Presenting YAM Tunku Zain Al’ Abidin Ibni Tuanku Muhriz of IDEAS.

October 2, 2014

Presenting YAM Tunku Zain Al’ Abidin Ibni Tuanku Muhriz of IDEAS.

I have chosen to present to you YAM Tunku Zain Al’ Abidin Ibni Tuanku Muhriz of IDEAS. His views are interesting and should provoke some discussion among my readers who comment on this blog. His talking about fault lines in our country. Listen to the promising young personality from the Royal Family of Negri Sembilan and share your reactions to his talk. –Din Merican

Open Government Partnership for Malaysia?

October 1, 2014

Open Government Partnership for Malaysia?

by Maria Chin

Occupy Central Hongkong

The unprecedented response from the Hong Kong people to the Occupy Central movement has pushed the question of democratic reform to the forefront for the Chinese government, which seemingly is used to the Tiananmen-type response. The more than 50,000 strong protesters who insisted on Hong Kong’s need for political reforms and democratic elections comes as a surprise as the country has always been viewed as an affluent place that prides itself on its civility and its freedom.

Thailand in 2013 saw more than 200,000 peaceful protesters demanding for the Thai government’s resignation and the need for democratic reforms to restore democracy and eliminate corruption in Thailand. And in Malaysia, we held two mega rallies to push for electoral reform. This has fired up the imagination of Malaysians to pressure the Najib Abdul Razak administration for democratic reforms.
Thailand Democracy Protest
What’s happening in these countries reflects people’s deep disappointment with the system and therefore they now demand for transparency, accountability, clean and fair elections and better governments. Indonesia went through political turmoil in 1998 with the downfall of Suharto and thus ending three decades of the New Order period. This pushed the country through a period of transition, an era which is now commonly referred to as the Indonesian reformasi period. Since then, Indonesia has made concerted efforts to build its open and democratic political-social environment.

In the Indonesia reformasi period, the country introduced amazing democratic reforms. It managed to establish an electoral system that is widely considered to be fair, transparent and efficient. In the April 2014 elections, the world witnessed a peaceful transition of power at the presidential election, where all competing parties accepted the results.

Most importantly was the clipping of the powers of the military which was done through a constitutional amendment. The reserved bloc for the military was stripped away by the House of Representatives and direct elections were reinstated – from the president position right down to the mayor at the council levels.
All serving military officers were barred from government posts and political party activities, and it was made mandatory for them to sell off their commercial business interests.

Indonesia's Open Government Partnership

Another groundbreaking reform was when Vice-President Boediono played a key role in the formation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), where Indonesia became one of its co-founders and chair from 2012 to 2014. To date, OGP has been the buzzword in Asia and it is an initiative that is gaining momentum as more and more governments are motivated towards strengthening their democratic reform.

Instituting democratic reforms

The OGP is about instituting democratic reforms especially in public institutions such as government agencies, police, military, and judiciary, where these are often instruments of corruption, repression and systemic violations of human rights.

The OGP brings forth an attractive narrative and that is “to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens”.

This means creating and strengthening mechanisms to review, reform, monitor and transform legal frameworks that are on par with the national constitution as well as with international human rights standards which protect and promote human rights, freedom and democratic governance.

Co-founded by eight countries in 2011, namely, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States, the OGP has since grown from eight countries to 65 participating countries. In all of these countries, efforts are made by the respective government in partnership with civil society to develop and implement open government reforms.

The expectations on each member are high and these are captured the OGP Declaration where there are four key areas that a member has to adhere to, implement, monitor and be evaluated on. They include availability of information about government activities; inclusion of civic participation; “implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout the government’s administration”; and to increase access to new technologies for all in support of openness and accountability.

Indonesia’s Open Government Partnership

The advancement made by Indonesia in putting into place democratic processes is more than encouraging. Indonesia’s success story on their open government Indonesia (OGI) was shared at the Asia Regional Civil Society Experience Summit held in Jakarta from September 8 to 10, 2014.

In 2008 prior to Indonesia joining the OGP, the government of Indonesia enacted the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and it was implemented by 2010. A guidebook was issued to all government ministries and departments to explain about the FOI Act, followed by a series of capacity development initiatives to help accelerate local government appointment of Information Management Officers (IMOs).

According to Sad Dian Utomo, the executive director of Pattiro, a regional monitoring organisation in Indonesia, she verified that by 2014, 63 percent of the local government (provincial and municipal levels) had appointed their IMOs and they are working to civil society to facilitate access to data.

Civil society organisations are able to access information regarding development of public services and budgets including right down to the district levels. This has helped to ensure delivery of quality public services to the people. While there are gaps in the implementation as 12 ministries have yet to have IMOs, Indonesia has definitely come a long way since the downfall of Suharto.

So is OGP a possibility in Malaysia?

Malaysia's Open Government PartnershipMalaysia’s Police State
Not at the moment. Malaysia still lags behind most Asian countries, and especially in comparison to Indonesia where it is now being hailed as a shining star in democratic reforms in the Asean region.

NajibUnfortunately, despite the rhetoric, Malaysia has to date not joined the OGP. Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) secretary-general Dr KM Loi  in July 2014 has urged the Malaysian government “to embark its journey towards Open Government Partnership and to adopt the Open Data Policy and engage more with multi-stakeholder groups (MSGs)”. The government definitely needs to come to terms with the need for multi-stakeholders’ participation and engagement and this means including civil society as well as the public as partners and not treated as sidekicks. The spate of arrests under the archaic Sedition Act, 1948 is not helping in the agenda of nation-building.

The Najib Administration is stamping out freedom of expression and ruling the country with fear, repression and exaggerated siege mentality. Any efforts towards OGP or to introduce transformational programmes by the government will resonate with hollowness if persecution and arrests are still justified as the order of the day.

MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH is the chairperson for the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections 2.0 (Bersih 2.0) and the executive director of Empower. She believes politicians are bad masters if not made good servants through free, fair and competitive elections.

A Tyranny of Ideas

September 30, 2014

ZaidgeistA Tyranny of Ideas

by Zaid

Najib in New York 2014PM Najib at UNGA, New York

Last Friday, our Prime Minister spoke at the United Nations General Assembly about the urgent need to combat the extremist ideas pervading the Islamic world. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said it is not enough just to bomb the Islamic State’s bases in Iraq and Syria—it is equally important to confront the ideas that give rise to such extremism. Like all Muslim leaders speaking on an international platform, Najib said Islam is a religion of peace that is based on the Quran and the Sunnah, and that finding the right ideas about Islam is essential.

Once again US President Barack Obama sang his praises, but the challenge of rising above rhetoric is as great as ever. Those advocating Islamic systems of governance like the Caliphate in the Middle East, which has been described as “extremist”, read the same Quran and follow the same Sunnah as our Prime Minister; as JAKIM and the ulamak in Malaysia; and as the mullahs in Pakistan and Yemen. Despite sharing the same source, they have managed to come up with very different ideas about what Islam is and what it means to be a Muslim.

If our Prime Minister genuinely wants to see the growth of new and peaceful ideas about Islam, then he must be willing to let the religion and its institutions become a subject of constructive discourse and critical analysis by its adherents. If Malaysia wants to protect itself from extremism, he must allow for different interpretations of the faith and reasoning to flourish in the country.

He must put a stop to what is happening now, which is allowing the ulamaks to unilaterally define what Islam is, what is permissible under the faith and what is not. In fact, based on the fact that we allow Islam to be defined solely by those in power, Malaysia is no different from the IS in the Middle East.

For example, anyone in Malaysia who takes their cue from the Quran’s Surah Al-Baqarah (which says there is no compulsion in religion) and declares that mankind is allowed freedom of religion can be charged for insulting Islam. They can also face an apostasy charge and will probably end up in jail. On a matter such as this, where there is explicit support in the Quran, such a viewpoint should be allowed to be discussed freely.

Malaysia, the so-called cradle of peaceful Islam, must remove all laws that inhibit thinking and reasoning. How will we be able to establish Islam as a religion of peace if we are fearful of other ideas and resort to tyranny of thought instead? Where can we hope to end up if we will only subscribe to thinking that has been sanctioned by the state? Malaysia must not be a country that is run by tyrants in Brioni suits. This makes our leaders no different from IS leaders, except for their choice of wardrobe. But is our Prime Minister ready for such a transformation?

Kassim AhmadLook at what is happening to writer and Islamic scholar Kassim Ahmad (pic left). All he ever said was that the primary source of Islam is the Quran, so there is no need to look to other sources when the subject is covered in the Quran and is clear and incontrovertible. The ulamaks of Malaysia, of course, do not share this view, and because of this Kassim has been charged in the Wilayah Shariah Court.

I urge our Prime Minister to speak to the ulamaks and all relevant religious authorities involved in the administration of Islamic matters in the country, and give them copies of the speech he made in New York last Friday. He should tell them to withdraw the charge against Kassim. If he is unable or unwilling to do so, then the speech was clearly just for show, another sad example of how Muslim leaders are afraid of exposing their people to productive, progressive and peaceful ideas.

This is the tragedy of the Muslim community. Their leaders know what the problem is but they are afraid of the ulamaks. That’s why in many Muslim-majority countries, political leaders do not incur the wrath of the ulamaks or the mullahs. Najib is no different. He was brave in New York because the ulamak do not rule there—Wall Street does.

Open Government and Civil Society Partnership for Malaysia

September 30, 2014

Open Government and Civil Society Partnership for Malaysia

by Wan Saiful Wan

It is really important for those in the administration to pursue a healthy relationship with groups that can be their ‘critical friends’.

SummitLogo1THE Administration and Diplomatic Officers (Pegawai Tadbir dan Diplomatik, PTD) Alumni Association held its international conference on September 9 and 10 in Kuala Lumpur.

PTD officers are the pillar of the Malaysian civil service. Not everyone in the civil service belongs to the PTD category but usually many top government posts, in Malaysia and abroad, are held by PTD officers.

The PTD traces its history all the way back to the 1800s, when British colonisation started in Malaya. Their official name has evolved through time, and the name “Pegawai Tadbir dan Diplomatik” was only officially introduced in 1972. But their role has remained the same. They are leaders among civil servants and they take charge at strategic levels.

The PTD Alumni Association brings together former PTD officers, acting as a platform to enable them to provide inputs to the government of the day. This year their international conference was themed “Transformational Leadership in Malaysia”. Speakers included former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Chairman of PLUS Malaysia Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, former head of UNDP Malaysia Datuk Richard Leete and Sunway Group’s Tan Sri (Dr.) Jeffrey Cheah.

It was rather daunting when I received an invitation to speak in a session just before Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa delivered his address. But I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring a civil society perspective to this audience so I took up the challenge.I argued that the Government should partner with civil society rather than see them as the “other side”.

It is difficult to deny that civil society in Malaysia is divided along partisan lines. This is especially true when it comes to non-governmental organisations that are more “activist” in their work.For example, groups like Bersih and Negaraku are generally viewed as belonging to the anti-Barisan Nasional side, while Perkasa and Isma are more on the UMNO side.

In reality, this may or may not be true. But that is how these groups are perceived by many. The nature of the relationship between civil society and government varies. There are some who are seen as being subservient to the government, while others are antagonistic.

So while some civil society actors may be perceived as having chosen sides, they are not necessarily blind supporters of that side.In fact, they can also play important roles to shape and mould – through support and opposition – the sides that they are closer to.

CommitmenttoActionFor those in government, I think it is really important that they pursue a healthy relationship with groups that can be their “critical friends”. These are entities that may take an opposing view on certain government policies, but their arguments are not mere rhetoric.

They know what they are talking about and they give reasoned critical views. For example, Transparency International is known globally as an advocate for greater accountability and integrity. Their Malaysian chapter plays a vital role to further that cause here.Similarly, the Bar Council brings together the knowledge of thousands of lawyers and legal experts. Their top leaders know our laws inside out.

Organisations like these may be critical of certain government policies, but their criticisms cannot be dismissed lightly because they speak with the authority of knowledge.

My main proposal at the conference was that the engagement with civil society should be institutionalised, especially with those who can act as critical friends of the government.In fact, 64 countries around the world have already taken steps to bring civil society into the effort to improve government performance, encourage civic participation and enhance government responsiveness to the people. These countries have signed up to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global platform that allows the government and civil society to work hand in hand towards transformation.

The OGP was launched in 2011 with just eight countries. Within a short time it has grown to 65 countries, including Britain, Canada, Tunisia, Indonesia and the Philippines.Adopting the OGP would change the nature of the relationship between government and civil society in Malaysia. Both parties would work together to develop a national action plan, and they would partner each other to monitor the implementation too.

The OGP presents an opportunity for us to create a more synergistic relationship between government and civil society, while allowing civil society to retain their independence.

In order to be part of this global community, we have to work in four areas – fiscal transparency, access to information, disclosures related to elected and senior public officials, and citizen engagement. The Malaysian Government is already doing well in most of these areas. Signing up would not be an arduous task. Our main hurdle at the moment is the rather low level of awareness about the OGP. Not many people in government or in civil society know about it yet.

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’

September 29, 2014

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’

by Dr. Farish M.,my

farish-a-noorTHE ongoing bombardment of Syria — ostensibly to remove the threat of the Islamic State (IS) — has sparked off a bout of serious questioning about the propriety of the campaign, and whether such a strategy would actually work.

Interestingly, many of these questions are also being raised in the Western press, where opinion makers have argued that such a strategy may well end up entrenching IS further and angering ordinary civilians, who will also be the victims of such attacks, for it is well-known that “smart weapons” are seldom truly smart, and that civilian casualties are bound to be incurred.

But more worrying still is the talk of a “war against evil” and the need to fight against IS in the defence of “civilisation”, “law and order”, and “justice”.The somewhat simplistic dialectics of such arguments are embarrassingly clear, where the insurgents of IS are being labelled as uncivilised and barbaric, while those who attack them have summarily assumed the mantle of a higher moral authority.

Under such circumstances, is it any wonder if critical thinkers the world over have opined that what we are seeing today is a nasty prelude to a larger conflict that will be fought along the fault-lines of culture and civilisation?

Lest it be forgotten, we need to remember that IS does not represent the civilisation of Arab-Muslims in any way. In their deeds and words IS does not represent the same grand civilisation that was the product of thinkers like al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun.

As many contemporary Muslim leaders have argued, what we see in the ranks of IS is a travesty of Arab civilisation that was once the fountainhead of science and rational thinking.  But equally worrisome is the language and vocabulary of IS’s opponents, who have applied to them a pathology that is general, sweeping and reductionist.

To argue, as some Western leaders and policymakers have, that IS is the result of blind hate and anger, would be to reduce the frustrations and anxieties of millions of Arabs to bare emotions and reactionary action, without any attempt to understand and recognise the very real political-economic underpinnings of such collective anxiety.

It is dumfounding that hardly any of these leaders have noted the obvious fact that IS has emerged in a region that has been torn apart for three decades, since the Iran-Iraq war, that was also supported by external states and other actors.

It is equally perplexing to note that none of these leaders have acknowledged their own culpability in their policy of intervening in that region — in the name of “regime change” — and by doing so, weakened the states of the Arab world to the point where none of them can really rein in radical movements and splinter groups like IS. Do we seriously expect a moderate society to emerge from a region that has been reduced to a war zone for so long?

It is for this reason that the term “Clash of Civilisations” is so misleading, and dangerously so. As a glib slogan that reduces and over-simplifies the complexity of the problems of the Arab world, it is a convenient by-word that allows external actors and players to absolve themselves of their own responsibility for the mess they have created.

The term is dangerous in the manner that it reduces the phenomenon of violent radical resistance to the level of primordial irrational sentiments, and reinforces the racist stereotype of Arabs as inherently violent and pathologically fatalistic.

In dealing with the real problem of groups like IS, a degree of honest, objective analysis is required that would also unveil the hidden hands at work, the connections with external agendas and interests.

What we do not need at the moment is some convenient slogan that white-washes the facts about intervention, regime change/manipulation and their monstrous outcomes.

And, we need to remember that the idea of the “Clash of Civilisations” itself is a concept that was never invented by us, but rather imposed upon us and other communities — perhaps in an effort to deny our genuine political-economic needs and aspirations, and to discard serious critical thinking for simplistic oppositional dialectics instead.

A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu, Part 2

September 29, 2014

A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu

Part 2: Molding our Students

by Dr. M.Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

 bakri-musa[In Part One I suggested that our current obsession with the presumed deficiencies of our race and our undisguised resentment over the successes of others are but expressions of frus (frustration) and fury for our own lack of competitiveness and productivity. We should focus instead on remedying both, and begin with our young, especially those promising ones at our SBPs.]

It may seem obvious but needs to be stated explicitly: We must prepare these students for top universities the moment they step foot at a SBP. That’s how they do it elsewhere. American students aspiring to top universities begin their preparation upon entering high school, or even earlier. The courses they take, their extra-curricular programs as well as their summer activities are all geared towards this central mission.

My grandchildren who are in an American school in Singapore have assigned reading lists for the summer, and they are still in primary school! Likewise, SBP students must have mandatory reading lists and writing assignments during their long holidays. The purpose is two-fold. One is to prevent attrition of knowledge and study skills during the long hiatus, and the other, to inculcate the habit of reading and writing. It impresses upon them that those skills are not just for examinations.

Once when I took my family on an overseas trip, my son’s teacher asked him to keep a journal to be shared with his class while my daughter was assigned to study a Malay folk tale. In high school my son was invited to spend his summer break at Ames Research Center.

I speak with some experience. When my daughter entered Harvard Law School over 15 years ago, she was the first Malaysian to enroll there. There has not been another since. One of my sons works for an agency that prepares students for selective universities.

We should prepare all SBP students for recognized matriculation examinations like IB, American AP, or British “A” level, and start them from day one. Consequently it would serve no purpose for them to sit for SRP and SPM. Those tests have little predictive value anyway; their philosophy and assumptions are also very different.

Since these students have limited English proficiency coming as they are from the national stream, why not have their first year at SBP be full English-immersion akin to the Special Malay or “Remove” Classes of yore? Better yet, make all SBPs English-medium. That however, is no panacea. MARA already has a few English-medium SBPs but their students’ achievements remain disappointing. We need to do more.

I envisage admitting the students in the middle of their Form II instead of Form I, as at present, based on their SRP scores as well as their Form I and first term of Form II performances. By the time they sit for their IB or “A” level five years later, their cohorts in the regular school would be in the middle of their Upper Six.

Their college counseling should start right away, as with preparing for their PSAT and SAT. There must be adequate resources and personnel to guide these students in their college choices, but more on that later.

 Daewon’s and Minjuk’s excellent results were skewed because their students were children of diplomats, expatriates, and others who had been educated in the West. The South Korean government has since changed the rule to make those schools liberalize their admissions. For SBPs I suggest that they reserve half their slots for those who would be the first in their family to enter university and those from the kampongs.

No matter how stringent the selection process, inevitably there will a few who would not thrive in the residential school environment. While every attempt should be made to help them, but if they do not measure up, then they should be returned to regular schools. They are not failures rather they are better suited for day school.

Korean Schools

Three features of the Korean schools are worth emulating. First is the mentoring system where first-year students are paired with a senior. Second, those students are constantly exposed to successful role models, fellow Koreans as well as non-Koreans who are graduates of top universities. Those students get first-hand perspectives beyond what could be gleaned from the college brochures. Likewise, our SBPs should invite Malaysians who are graduates of top universities to give talks to and inspire these students.

The third striking feature is that the students’ time is structured during their entire waking hours. They are always involved in something, if not with their classes and class assignments then debates, sports, music, and a myriad of extra-curricular activities. When students are occupied, they are less likely to get into trouble.

MCKK (The Malay College Kuala Kangsar) obtained excellent results during the time of Principal Howell when he instituted daily afternoon “preps” in addition to the evening ones. When you have high expectations and demand more from your students, they respond. The converse is even more consequential. If you have low expectations or reward those who do not strive, as with sending them to third-rate universities abroad, then you are imparting the wrong message. That would be akin to membajakan (adding fertilizer) lallang. Even without the extra help, those weeds would snuff out the lengkuas. In a rentier economy, we are busy fertilizing our lallang.

MARA is membajakan lallang by sending hundreds of its students to third-rate universities abroad. The money could be better spent to strengthen its matriculation programs and SBPs at home. MARA should adopt tougher standards and send only those who have been accepted to top universities. Currently it sends students abroad even for sixth form. It is cheaper and far more effective to prepare those students in Malaysia. MARA’s current policy only perpetuates this culture of mediocrity.

Next Week: Last of Three Parts: Leveraging Residential Schools