Freedom and Development go hand in hand, says UM’s Dr Lee Hwok Aun


September 10, 2014

Freedom and Development go hand in hand, says UM’s Dr Lee Hwok Aun

by Lee Shi-Ian

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/um-lecturers-reveal-why-freedom-is-a-sign-of-a-countrys-maturity

Dr Lee Hwok AunIn its journey towards being a developed nation by 2020, Malaysia appears to have forgotten that freedom is also another measure of development, said Universiti Malaya (UM) lecturer Dr Lee Hwok Aun.

Lee, the UM Academic Staff Union coordinator for the “Solidarity4AzmiSharom” movement, cited Norway, Sweden and Taiwan as examples of developed countries which also encouraged freedom.

“Do not judge development merely based on financial factors only. Freedom is also another measure of a Azmi Sharom 3country’s development and maturity,” Lee told a crowd of students after the lunchtime “hartal”, or strike, held to protest against the Sedition Act and the sedition charges against UM Law Professor Dr Azmi Sharom.

Azmi also spoke to the crowd of about 100 students, who braved the hot weather to listen to the “outdoor lectures” on freedom. Many of the students participated in the protest earlier.

Azmi said freedom of expression was very important as it played a vital role in a nation’s development, saying without conflicting ideas, there would be no good ideas.”If everyone was just a follower who agreed with what their leaders said, the nation would just chug along without any new ideas or creativity,” Azmi said.

dr-ahmad-farouk-and-din-mericanAmi is also President of the UM Academic Staff Union. Lee and Azmi were joined by another academician from Monash University, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa (left pic with Din Merican)  who is also the chairman of the non-governmental organisation Islamic Renaissance Front.Farouk said people like Azmi were a rarity as they were bold and courageous enough to speak up instead of keeping silent.

“Academicians should also share their knowledge with the world, and not merely within the confines of a classroom or academic journal.”

Lee said countries which have more freedom such as Taiwan, Norway and Sweden have all achieved developed nation status, and this included freedom of the press.”The principles of Vision 2020 are not being adhered to by Putrajaya, which is using a colonial-era law in the Sedition Act 1948 more frequently than ever now.”

“Instead of there being more freedom as Malaysia approaches 2020, the nation seems to be regressing with more and more people falling afoul of the Sedition Act.”

Azmi said a developed country needed a strong and free press to report on corruption and abuse of power.“Otherwise, the public will remain in the dark,” he said, and warned that “a heavy price” will be paid by political parties which relied on oppressive laws during the general elections.

Azmi Sharom Hartal

Azmi  said “nobody was looking for absolute freedom of expression” in Malaysia. However, there appeared to be no curb on the restrictions imposed by Putrajaya. “That is the problem with Malaysia, there is no limitation on the limitations. Freedom is the ideal, you do not have to justify the freedom, you should justify the limitation.”Freedom is what gives us dignity as human beings. We cannot be dignified without freedom,” Azmi said.

Azmi pleaded not guilty to sedition charges on September 2 over comments made in an article on the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis while speaking about the current Selangor Menteri Besar impasse.

Symmetrical characters, parallel fates


August 19, 2014

Symmetrical characters, parallel fates

COMMENT by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

Men of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.-Terence Netto

hype_najib1Now that the cat has sprung out of the bag and is dashing about among a wider public, the only news would be if anyone has died of shock from the revelation that Dr Mahathir Mohamad has withdrawn support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

After months of premonitory sniping at the Premier by his satraps, notably A Kadir Jasin and Zainuddin Maidin, the man himself has come out in the open with a formal declaration of hostilities. There is no more cogent example of déjà vu nor self-parody than the producer himself reiterating he is about to re-start a familiar business – the demolition of a sitting PM.

A fortuitous benefit of this incipient extravaganza – to the federal opposition, Pakatan Rakyat – has been the confirmation that their self-destructive shenanigans in Selangor have furnished the opportunity to the premier demolisher of incumbent PMs to fix on this as the most opportune time for the unleashing of his decanal decapitation of national head honchos, not to mention a few deputies as well.

The wonder is that anyone at all, at this advanced juncture of their career trajectories, could be surprised at how the two protagonists, one of the drama about to start and the other of an already running one in Selangor, confirm a truism of classical Greece – that character is fate.

Character here is taken to mean the way in which a person confronts the things that happen to him, a number of which may come about as a consequence of his characteristic behavior. Fate is the sum of the decisive things that happen to a person, whether as a result of his characteristic behavior, or fortuitously, at the behest of some transcendent power.

That the characters of Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim have fed off each other is by now a staple of Malaysia’s modern history. Malaysians are beginning to realise that the one’s career could not have been possible without the other and vice versa.

Truly, the reformasi movement would not have been catalyzed into something urgent and insistent without what Mahathir did to Anwar in September 1998 and how the latter reacted to the events.

Before September 1998, the movement was an inchoate yearning; after Anwar’s jailing and obloquy, reform became a national agenda. Mahathir would not have been able to prolong his tenancy of the PM’s office – 22 long years – without Anwar’s lieutenancy for 16 years of that tenure.

Certainly, the accretion of power to the office of the PM and UMNO President could not have taken place without Anwar’s tacit support, as heir presumptive to Mahathir.

The long running drama of their interaction since they first met in 1971 and their influence on the life of this nation over the last four decades is so pivotal that our history itself becomes confused with their own biographies which goes to illustrate historian Thomas Carlyle’s theory that humanity advances by means of these demi-gods or ‘heroes’.

Succumbing to the danger of self parody

But as the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson cautioned: “Every hero becomes a bore at last”: the two are presently in danger of inducing a yawn in arenas they once bestrode as giants. If it happens it would be due to their succumbing to the danger of self-parody each is tempted to flirt with, Mahathir more so.

Tun Dr. MahathirMen of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.

By claiming at the commencement of his unseat Najib campaign, after the fashion of Brutus, that it is not because he loves his leaders less but that he loves the people and country more, Mahathir is parodying what Anuar Musa, then a young delegate from Kelantan to the UMNO general assembly in 1983, who quoted from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar the words Brutus used before stabbing Caesar. The Roman emperor was surprised that a friend like Brutus could be part of squad of assassins with regicide in mind.

Anuar cited the quotation in the course of rhetorical flights faintly critical of Mahathir’s leadership of UMNO. Mahathir’s response was characteristically brusque. “Brutus stabbed Caesar” he reminded the UMNO delegates. In other words, back-stabbers are back-stabbers, their lofty motives notwithstanding.

If Mahathir unseats Najib, the wheel would have come full circle in his career: he began his ascent to the top of the greasy pole by destroying one UMNO President (Tunku Abdul Rahman) and is set to end his career by destroying the son of the man (Abdul Razak Hussein) who gave him the chance to rise after a display of Oedipal rage against the Tunku.

If PKR allows Anwar to convert the party into his personal fiefdom, his thrust to the top of the totem pole that began with his rebellion against nepotism, cronyism and corruption in 1998 would flirt with what could well be a fatal contradiction. Not for the first time in history would pivotal allies-turned-adversaries have symmetrical characters/parallel fates.

Gotta’ keep on learning


July 13, 2014

Schumpeternomics: Gotta’ keep on learning

by (Tan Sri) Dr. Lin See-Yan@www.thestar.com.my (07-12-14)

Lin See-YanI JUST returned from the summer meeting of the board of governors (on which I am a long-standing member) and the board of trustees of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati, Manila. It celebrated its 45th anniversary…

To mark the occasion, AIM held its second Asian Business Conference against the backdrop of an emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. It was well attended by a wide cross-section of Asian businesses, research institutes and universities, under the banner: “2015 Approaching: Priming for ASEAN Integration.”

I spoke at the strategic session on banking and finance with particular focus on the need for Asia (and indeed ASEAN) to keep on innovating to create a truly learning society, in order to maintain its competitive edge and remain relevant in an increasingly hostile and uncertain world. To survive, we just gotta’ keep on learning!

Technological progress

I learned early as a Harvard graduate student in the 1970s from no less than Nobel laureate Robert Solow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) down the Charles, that rising output and incomes can only come about in a sustained way from technological progress (TP), not from mere capital accumulation. Put simply, Solow repeatedly emphasised that TP comes from learning how to do things better; indeed, there’s always a better way.

As a practising banker and economist at Bank Negara after my PhD, I quickly undertstood that much of the productivity increases we see come from small incremental changes – they all add-up, other than the lumpy gains arising from dramatic discoveries or from unpredictable phenomena. It all starts with nurturing our education system and the process of its development to ensure youths are properly educated, not just in terms of literary, quantitative and scientific skills, but also with the right moral values and civic outlook.

Broadly, along what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz (pic) has been advocating – it always makes goodJ Stiglitz sense “to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning, including learning how to learn.”

Innovation and creative destruction

The seeds of the critical role of innovation in economic growth were first planted about a century ago by Harvard economist and political and social scientist Joseph Schumpeter, a contemporary of John M. Keynes. His economics (hence, Schumpeternomics) is based on the ability and capability of the market economy to innovate on its own.

I recall reading his 1939 book Business Cycle: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical analysis of the Capitalist Process, where he wrote “Without innovations, no entrepreneurs; without entrepreneurial achievement, no capitalist returns and no capitalist propulsion. The atmosphere of industrial revolutions – of “progress” – is the only one in which capitalism can survive.”

So, Schumpeter went about challenging conventional wisdom in three areas: (i) misplaced focus on competitive markets. He contended that what matters was “competition for the markets, not competition in the markets,” as rightly pointed out by Stiglitz. It is competition for the markets that drives innovation. Sure, this can (and do) result in the rise of monopolies; still this would lead to improved living standards over the long haul (eg. Microsoft, Nokia – acquired in 2013 by Microsoft). (ii) undue focus on short-run efficiency which can be detrimental to innovation over the long-term – classic example is helping “infant industries” learn.

But governments should not be in the game of picking winners; the market can do this better (witness Obama’s failed “clean energy” projects or Malaysia’s wasteful car-maker Proton). Sure, there are exceptions where government invests in research that has since led to development of the Internet and discovery of DNA with enormous social benefits.

Schumpeter

(iii) Innovation leads to creative destruction – it can (and do) wipe out inefficient industries and jobs. The Internet has turned businesses from newspapers to music to book retailing upside down. In their place, more efficient businesses have popped up. In his biography of Schumpeter – Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McCraw wrote: “Schumpeter’s signature legacy is his insight that innovation in the form of creative destruction is the driving force not only of capitalism but of material progress in general. Almost all businesses, no matter how strong they seem to be at a given moment, ultimately fail – and almost always because they failed to innovate. Competitors are relentlessly striving to overtake the leader, no matter how big the lead. Responsible business people know that they ignore this lesson at their peril.”

In 1983, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Schumpeter and Keynes, Peter F. Drucker proclaimed at Forbes that it was Schumpeter, not Keynes, who provided the best guide to the rapid economic changes engulfing the world, according to McCraw.

Higher education

The business of higher education has changed little since Plato and Aristotle taught at the Athenian Lyceum. With government patronage and support, close to 4 million Americans and 5 million Europeans will graduate this summer. Emerging nations’ universities are expanding even faster. I was told in Shanghai last month that China has added 30 million university places in the past 20 years.

Indeed, I do see a revolution coming for three main disruptive reasons:

  •  Rising costs – Baumol’s disease has set in, i.e. soaring costs reflecting high labour intensity with stagnant productivity; for the past two decades, costs have risen 1.6 percentage points above inflation annually.
  •  Changing demand – a recent Oxford study contended that 47% of occupations are now at risk of being automated and as innovation wipes out jobs and drastically change others, vast numbers will be needing continuing education.
  • Fast moving TP will change the way education is packaged, taught and delivered. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) today offers university students a chance to learn from the world’s best and get a degree for a fraction of today’s cost. Harvard Business School will soon offer an online “pre-MBA” for US$1,500 (RM4,778)! The reinvention of universities will certainly benefit many more than it hurts. Elites like Harvard, MIT and Stanford will gain from this creative destruction process. Education is now a global digital market.

What then, are we to do

Corporate giants come and go in a competitive economy. Microsoft and Nokia used to rule the digital world. Now they don’t. No monopoly is permanent, unless enforced by government, which as everyone knows hardly changes, even as the rest of the world passes it by. In the United States, it is reported that the administration wants to prevent Apple’s iTunes and AppStore from abusing the network “lock-in” created by Apple’s tech ecosystem. But the judge has since ruled that “I want Apple to have the flexibility to innovate.” That’s something, isn’t it?

economics-poster-smallMy professor at Harvard, Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, used to extol about the importance of learning by doing. So, those who want to innovate, let them just do it – hopefully with no government intervention even though there is a compelling “infant” argument for industrial protection, which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to learning and innovating.

Most of the time, the infant seldom grows up. But reinventing the ancient institution of higher learning will not be easy. EdX, a non-profit MOOC founded (and funded) in May 2012 by Harvard and MIT, is now a consortium of 28 institutions worldwide. No one knows how big the online market will eventually be. It’s more akin to online airline-booking services – expanding the market by improving the customer experience.

Still, innovation at MOOC will definitely reduce the cost of higher education, grow market size but with widespread creative destruction collateral damage, and turn inefficient universities on their heads. MOOC estimates that university employment can fall by as much as 30% and 700-800 institutions can shut-down. The rest have to reinvent themselves to survive. Our learning society will change forever, whether we like it or not.

Former banker, Dr. Lin See-Yan is a Harvard educated economist and a British chartered scientist who writes on economic and financial issues. Feedback is most welcome; email: starbizweek@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position


July 8, 2014

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position

img_enewletter-issue7-01Malaysia  ranked 12 in List of 60 economies

Malaysia moved up the world competitiveness ranking again, securing a spot in the enviable top dozen and improving the country’s attractiveness to investors.

The International Institute for Management Development (IMD), a Switzerland-based top-ranked business school, lifted Malaysia to 12th position from 15th last year in a list of 60 economies.

“The improved rankings will renew interest and attract investments to the country,” IMD World Competitiveness Center director Professor Arturo Bris told the New Straits Times. The country also continues to be ahead of the United Kingdom (16th), Australia (@17th), Finland (18th), New Zealand (20th), Japan (21st) and South Korea (26th).

Malaysia, Bris said, improved its openness to foreign markets and attracted capital and investment at increasing rates.

In a separate statement, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed saidMiti's Mustapa 12th position was Malaysia’s best performance in the past four years and reflected the progress of the Government Transformation Programme and the Economic Transformation Programme.

“Malaysia expects a much better performance in the next three to five years as more of its initiatives begin to bear fruit,” he said.

The Survey

The World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014 is the 26th publication since 1989.The findings are compiled each year by IMD’s World Competitiveness Center in a survey of 60 economies called the World Competitiveness Yearbook.

The yearbook analyses and ranks the ability of each nation to create and maintain an environment that sustains the competitiveness of enterprises.The survey rates at the availability of fixed telephone lines, broadband, railroad network, part-time employment market, illiteracy, medical assistance and other criteria.

The report is based on statistical data and perception data obtained through a survey that reviews 338 criteria in four categories:

  1. Economic Performance covers the domestic economy, international trade, international investment, employment and price.
  2. Government Efficiency looks into public finance, fiscal policy, institutional framework, business legislation and societal framework.
  3. Business efficiency looks at productivity and efficiency, the labour market, finance, management practices, attitudes and values.
  4. Infrastructure rates technological, scientific, health, environmental and educational infrastructure.

In the category of countries with gross domestic per capita of less than US$20,000 (RM64,300), Malaysia remained at the top among 29 economies. Among countries with populations above 20 million, Malaysia climbed up to 4th position from 5th last year.

In ASEAN, Malaysia remains number two after Singapore and ranked third in the Asia Pacific region compared with fourth last year, while Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are fourth, fifth and seventh respectively.

Malaysia has consistently performed well in other international surveys, including being ranked 6th by the World Bank in Ease of Doing Business 2014, 24th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 and 32nd in the Global Innovation Index 2013 by INSEAD Business School.

Examining ISMA’s Nam Tien Ideology


June 6, 2014

Examining ISMA’s Nam Tien Ideology

UMNO protest

Nation and national soul-searching, despite the romantic connotations behind the term, is always a painful and unsettling process.

A free nation, especially one with a colonial past, will always need to recalibrate its moral position to provide an existential standing. Therefore, a liberation story that is buttressed by a ‘good triumphs evil’ narrative is needed: a new nation sprung from the buds of history, cleansed and desanitised from its past, ready to take on a new course without any entanglements of the past; a ‘New Contract’, but not a renewed contract, so to speak.

This is until it realised, the ‘New Contract’ could not be sustained without hinging on the past, albeit a resented one. A void in history is too borderless for a nation-state with stoic and constitutional borders; be it geographical and psychological, and hence the national discourse is prone to relapse into ‘us-versus-them’ hostility expected of a liberating nation.

The familiarity of achieving a benchmark point of defeating evil (independence) was sought after to achieve cohesion and coherence for a dominating and identifying factor, and therein lies the highly emotive but not necessarily patriotic force of ultra-nationalism. Its digression from patriotism is because those who capitalised on such forces to place imaginative captivity on the masses are usually not patriots themselves. The civil wars and genocides in former African colonies are testaments to that.

Malaysia proves to be an interesting case-study of this “relapse” condition because of its relatively peaceful transition to Independence. The shouts of Tunku’s Merdeka, although invigorating in spirit, did not provide a clean slate for the national conscience to be built upon.

The peaceful transition also meant that there was no post-traumatic stress disorder that originated from a brother-in-arms resistance against invaders for the citizens of diverse origins to direct a common recuperation effort at. Instead, the infantile nation was torn between the political majority rural Malay psyche that the country will “return” to a not-explicitly defined pre-colonial order Malay feudalism and a ‘New Order’ that in practice by the nascent government made little effort in differentiation from the colonial structures.

In other words, there was, and is an expectation for “wrongs” – no matter what they were or are – to be corrected to return the country to a perfect equilibrium before any new projection to the future could be made. The little participation its citizens had in Malaysia’s Independence had left a void being created within the colonial shackles of mind and economics, and it is within this void, contestation of nationhood and identities occurred, as can be seen from the politics of race, language and subsequently, religion that arises.

Ironically, almost every imagination being thrown into the void during that time was retrospective in nature. The Malays longed for a revived domination of the nation’s politics untampered by British intervention, while the Chinese expected a return to the autonomy and free-handedness they enjoyed in commerce and education during colonial governance.

Unsurprisingly, the clash of such nostalgia produced an outcome of retributory nature; the New Economic Policy (NEP) in focus of “correcting” racial imbalances was born. It was a relapse towards the discourse of Malay special position and supremacy, a privilege that was guaranteed by colonial governance to placate Malay fears in the face of a changing nation, demographically, economically and culturally.

Understanding this, Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA)’s classification of the Chinese as being an invading force, the Nam Tien or “southbound invasion” in challenge of Malay or Islam’s indigenous position can be seen as just another episode of the relapse syndrome.

UMNO-ISMA-PERKASASoutheast Asia’s indigenous religion is not Islam to begin with since it is pre-dated by Hinduism. ISMA, however, had made significant efforts in revising of this fact. The fact is that, the invasion from China in usurping the physical or religious status of the locals, simply did not happened. Therefore, the claim that the Chinese are “wrongs that should be corrected” is merely a throwback in a sense. As the vitality of the NEP wears off following the decline of Mahathir’s developmental state, a substituting agenda was needed for “retributory justice” to continue in maintenance of the capitalist elite power structure, and it was in this light a militaristic revisionist account of the Chinese influx into Malaysia was created.

Although not entirely original, the conceived idea of the Chinese as being an “invading” force did have some salient features. Using an invasion analogy, the need to stress constitutional justifications of Malay and Islamic supremacy (a common strategy employed by right-wing ethnocratic organisations such as UMNO and PERKASA) was diminished.

The approach taken to externalise Chinese citizens of Malaysia had shifted the psychology of the siege mentality to one that is even more rudimentary, one that hardly sees co-existence as an amenable outcome. This is because as the logic goes, the threat is foreign and expansionist in nature and had to be repealed to preserve sovereignty.

Placing Islam in the centre of it, in full cognisance of the religious conservatism of the Malays as well as the outright secularist orientation of the Chinese was only a natural move. A frontier that is both distinctive and violent was enforced between the two communal groups.

The demonisation process, not unlike the “history textbook” treatment that was subjected to most colonial powers, was undertaken. A new struggle against foreign evil, the others, is to be embarked; a theme that has mythical origins, also made relatable for the Malaysian context by Islamic concepts like the jihad (although not in the Salafist jihadist sense).

As iterated above, soul-searching is a painful process, especially when history was kept like a gaping hole, filled in by State-controlled narratives that were insufficient in richness, complexity and inclusiveness. Dominated by retro-looking agendas (Mahathir’s Vision 2020 was a breath of fresh air but it collapsed in the face of growing inequality, communal integration and most importantly, the competence expected of a capitalistic developed nation).

ibrahim-ali-perkasaMalaysia’s perpetual search for divergent collective motives were vulnerable to be seized by the romanticism associated with puritanism and evil banishment, for it is these sentiments that fuelled a citizen’s anger against immigrant workers, free trade agreements and foreign cultures.

The inability of authoritative figures to put a stop to all of this, or the civil societies to provide an effective diversion, will only spell trouble for the already economically struggling nation. Despite years of official forward planning, and government mantras of a brighter future, the forward looking narratives have been undermined by the lack of credibility and authenticity of its proponents and implementers. It also makes its present proponents appear hypocritical.

It is dangerous for Malaysia to not have a credible and authentic forward looking narrative. But it is even more dangerous for the ‘Muslim Malay’ (however that is defined) – without this credible and authentic forward looking narrative – to ask the question “Dari mana datangnya saya?” (“Where do I come from?”), and to look to the pendatangs (immigrants) for an answer.

Nicholas Chan is a King’s College London graduate in Forensic Science. He is currently a socio-political analyst with the Penang Institute. He can be reached at: nicholaschan2003@penanginstitute.org

 

McKinsey looks set to stay top of the heap in management consulting


September 26, 2013

Schumpeter

The future of the Firm

McKinsey looks set to stay top of the heap in management consulting