in Malaysian higher education. He introduced Russian, French and Arabic. Mandarin was made compulsory for business courses, and Tamil for plantation management. Then there was Logic, Literature, and History.

In one of his speeches some years back, Tan Sri Arshad stated that education is not a special copyright of any one individual organisation. It knows no boundaries. And there was no boundary when he was nurturing ITM back then. He was given a free hand to plant the seeds of education for the rural Malay: “The ‘how-to’ was entirely up to me.”

With the trust and vision for the future of the Malays given to him by Tun Abdul Tun Abdul RazakRazak, Arshad’s slogan for action was: “Just do it.” There was not enough time to think of a formal education system as it evolved. He reflected that the expansion was “too rapid that thoughts for a real system came after the deed”.

He attributed the brilliance in the vision of social engineering to Tun Razak. Tan Sri Arshad was not only the strategist, but also the thinker. He once recalled Tun Razak’s message in the first issue of Utusan Pelajar, an Utusan Melayu publication in 1970. Tun Razak stated that “The present young Malaysian must be developed into a scientific race.” The words “scientific race” caught Tan Sri Arshad’s attention.

Tan Sri Arshad takes the term “scientific” to mean “educated” — middle-class professionals and entrepreneurs that could transport Malays into more viable occupations in the private sector.

“Scientific” could also mean that it was “incumbent on us to change mind sets” — from accepting a general education system to a more precise and analytical one that can help develop the country’s resource with its nation building interest at heart.

To change mind sets, Tan Sri Arshad developed strategic alliances with foreign universities and funding bodies in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Human capital assistance came from the participation of Australian Services Abroad, the US Peace Corp, British Volunteers and the Canadian University Service Oragnisation.

Courses like accountancy, architecture, business administration and management, engineering, hotel catering and management, library science, and mass communication were initiated — the first of such courses offered in Malaysia at that time.

Tan Sri Arshad was a pioneer in the “twinning” concept — a process in capacity building. His long and illustrious career as a public servant deserves an appropriate recognition, as suggested by Azman Ujang (Letters, NST, Jan 1). He pioneered the pragmatic “hands on” approach to meet industry, manpower needs and economic advancement of the nation. At the same time, he was the first to introduce the concept of the humanities in Malaysian university education.

The little known journal ITM Quarterly, published in the early 1970s, contains some invaluable discourse in the intertwining nature of education in nation building, Arshad’s vision in the development of higher education in Malaysia and his ideal of the student as the new Malay intellectual.

Tan Sri Arshad Ayub liberated the Malay psyche.

Tsunami of Price Hikes

January 2, 2014

Tsunami of Price Hikes In Malaysia Truly Asia

by Balan Moses@http://www.thesundaily.my

Balan MosesTHE pain that many fear will envelop them from a prospective tsunami of price hikes has yet to kick in but rest assured that the inevitable will take place.

I am sorry to start the year on a pessimistic note but false optimism will get us nowhere. We, the people at large, have to discuss the matter and collectively work with the government and private sector to get us out of this veritable pickle that we find ourselves in. Malaysians are bracing for increments ranging from power rates to tolls that have crept up on us all of a sudden leaving many afraid that their slender financial resources may not be able to weather the storm.

How is it that everyone (I exaggerate, of course) is rushing, in concert it appears, to charge us more? Has fair play (and fair prices) been thrown out the window? In reality, higher charges for a myriad goods and services have been our constant companions since last year with many not really feeling the pinch due to the manner in which prices went up intermittently by a fraction.

Much like the proverbial frog in water that grew warmer gently but surely until the heat became unbearable. In truth, our ringgit buys less today than it did last year. And it appears that this will very much be the trend in the foreseeable future.

What then is the fate of the ordinary wage earner whose purchasing power is diminishing at a faster rate than the annual increase in income? Not exactly encouraging news given the warning a couple of days ago that some employers may be giving smaller bonuses and salary increments this year.

At Dataran Merdeka--Price Hikes Protest -31-12-13Price Hike Protest-December 31, 2013

And certainly not palatable information to the many retirees from the public and private sectors. Government pensioners are not exactly ecstatic every time there is an across the board hike in public sector salaries as pensions do not appear to keep pace with price hikes.

As for those who retired from the private sector, the outlook appears rather bleak as jobs become increasingly hard to come by at their age.

Some of those depending on Employees Provident Fund savings to get by fear that their money may not last them for too long with medical exigencies making their unhealthy presence felt and old age imposing its costs in so many other ways.

So where does that leave the average consumer? I think it is time that consumers organise themselves better to avoid getting a raw deal from traders at all levels.

I am not besmirching the honest traders who make reasonable profits by giving the consumer a fair price for a product or service. Not for a moment do I begrudge traders their fair profit as they too have families with all attendant costs. My beef is with profiteers who use any excuse for a better profit.

Malaysians have to identify the areas where they spend the most and seek to keep costs at reasonable levels. I use the word “reasonable” as I am cognizant of the fact that we do not live in a vacuum with international price trends directly affecting our economy.

Be that as it may, the time has come for middle Malaysia (the rich may not arguably feel the pinch like the middle class and poor do) to sit up and take an active interest in the mechanics of price hikes. I am sure there are retired economists, entrepreneurs, consumerists, academics, statisticians and managers with a reservoir of experience who can join hands to identify the way in which prices are increased.

They can also point out to government areas of unjustified increases in prices for the executive to act on. They can also work with the private sector to rationalise price hikes. I am curious about how much profit traders make in any sale or transaction.

Is there any authority that keeps tabs on these things or is it a laissez-faire system where everyone makes as much profit as they want? The argument may be made that no one is forcing anyone to buy at a particular shop or outlet. Willing buyer, willing seller as the saying goes.

And therein lies the rub as unwilling buyers are now forced to buy at willing outlets that don’t mind inflating prices as they have a captive audience.

Is there a choice available to consumers? Not really. Those in housing estates are at the mercy of sundry shops that charge 20-30% more than some supermarkets which in turn charge 20% or more than hypermarkets.

Can we have a directory of enterprises for the consumer to refer to for fair prices? Can someone get this going on the internet for the public good? There are a whole raft of things that the consumers can do if we put our collective mind to it. Remember. We are a potent force who can make or break businesses.

Even as I delve into the litany of woes facing the average consumer, I want to highlight the plight of the poor who earn meagre salaries and are struggling to make ends meet. The poor will always be with us and it is incumbent on everyone else to come to their aid, irrespective of their race or religion.

Poverty strips everyone of their dignity and right to a decent life. As Alexander Pope’s immortalised saying “hope springs eternal in the human breast” resonates in my mind, I want to end on a similar note.

I pray that Malaysians journey through this year as best as they can given the strength of human spirit which can rise to the occasion as and when necessary. Happy New Year.

I RETURNED from abroad last Saturday, landing at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in the wee hours of the morning. As three flights landed at almost the same time, the pedestrian lanes were busy with passenger traffic.

The joy of returning home was, however, marred by a number of things that could have been avoided if those in charge of the airport had done their job that day. The first hurdle was the fact that the escalator was out of service. I saw old men and women struggle with their hand luggage as they climbed the flight of steps with no one to help them.

Malaysia 2014

As we stood in line at the immigration checkpoint, the manual line seemed to move faster than the autogate when logic dictates that it should have been the other way around. We later found that only one gate had been opened for three plane loads of exhausted people.

The baggage carousel area was another disaster as hundreds of weary travelers tried to keep their cool as they tried to negotiate around a sea of trolleys. Clearly the place was not made for a large crowd. If anyone thought that this was the end of their woes, they were sorely mistaken.

The taxi line was overflowing with passengers, some with children, with nary a taxi in sight. The attendant on duty told me that this had been the case the whole day. I know that the LCCT is a no-frills area but please have a heart for those who use it. We are not second class travelers and deserve the same conveniences available at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Not that some of those landing there are not complaining either. A friend flew in the other day with an aged relative and was unable to find a single trolley. The other problem was that not one premier taxi was available.

I believe we have the infrastructure in place at our airports. It’s just that monitoring is below par. Let’s hope that Visit Malaysia Year 2014 will not be marred by these hiccups in an otherwise good system.

Balan Moses, theSun‘s executive editor (news), like many other Malaysians, feels for the poor, the underprivileged, the disabled and those barely keeping their nose above water. He wants to galvanize Malaysians to put their best foot forward to help the underclasses live decently with pride and dignity even as those blessed more in every respect do their bit for their lesser Malaysian cousins. Feedback: bmoses@thesundaily.com