Hot (Headed) Yoga


October 14, 2014

Hot (Headed) Yoga

by
on October 13, 2014

 (The conclusion of a two-part series)

Note to readers: Yesterday, in an article headlined “Fed Up,” I reported that many members of the World Trade Organization have reached the end of their patience with a handful of members — India, and a few African and Latin Americans who love to nurture their grudges against the “rich” countries. Frustrations that such countries have poisoned the WTO’s negotiation atmosphere have been gradually building since the WTO was launched in 1995. The tipping point came in July, when India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, vetoed the only successful multilateral trade negotiation the WTO has ever conducted.

As the future viability of this vital international trade rule-making institution is now on the line, it’s important to take a closer look at how the present fight started, and why. Today’s report offers more details on: where Modi is coming from, exactly what he wants, and who his sympathizers are. While India claims to speak for the world’s poor, that certainly is not the view of an increasing number of developing countries around the world. India’s trade distorting agriculture subsidies have caused food riots in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These days, complaints of the harm that India is inflicting upon other poor countries are surfacing again, particularly in Rwanda and other African countries. Concluding, the report highlights how leading WTO member countries plan to move on, with or without the cooperation of India and the other laggard countries.

So where is Modi coming from?

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi of India at UNGA

Modi, proudly, is a hardline Hindu right-winger, an economic nationalist who boasts of a 56-inch chest. He is a tough guy, a man who loves a brawl. His top political aide is dodging a prosecution for various murders. Modi himself has denied (unconvincingly) his role in the killings of some 2,000 Muslims in organized riots in his home state of Gujarat, back in 2002.

And in the past week, Modi has rather exuberantly been raining mortars and machine-gun fire across a populated India-Pakistan border area of Kashmir. The fighting, which has broken a tenuous truce reached in 2003, has so far killed nearly 20 civilians and displaced nearly 20,000 civilians, according to news reports. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses,” a senior Indian Home Ministry official has told Reuters reporters Rupam Jain Nair and Mehreen Zara-Malik. Modi himself has boasted that “it is the enemy that is screaming.” Kashmir, with the possible exception of the Korean DMZ, is perhaps the world’s most dangerous border. A border where Hot Heads on both sides brandish their nuclear weapons.

Some of the other opinions that Modi brandishes are less scary, but well, unusual. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 27, Modi called for an “International Yoga Day.” He asserted that “yoga,” “spiritualism” and clean living could contribute to a better global environment. “By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change,” he explained to the diplomatic dignitaries. Meanwhile, back in New Delhi, the clean-living prime minister has authorized “hundreds of projects” to clear pristine forests, making way for mega power plants and other industrial projects that previous Indian governments had rejected on environmental grounds, Tommy Wilkes has reported for Reuters.

Modi held the WTO’s trade-facilitation package hostage to India’s demands to be allowed — permanently — to violate existing WTO restrictions on the subsidies it is allowed to dole out to uncompetitive Indian subsistence farmers. Adding to the indignity: previous Indian governments had agreed to those WTO rules in the 1980s. And the Indian government that Modi replaced in May had duly signed onto the Bali Package last December. As U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said last week, India has now “reneged” on its signed obligations.

Moreover, Modi’s demands have left WTO diplomats scratching their heads, wondering what he might have been smoking.

Food Insecurity

Since obtaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, India’s leaders have never figured out how to feed their people. In the name of “food security,” Indian governments have been buying food from the country’s farmers, paying above-market prices. The grains are then stockpiled. Perhaps half of the mountains of grain rot away, or are eaten by rats. Much of the rest is siphoned off by corrupt (politically connected) operators for sale on the black market.

What doesn’t rot or is not stolen is then doled out to feed India’s infamously malnourished urban population — especially when elections loom, which in India is often.

Perhaps because politics trumps economics, Indian politicians — no matter which party is in power —  have been increasing the subsidies, making bigger stockpiles.  And they have been demanding permission from the WTO to keep jacking up the subsidies as much as they want, even higher than the allowable limits that Indian governments have pledged to honor.

In Bali last December, the Indian negotiators won a generous four-year “peace clause.” That gave New Delhi four years to go ahead and violate existing WTO limitations by increasing agriculture subsidies, without fear of being held legally accountable. As the purpose of the WTO’s trade negotiations is to reduce trade barriers, not allow additional protectionism, this was arguably overly generous.

Yet the four-year grace period still wasn’t enough for Modi, when he came into office in May. He demanded that India be given the “permanent” right to break the existing rules — and right away, by the end of this year, thank you. Many diplomats, in many ways, have told the new Indian leader that this would never happen. Undeterred, Modi, somewhat joyously, brought down the Bali Package, thus shaking the foundations of trust that the WTO must have to remain viable.

At least, the ploy has generally played well at home. Indian officials have launched a whispering campaign, some of which has made its way into various Indian news accounts, falsely accusing the WTO’s top leadership of favoring the rich countries.

Claiming the Moral High Ground

Modi, like all of his predecessors dating to Jawaharlal Nehru (who ran India from 1947 to 1964, useful information for readers who are crossword puzzle addicts), has claimed that he holds the high moral ground. We are simply demanding the rights to feed our own poor, and we are the champion the world’s poor, so goes the refrain.

Some champion.

India is the world’s largest exporter of (subsidized) rice. The subsidies distort food markets in other countries by driving down prices. That’s bad enough in normal years for farmers in African and other nations who have to compete with the cheap Indian rice. Of course, the Europeans and Americans aren’t exactly innocents in such matters. But at least they have long ago moved away from stockpiling surpluses that cause real damage in world markets, preferring to pay their farmers cash subsidies that are considered less trade-distorting.

But India seems stuck on stockpiling and other protectionist schemes that cause real harm to trading partners. Remember the 2008 food riots in Haiti, Cameroon, Senegal and other countries? Global rice prices had skyrocketed after India put a damper on supplies by slapping on export controls during the previous year’s election season. Not only has no Indian politician ever apologized for the damage those export controls inflicted — after coming to power this May, Modi quickly imposed new price controls on onions and potatoes.

More recently, Rwanda’s trade minister, Francois Kanimba, explained to Shawn Donnan, the world trade editor of the Financial Times, how India’s present agriculture subsidies are hurting his country’s farmers. Rice and sugar from India had been reaching Rwanda “at such low prices [that] you are left wondering if these are really global market prices, simply explained by the competitiveness of the Indian economy,” Kanimba said. Donnan noted that the same concerns are being expressed in Nigeria, Benin, and other African food importers. This is “why the solution India is seeking at the WTO, which celebrates its 20th birthday in January, is unlikely to be palatable to many of its members,” Donnan concluded.

India’s claims to speak for the world’s poor used to be accepted automatically in the Third World. Signs that that’s been changing surfaced at the WTO’s Bali meetings last December. At a press conference, India’s then top trade official, Anand Sharma, asserted that India was only seeking “food security” for poor people everywhere. Sharma was humiliated by a furious journalist from Benin, one of the world’s poorest countries. “You don’t speak for us,” the Benin journalist angrily shouted. Those of us who were in the room will never forget the emotions on display at that press conference. (For further details, see “India’s Bali Debacle,” which I authored for the Wall Street Journal Asia. The piece, along with two other investigative reports into India’s WTO stance in recent years, is posted on the Wall Street Journal section of www.rushfordreport.com.)

India’s Admirers

These days, Modi’s been enjoying his success in having placed himself on the WTO’s center stage, even though he is playing the role of a pariah. Modi knows he enjoys the tacit backing of envious fellow economic nationalists in places like Venezuela, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Ecuador and Cuba. Such leaders love to nurture their grudges against the rich countries, seeing the WTO as a tool of the rich. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa runs with this crowd. These days, Zuma must be especially envious of Narendra Modi’s nerve.

Zuma is another economic nationalist who is skeptical that the WTO’s multilateral trade liberalizing negotiations will benefit South Africa. But he might be better advised to seek some sound economic advice as to why South Africa’s economy has been losing its dynamism.

Two very savvy Pretoria-based authorities on what used to be called “political economy” — Mzukisi Qobo of the University of Pretoria and Peter Draper, of Tutwa Consulting — recently succinctly explained Zuma’s attitude on economics in a May 27 article in South Africa’s Business Day. Under Zama’s economic guidance, South Africa’s economic growth has been on a steady decline, Qobo and Draper noted. Nor does Zuma seem to grasp the “gravity” of the economic challenges that are holding his country back, they added. “He also seems to have given up on leaving a great economic legacy, and instead prefers to manage a balancing act of contending factions within the African National Congress (ANC).”

Zuma’s trade minister, Rob Davies, is a member of the Politburo of South Africa’s Communist Party. That fact speaks well of Davies’ personal courage in having opposed apartheid in the days when to do so was to risk one’s life. But it doesn’t necessarily suggest that Davies’ economic credentials are sterling. Many African observers worry that South Africa, traditionally the most solid African economy that still regards itself as the “gateway” to the rest of Africa, will inevitably be left behind. Watch the East Africans — especially the emerging ties and improved infrastructure linking Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya — many African watchers say. Yes, these countries also have their own economic weaknesses. And in the WTO, the East Africans seem to be split on whether to speak out in favor of India, or against. Still, one has a growing sense that their future could be brighter than South Africa’s, depending upon how well they manage to integrate themselves into the global economy. At some point, the South Africans will likely kick themselves for their lack of economic foresight.

Zuma first worked earlier this year behind the scenes with the Addis Ababa-based African Union (an opaque organization which wasn’t even a participant in the Bali negotiations) to reopen the Bali deal. Conveniently, Zuma’s former wife now heads the AU. But Zuma and the AU came under intense pressure, mainly from Europeans and Americans, but also by dozens of other WTO member countries. They backed down during African Union meetings held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in August. Since then the African Group of WTO members has basically been holding their tongues, trying to pretend that what India has done, hasn’t really happened. (For the background, see “Power Plays in the WTO,” www.rushfordreport.com, June 3, 2014). South African and African Union officials declined repeated requests for comment, as did a spokesman for the WTO’s Africa Group.

In sum, what the Africans started and India’s Modi finished was the tipping point. Leading circles in the WTO — the “North” definitely, and many in the “South” — believe that this time, the chronic naysayers have simply gone too far.

An Uncertain Plurilateral Future

While the WTO’s future is presently clouded, one thing appears clear: no longer will a handful of malcontents be allowed to poison the chances of dismantling as many of the world’s remaining trade barriers as possible. That means the WTO will turn away from its tradition of conducting trade-liberalizing negotiations on a multilateral basis. Instead, there will be smaller groups of like-minded countries that will work together to facilitate trade flows. This is the so-called plurilateral option.

The future likely model has precedents. The WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement has 43 member countries (counting the European Union’s 28). The GPA’s rules, which are only extended to participating countries, are aimed at improving transparency and competitive bidding when governments agree to award contracts to all bidders (as opposed to just doling out lucrative contracts to well-connected domestic cronies). China, New Zealand, and eight other countries have been negotiating to join in that plurilateral. No African country has shown interest in joining in such an experiment in open government. Nor has India.

India is, however, a member of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement, a plurilateral WTO success story that dates to 1997. ITA signatories, including India, have slashed tariffs on imports of high-tech gadgets like computers and telecommunications equipment. But India has refused to participate in ongoing negotiations to expand the ITA’s product coverage to include new inventions — iPhones, iPods and so forth — that weren’t invented in the 1990s. In fact, Modi has already moved in the opposite direction: jacking up tariffs on imports of iPhones.

Late last week, the WTO’s director-general, Roberto Azevedo, described the uncertain future for further WTO multilateral trade negotiations, especially if “no solution” is found for the “Bali impasse.” In such a case, the director-general noted to a business audience in Toronto on Oct. 9,  “then members must ask themselves some tough questions — about how they see the future of the Bali package and the post-Bali agenda. And what this means for the WTO’s negotiating function.”

Translated from the nuanced diplomatic language, Azevedo was pointing to a plurilateral future for the WTO, at least until the benefits of multilateral trade liberalization become apparent to the laggards. It might even turn out that the Bali deal will proceed as a plurilateral arrangement. India and the backward-looking African and Latin countries will be offered the choice to be left behind, if they prefer.  Such, it appears, is their future — at least until the day comes when they will be willing to take off their economic dunce caps.

Fed Up

(First of a two-part series), October 12, 2014

Sometimes in life, there comes a tipping point when — enough is enough. And that pretty much describes the present mood in the Geneva-based World Trade Organization. The Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, Europeans, Canadians, Scandinavians, Japanese — basically, all of the most important trading centers around the world that comprise the vast majority of world trade — have had it. They are fed up. Fed up with India, especially. India’s new prime minister, the pugnacious Narendra Modi, has brought all WTO negotiations to a halt, thanks to his unprecedented recent veto of the only successful multilateral trade-liberalizing negotiation in the institution’s nearly twenty years of existence.  “Disgusted” even more, as one diplomat based in a European country un-delicately puts it, because Modi’s reasons simply defy economic logic.

Leading WTO members have also had it with various African and Latin American leaders like those in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Bolivia. The leaders of such countries have gradually eroded their credibility by making no secret of the fact they just don’t really believe in the WTO’s core mission of dismantling trade barriers on a multilateral basis. Fed up with how the economic laggards have meanwhile been holding the rest of the WTO’s 160-member countries hostage to their parochial demands.

Over the years, the WTO and its predecessor international trade rules-making organization have operated on two core beliefs. First, that trade liberalization must be done for the good of all members, on a multilateral basis. Second, that the negotiations to dismantle trade barriers will be reached by consensus — but with the expectation that member countries will conduct themselves with a certain civility, and restraint. The institution cannot function when those core beliefs are trampled upon.

True, some WTO members like Switzerland, Norway and Japan who are presently outraged at India have their own protectionist rackets that they defend vigorously in negotiations (think only of Japan’s 500-plus percent rice tariffs). But, in significant contrast with India, such respected WTO member countries always conduct themselves with civility and restraint. It is unthinkable that they would wreck the institution for domestic political gain.

The frustrations with India and the other chronic economic under-achievers who have anti-colonial chips on their shoulders hardly stop at the traditional “North-South” divide between the rich countries and their former colonial possessions. Privately, some key officials from countries that have traditionally identified themselves with the WTO member countries from the “South” — including Mexico, Brazil, Pakistan, and even some in Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Benin — share the frustrations. True, some of these same countries can’t seem to make up their minds which side they are on — Kenya comes immediately to mind, as do Tanzania and Uganda. Africans have often joined in the constant attacks against the WTO since it succeeded the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1995. But now, there seems to be an emerging fear in Africa that things have gotten out of hand, and that vulnerable African economies will suffer the consequences of India’s irresponsibility.

And there are the more economically enlightened smaller countries in the “South” — like Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, and Chile — that have been prospering because they have wisely embraced the global trading system. These admirable symbols of what trade liberalization can accomplish have been leading by their examples. And they are growing weary of the continuing shrill attacks against the system brought by WTO members who just don’t get it.

In short, there is a growing belief in leading WTO circles that if the institution is going to survive, it can no longer continue to do business as usual. Leading trade diplomats in Geneva and other key capitals have concluded that WTO’s future ability to liberalize trade cannot be based on the traditional consensus-based multilateral approach, where any single member can enjoy veto power. Instead, the WTO’s future negotiations will focus on a so-called plurilateral approach, where smaller groups of like-minded countries that genuinely want to liberalize trade will do so. If the laggards don’t participate, fine. From now on, well-placed diplomatic insiders vow, no longer will weak countries which aren’t really important international trade players anyway, be allowed to poison progress for everyone else. India, for example has about a 1.9 percent share of global trade flows, but Indian leaders seem to think they deserve 90 percent of the attention.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “trade, or die.” Now, for the World Trade Organization, the new mantra is becoming “change, or die.”

Such are the impressions gleaned from nearly two-dozen confidential interviews conducted over the course of several months with key players in the USA, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This two-part series offers details and analysis aimed at explaining in in clear language what many thoughtful trade diplomats would like to say publicly, if they were not constrained by the requirements of diplomacy.

An Institution Under Constant Attack

With apologies for the use of the personal pronoun, I have been covering the WTO and its predecessor the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade — the GATT — for more than three decades. Launched in 1947 by the United States and 22 other countries, the GATT became the world’s most successful international economic experiment. Seven successive multilateral trade-liberalizing rounds contributed to expanding global prosperity by slashing tariffs and dismantling trade barriers. The last of those negotiating successes, called the Uruguay Round, set up the WTO in 1995.

And that’s when multilateral trade liberalizing negotiations pretty much hit the wall. One could say the GATT morphed into the General Disagreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Remember the famous 1999 anti-trade riots in the streets of Seattle? Many Third World countries inside the WTO’s ministerial meetings quietly cheered the unruly protestors who trashed that beautiful city. There would be no Seattle Round. In 2001, the WTO did manage to launch the Doha Round (for trivia fans, named for the city in Qatar where that year’s ministerial meetings were held). But the Doha Round has been in deep trouble ever since.

In 2003 many African countries openly celebrated their success in killing that year’s WTO ministerial in Cancun. We came to make demands, not make concessions, the Africans boasted. Indian negotiators contributed to that failure, although to their credit, the Indian official delegation seemed crestfallen that they had gone too far. They had not meant to put the Doha negotiations in intensive care.

Then in 2008, a deal was close to being struck in Geneva that would have completed the Doha Round. Among other economic benefits, trade-distorting agriculture subsidies for both rich- and poor countries would be substantially reduced. Financial services would be allowed to flow more freely across international borders. And both rich- and poor countries would do more to open their markets to global competition. But that deal also collapsed in bitterness. While there is plenty of shared criticism for the 2008 failure, it was clearly India’s intransigent “non-negotiable” demands that did the most to poison the atmosphere. And this time the Indian negotiators, led by their abrasive trade minister, Kamal Nath, returned to New Delhi boasting of their triumph.

In those previous WTO trade spats, at least, everyone came away from the battlefield vowing, at least for public consumption, to do better the next time. Until this year, when some of the Africans and the Indians struck again. The bitter irony is that the present mood comes in the wake of the WTO’s most impressive negotiating success, where the rich- and poor countries (finally) worked together for the common good to give global trade flows a significant boost.

Meeting in Bali last December, the WTO’s then 159 member countries agreed to a so-called Trade Facilitation deal that promised, over time, a trillion-dollar economic payoff. Essentially, the wealthier WTO members have already been giving poorer countries hundreds of millions of dollars annually to help facilitate trade by fixing embarrassments that have long clogged Third World borders — corrupt customs offices and cumbersome red tape, inefficient ports, shoddy roads, and such. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand why difficult borders prevent the rising economic prosperity that stems from enhanced trade flows. The Bali deal promised much more assistance to speed the movement of goods and services across borders. The deal was a win-win for everyone: both for giant multinational corporations that move goods and services across borders, and for millions of citizens of poor countries whose living standards would stand to rise along with the resulting expanded trade opportunities.

The Bali Package was the first successful multilateral trade-liberalizing deal in the nearly two decades of WTO history. Finally, the institution had shown that it could deliver something meaningful on the multilateral negotiating table. The general belief was that the success in Bali would spur the revival of the Doha Round, which now has been floundering for thirteen years.

But now those hopes have been dashed. On July 31, India’s Narendra Modi vetoed the schedule to implement the Bali deal.  Since then, all subsequent efforts to give Modi a face-saving way to back off have failed. There are some (slim) hopes that meetings in the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva scheduled later this week could put the deal back on track. But the sad truth is that the Bali deal has acquired a definite Humpty Dumpty look. The essential trust in the system — that countries will honor what they have agreed to instead of negotiating in bad faith — has been lost. It will not easily be regained. Whether it will be officially declared or not, the Doha Round is dead.

The WTO’s wealthy countries are even bitterer because they had had to work very hard, for years, just to persuade the poor countries to accept substantial financial sums to bind themselves to do things they should have long ago done themselves, in their own self-interests.

Adding to the bitterness, Modi’s demands simply made no good sense. He was fighting for policies that are clearly not in India’s best interests. “India’s economy is today the least integrated into global production chains among the world’s top-25 exporting economies,” Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, Natalia Macyra, and Erik Van Der Marel of the highly respected European Centre for International Political Economy in a recent paper: India & the WTO. “India is failing in sectors it chooses to protect, and is only competitive in sectors where it chose to liberalise, for example its IT services sector and the outsourcing business.”

Nor are the specific agriculture policies that Modi has fought for in the interests of other WTO countries that import Indian rice and other grains. In recent years, and up to the present, India’s domestic farm policies have inflicted economic damage in other poor countries. India’s grain exports have distorted food prices not only in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, and on to Haiti and some African countries as well.[See Part 2, the conclusion: “Hot (Headed) Yoga”]

 

Anwar Ibrahim’s Response to Najib’s 2015 Budget Proposals


October 13, 2014

Anwar Ibrahim’s Response to Najib’s 2015 Budget Proposals

Anwar Ibrahim Ops Leader

When I said I had great difficulty in understanding our Finance Minister’s 2015 Budget Speech which he delivered to our august Parliament last Friday, I could not have been more serious. PM Najib’s slogans and acronyms left me puzzled, in particular his National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS).

This concept was borrowed from Blue Ocean Strategy, a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Professors at INSEAD and Co-Directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. Based on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries, Kim & Mauborgne argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space. They assert that these strategic moves create a leap in value for the company, its buyers, and its employees, while unlocking new demand and making the competition irrelevant. The book presents analytical frameworks and tools to foster organization’s ability to systematically create and capture blue oceans. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Ocean_Strategy)

That was why I sought the help of my friends, associates and readers of this blog to explain Najib’s 2015 Budget proposals in simple layman’s terms. But judging from the number of responses I received by way of comment, the 2015 Budget was not taken seriously.

Here is a speech (below) in Parliament by Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Opposition Leader and former Minister of Finance. His response to Najib’s 2015 Budget  proposals makes a lot of sense to me. Despite my occasional disagreements with the politics and antics of the Opposition leader, I acknowledge that in debating the 2015 Budget, the Opposition leader presented an excellent critique in Parliament. Please judge it for yourself and then make your comments.–Din Merican

Lame excuses for opting out of varsity rankings


October , 2014

Lame excuses for opting out of varsity rankings

by Dr. Kua Kia Soong@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

TimesHigherEducation300The reasons cited by Malaysian universities for not participating in the Times Higher Education Supplement’s Top 400 World University Rankings (THES) are suspect and unbecoming of a country that has launched its visionary Education Blueprint. In the words of the Prime Minister:

“Education is a major contributor to the development of our social and economic capital. It inspires creativity and fosters innovation; provides our youth with the necessary skills to be able to compete in the modern labour market; and is a key driver of growth in the economy. And as this Government puts in place measures under the New Economic Model, Economic Transformation Plan and Government Transformation Plan to place Malaysia firmly on the path to development, we must ensure that our education system continues to progress in tandem. By doing so, our country will continue to keep pace in an increasingly competitive global economy.”

In the THES World University Rankings 2012-2013, not a single Malaysian university was included in its Top 400 list for the second consecutive year.

For local universities to cite a lack of funds as the cause for this demise is rather lame when education expenditure in recent decades has been prodigious. The Malaysian Government has sustained high levels of investment in education over the 55 years since Independence, and according to the Education Blueprint:

“As early as 1980, the Malaysian federal government’s spending on primary and secondary education, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was the highest in East Asia. In 2011, the amount spent, at 3.8% of GDP or 16% of total government spending, was not only higher than the OECD average of 3.4% of GDP and 8.7% of total public spending respectively, but also at par with or more than top-performing systems like Singapore, Japan, and South Korea (Exhibit 1). In 2012, with an education budget of RM37 billion, the Government has continued to devote the largest proportion of its budget, 16% to the Ministry. This demonstrates the very real commitment the Government has to education as a national priority.”

National Education BlueprintIn last year’s budget speech, the Prime Minister said the government would ensure that the implementation of the National Education Blueprint achieves the objective of placing Malaysia in the top one-third category of the world’s best education within a span of 15 years.

As a result, the education sector received the biggest allocation out of all the other sectors with RM54.6 billion or 21 per cent provided in Budget 2014 in an effort to enhance educational excellence.

The Prime Minister said the government would focus on strengthening public and private higher learning institutions towards producing quality graduates who met the demands of the job market.

He said RM600 million would be provided in research grants to public institutions of higher learning in the quest to improve the status of research universities by increasing research and the number of articles for publications in international journals.

Malaysia’s McKinsey-commissioned Education Blueprint liberally cites international student assessments, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), as a means of directly comparing the quality of educational outcomes across different systems.

Likewise, at the tertiary level of education, the THES is a gauge of academic excellence that compares the performance of universities across the globe in research, teaching and quality of education in their campuses.

For UM to claim that it is “not yet in a strong enough financial position to compete with richer, older and better-ranked universities” is disingenuous when we bear in mind that UM and NUS both come from the same pedigree. (NUS is among the world’s top 20.) They started as one university in 1949.

Politicians and academicians alike would do well to read Hena Mukherjee & Poh Kam Wong’s excellent paper on “NUS/UM: Common Roots, Different Paths” (2014 Centre for Human Resources Development, Vietnam) to draw lessons from the experiences of the two universities: their missions post-independence; the thrust of the secondary school system in preparing students for tertiary education; their strategies for institutional management, nurturing of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and academic staffing; policies regarding internationalisation of students and faculty; and their inter-connections with global advances.

The history of UM demonstrates that politics and national-level policies can severely constrain the institutional development of a public university. This can have significant long-term consequences in terms of limiting its capacity and culture to pursue academic excellence and ability to compete internationally.

The victimising of academics and students for merely commenting on national issues such as the controversial Sedition Act shows that the authorities also need to win the hearts and minds of the major stakeholders, viz. lecturers and students in order to inculcate a new vibrant culture on campus.

Student leaders would be unwise to support the move to opt out of the THES ranking since there is no valid reason for any university in the world to pursue excellence at the expense of quality of education and a culture of academic and student autonomy. Participation in varsity rankings is intended to drive academic institutions towards improved quality rather than, as has been suggested, as a mechanism that degrades the quality of education and campus culture for students.

Malaysian universities would do well to sustain efforts that use world rankings as a benchmark and source of motivation for progress. The government should stop using “transformation” merely as a buzz word but inspire our local universities to match a new vision and new targets. Doesn’t transformation suggest an ante- and post-facto comparison?

As with the other national targets, it is ultimately one that requires the political will to stay the course over the long term. And to stay the course, our universities need an objective gauge to compare academic excellence and the quality of educational outcomes across different systems. Thus, dropping out of the THES varsity ranking is simply not an option.

Kua Kia Soong is an adviser to SUARAM

Congratulations, Zunar


October 3, 2014

Congratulations, Zunar

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

Pirates-of-Carry-BN

Despite Putrajaya’s restriction, the work of cartoonist Zunar titled, “Pirates of the Carry-BN”, has been accepted into the Library of Congress in Washington, USA.

Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, said his book would be catalogued in the Asia Section of the library and become one of the more than 120,000 books of cartoons there. “For me, this is a form of appreciation, as none of my works are recognised here (in Malaysia). Some are even banned,” he said in a statement today.

Zunar said in a ceremony on October 1, Sara G. Duke, who is the curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art in Prints and Photography Division, accepted the book on behalf of the library.

He said it was an honour to be part of the library’s 200-year-old history that boast a collection of over three million books and 33 million catalogued books. “The book is not found in any libraries in Malaysia. It is also not sold in any bookshop here for the same reason,” he said, adding that some of his previous works have been listed in the Library of Congress records, but does not exist physically.

Zunar is currently in the US, attending a month-long tour, “To Fight Through Cartoon”. He also held a solo exhibition at an art gallery, The Crane House in Louisville and gave lectures on art and journalism at the University of East Kentucky, the University of West Kentucky, Manual High School and Berea College.

Sara_Zunar_Zunar_Pic_03102014Zunar (left) and Sara G. Duke, curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art in Prints and Photography Division, holding a copy of ‘Pirate of the Carry-BN’. – Pic courtesy of Zunar, October 3, 2014.

He is expected to attend a forum next in New York City and in San Francisco, where he would appear as a guest at the Annual Convention of The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists for three days from October 9.

Zunar is a political cartoonist who was detained under the Sedition Act for drawing cartoons which were deemed seditious. Seven of his books were banned in Malaysia.

In the “Pirate Of The Carry-BN”, he highlighted the unsolved murder of a Mongolian woman, the political conspiracy against opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the wife of the present Prime Minister, and the Scorpene submarine deal and purchase.

He recently initiated the “Cartoonists Against Electoral Fraud (CAEF)”, a movement to protest against election fraud in Malaysia. And, he is the recipient of an award for “Courage in Editorial Cartoon Drawing 2011″ by Cartoonist Rights Network, Washington. – October 2, 2014.

MB Azmin Ali requested to review All Agreements and Deals made by Khalid Ibrahim


September 26, 2014

This is a reasonable approach to take since the deals were done during the final days of the Khalid Administration. The substantial increase in the salaries and allowances of ADUNs is not reasonable and should be cut down drastically. I am personally interested in 2014-2015 Selangor state budget proposala as these will signal the start of the new Administration. YAB Azmin, please do what is in the best interest of people of Selangor.–Din Merican

MB Azmin Ali requested to review All Agreements and Deals made by Khalid Ibrahim

by Md Izwan@www.themalaysianinsider.com

ANGKAT SUMPAH MENTERI BESAR SELANGOR BAHARU/ AZMIN ALIHRH The Sultan and His Menteri Besar

With the new state exco line-up over and done with, Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Azmin Ali has been asked to start reviewing all past agreements and deals made during the previous administration.

De facto PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in a press conference attended by Azmin and four of the party’s exco members today, said attention should be given to two major deals. The two are: the proposed Kinrara-Puchong Expressway project (Kidex) and the water restructuring agreement, both controversial during Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim’s watch.

“PKR fully supports Azmin’s statement that the new administrators will review all the approvals granted for Kidex, especially as it appears to benefit Putrajaya’s cronies. This also includes the water restructuring deal with Putrajaya,” Anwar said.

He said Khalid had failed to brief the party on the water restructuring deal and its approvals. “The new administration should set the example in being transparent and honest. I give my full and undivided support to the new Menteri Besar.”

The Opposition Leader also said Azmin administration should review the pay hike of assembly members that was announced in November last year as it was deemed too high. “We are aware that the last salary increase and allowances were higher than the salary of the Prime Minister.

“In the last Pakatan Rakyat’s council meeting, Khalid had been advised to lower the hike to a more reasonable rate. But that did not materialise.” Anwar said the party advised Azmin to discuss the matter at the next state assembly.

In November last year, the state legislative assembly had approved the salary hike of all 56 members of the assembly effective January 1, this year, with the Deputy Speaker receiving the highest increase of 373.3%. This sparked criticism from various parties, including Azmin and Anwar who denounced the move. Meanwhile, Azmin told party members that he would ensure that his administration would be manage the state with integrity.

“The de facto leader had earlier mentioned the need to ensure that this new administration will be governed by clear principles of integrity, honesty, trust, good governance and care.And, these will be the core values we uphold.”

Azmin, who is the Bukit Antarabangsa assemblyman, promised to ensure that the wealth of the state would be spent wisely and responsibly. “We strive to ensure the well-being of the people and ensure that the wealth of Selangor will be spent wisely and responsibly.”

Azmin was sworn in as the new Selangor Menteri Besar on Tuesday, ending the long-winded tussle in the state. His new exco line-up includes PKR’s Elizabeth Wong (Bukit Lanjan), Dr Daroyah Alwi (Sementa), Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (Seri Setia), and Amiruddin Shari (Batu Caves); DAP’s Datuk Teng Chang Khim (Sungai Pinang), Ean Yong Hian Wah (Seri Kembangan), and V. Ganabatirau (Kota Alam Shah); and PAS’s Iskandar Samad (Cempaka), Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi (Sijangkang) and Zaidy Abdul Talib (Taman Templer). They were sworn in today.

Open Letter to YAB Azmin Ali, Menteri Besar, Selangor


September 23, 2014

Congratulations, YAB Azmin,

I share the sentiments expressed in this Malaysian Insider Open Letter. But I also want offer my views which I hope will be useful to you as the new Menteri Besar of Selangor.

MB Azmin

There is no doubt that your predecessor has left you with a difficult job of regaining public confidence and trust in your own party PKR and Pakatan Rakyat (PR). PAS has become a major problem while PKR is a house divided with many factions working at cross purposes. The task of establishing rapport among PR leaders will be probably your biggest challenge. Right now you have limited freedom of action, given the influence Anwar Ibrahim and Wan Azizah have over the party and your close ties to them.

I have known you since 2007 and had the opportunity to work closely with you during 2008 General Elections, which saw the rise of Pakatan Rakyat as an alternative coalition to UMNO-BN. I know you to be a very intelligent and tested political leader with strong academic background in Mathematical Economics and Statistics from the University of Minnesota, United States. You have excellent organisational and oratorical skills and connect well with people, irrespective of their colour, race or religion. Your loyalty to PKR is unquestioned and the manner in which you handled the recent crisis in Selangor bears testimony to the fact that you are a true blue party man. These qualities now make you eminently qualified for the job as Head of Government of the richest state in Malaysia.

We have to wait for your state budget 2014/2015, which will be tabled at the next StateDin Merican lastest Assembly to know what you have in mind for the first year of your administration. I would, however, suggest you should focus on affordable housing for Selangorians, upgrading of roads and social infrastructure, and health services, especially having a general hospital in Shah Alam, and revamping of local councils and state GLCs.

In the next 100 days you should make personnel changes in the public services. You should not hesitate to remove those civil servants who have shown themselves as being incapable of administering the state. You need to select civil servants who are less inclined to play politics. Loyalty to the state is of utmost importance. And the state needs competent and loyal  civil servants. Lead by example , do not succumb to the temptations and trappings of your office, and never for one single moment let power go to your head.–Din Merican

Open Letter to YAB Azmin Ali, Menteri Besar, Selangor

by The Malaysian Insider

“There is no honeymoon period. You have to hit the ground running and do well from Day One. Unfair? Not really. The people in the state have had to put up with a lot of nonsense of late. This is the laundry list of shame: betrayal by a coalition partner; seeing the Constitution and the Rule of Law trampled; witness a Menteri Besar refuse to walk away from his position gracefully; seeing PKR stumble with one snafu after another. There is little patience among voters for more dithering and mistakes.”–The Malaysian Insider

Selangor gets a new Menteri Besar today in you and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) gets to continue running the country’s wealthiest state after a messy nine months of politicking that has left people wondering why it even happened.

How different will you be from the previous occupant of the office in Shah Alam, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim? You cut your teeth in politics, serving Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from early in the PKR de facto chief’s political career, while Khalid has been a corporate man for most of his life and burst into the political limelight in the 2008 general election.

Azmin AliIn the past six years, we have seen Khalid turn from political greenhorn to a man who shook his own party and coalition, sacked his allies, made deals after years of rejecting them, and hurt PR from the inside. Here is what we expect from you as you make your debut as the leader of the state government of Selangor.

1. You must avoid back room deals with powerful individuals. One theory floating around is that some powerful lobby was always concerned that Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail would have been a stumbling block to one-sided transactions, etc.

2. You must consult the Selangor people on major projects and be willing to explain the rationale on controversial deals such as the Kidex expressway.

3. You must be fair and even-handed in dealing with minorities in Selangor. For example, instead of staying on the sidelines, you must be willing to speak out and act when the rights of others are trampled upon. The Khalid administration did not cover itself with glory in the handling of the seizure of Bibles earlier this year.

4. You must be prudent in using the RM3 billion funds in the state’s coffers. This money belongs to the rakyat, and not PR.

5. You must remember that you owe your allegiance and loyalty to the rakyat, the same small men and women who have supported PKR since its inception and have stood by you and your party even during the most trying days, when it was unfashionable and costly to be a PKR supporter. The powerful and the connected may demand a pound of you but ultimately, you are where you are today because of that housewife in Sekinchan or that teacher in Subang Jaya.

6. You must remember that this is PR’s one shot – the last chance to show Malaysians that it has the ideas and policies to run not just the wealthiest state in Malaysia, but the country also. After all, the “Kajang move” was all about removing the insipid Khalid and replacing him with the dynamic Anwar, who was going to use Selangor as a frontline state for inclusive and just policies.

7. There is no honeymoon period. You have to hit the ground running and do well from Day One. Unfair? Khalid Ibrahim2Not really. The people in the state have had to put up with a lot of nonsense of late. This is the laundry list of shame: betrayal by a coalition partner; seeing the Constitution and the Rule of Law trampled; witness a Menteri Besar refuse to walk away from his position gracefully; seeing PKR stumble with one snafu after another. There is little patience among voters for more dithering and mistakes.

8. You are a public official. There is no aspect of your life that can be nicely carved aside as private.For example, if there is a deal brokered between you and a financial institution or another business entity, it has to be declared to your political party and to the state assembly.

9. You risked arrest and were part of thousands of Malaysians who marched in favour of free and fair elections. You have been threatened with detention without trial and other draconian laws by a regime that has shown little respect for freedom of speech and disdain for the Rule of Law. You have been fighting the establishment for more than 20 years. Being the MB does not make you part of the establishment.

10. It is better to be remembered for doing the right thing and for standing up for the right principles than amassing wealth and influence. Would you rather be Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or Marcos?

11. Your report card will be marked by the voters in three or four years, and not by JAIS or MAIS or UMNO power brokers or Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Getting a ringing endorsement by Utusan Malaysia or any of the mainstream media is a death knell and not something to write home about.

12. Your promise is to the people of Selangor. All of them, not just the civil service or your own party. You are the MB for all of them. Serve them well. Praise will come from all quarters, not just the civil service or other vested interests, when it is due.

YAB Azmin, you carry a heavy burden after what has happened the last nine months and even from PR’s second term as the Selangor government from 2013. Most of the issues have been self-inflicted, either by your party, some officials or even allies. Make the most of the remaining mandate left to show that you are the right choice and that the Selangor Sultan has chosen well.

All the best, to you and the people of Selangor.