A-G Gani Patail is not above the Law


April 11, 2014

A-G Gani Patail loses to Rosli Dahlan: NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW

by Din Merican

mh370-hishammuddinWilliam Pesek, a prominent Bloomberg columnist, wrote recently that the global outcry over the loss of flight MH370 has highlighted the country’s deepest flaws of incompetent people running the country.

The Fumbling Team of MH370

“The fumbling exposed an elite that’s never really had to face questioning from its people, never mind the rest of the world. The country needs nothing less than a political revolution,” said Pesek. And I agree. Nothing will change until the present political elite is made to pay for their ineptitude, incompetence and crooked ways by Malaysian voters.

At the international level, our political leaders will have to take the blame. At the national level, we are facing a crisis of our public institutions being headed by not just mediocre and incompetent people but also characters who are downright dishonest and who abuse the system with impunity– the rogues in government.

Rosli Dahlan wins against A-G Patail

Vazeer, a former practising lawyer before being made a judge, said he agreed that deliberate abuse of power by those holding a public office was misfeasance in public office.

Vazeer, a former practising lawyer before being made a judge, said he agreed that deliberate abuse of power by those holding a public office was misfeasance in public office.

That brings me to the news reports of this morning that my young friend, Lawyer Rosli Dahlan, has again won another case against A-G Gani Patail. For my readers’ convenience I have reproduced only the MKini report by Hafiz Yatim (below) that provides interesting links on this story that never ceases to inspire me.

Back in Time–To the Eve of Hari Raya (Aidil Fitr), 2007

It’s a sad story of how on the eve of Hari Raya 2007, Lawyer Rosli Dahlan (right) wasR Dahlan brutally arrested in his office in full view of his staff by the ACA (now MACC). He was then charged in a most sensational manner to deceive the public into believing that Rosli had hidden illegitimate assets belonging to the Director of Commercial Crimes, Dato Ramli Yusuff, in another sensational story fanned by the media dubbed as the “The RM 27 million Cop”.

All this was part of a conspiracy to eliminate Dato Ramli from the PDRM as Dato Ramli posed a threat to then IGP Musa Hassan and A-G Gani Patail. Rosli was made a victim because he dared to defend Dato Ramli despite warnings having been sent to him. Since then, Musa‘s former ADC had sworn a Statutory Declaration to expose IGP Musa Hassan’s links with the underworld.

A lot more was also disclosed about A-G Gani Patail’s association with shady corporate figures like the one in the Ho Hup Affair. The Internet was also abuzz with stories about how A-G Gani Patail went to Haj and had his son to share a room with a shady former Police Inspector who was once charged for corruption, Shahidan Shafie, a proxy of former MAS Chairman Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli.

Tajuddin Ramli and the MAS saga was among the many failures of Dr Mahathir’s Bumiputra corporate advancement project which culminated with MH370 disaster. The latest episode could sink MAS without tax-payers bailout forthcoming .

Tajuddin Ramli and the MAS saga was among the many failures of Dr Mahathir’s Bumiputra corporate advancement project which culminated with MH370 disaster. The latest episode could sink MAS without tax-payers bailout forthcoming .

That explains why A-G Gani never charged Tajudin Ramli for the losses of RM 8 billion that MAS suffered despite recommendations by Dato Ramli Yusuff. Dato Mat Zain Ibrahim, former KL OCCI also swore SDs about A-G Gani Patail throwing away the Batu Putih case for pecuniary gains.

Ramli YusuffYet Gani Patail remains as the A-G of Malaysia, leading many to speculate that he has a grip on PM Najib Razak because of Razak Baginda’s acquittal in the murder of the Mongolian beauty, Altantuya Shariibu. In that case, the A-G did not appeal against Razak Baginda’s acquittal.

On the other hand, the A-G has pursued criminal appeals against certain people like Lawyer Rosli Dahlan and Dato Ramli Yusuff (left). In the PKFZ case, A-G Gani Patail charged and appealed against the acquittal of Tun Ling Liong Sik which led to Tun Lingcalling him – “ That Stupid Fella”.

Back to Rosli’s case. Lawyer Rosli, he has fought a long and lonely battle, winning his acquittal and then suing every one of the mainstream media for defaming him – Utusan Malaysia, The Star and the NST, and winning against them one by one very patiently.

On April 15, 2008, Utusan Malaysia published a public apology admitting their wrongdoings and acknowledged that the Utusan Malaysia’s article “was written and published in a sensational manner to generate publicity which exceeded the parameters of ethical journalism surrounding the investigation of YDH Dato’ Pahlawan Haji Ramli Haji Yusuf who at that time held the post of Director of the Commercial Crime Investigation Department of Police DiRaja Malaysia.”

Utusan's Apology

On January 15, 2013, the Star paid damages and admitted to its wrongdoings in a published public apology.

The Star's Apology

On October 18, 2013, the KL High Court found the NST and the MACC guilty of defaming Rosli and ordered them to pay damages of RM 300,000 and costs. This made history as it was the first time that the MACC was sued by a person and the MACC lost and had to pay damages.

Last year Rosli sued A-G Gani Patail, MACC Chief Commissioner Tan Sri Abu Kassim and several other MACC officers for conspiracy, false and malicious investigation, abuse of power, abuse of prosecutorial discretion, malicious prosecution, prosecutorial misconduct and public misfeasance.

Read the MKini report below and you will discover that A-G Gani Patail had engaged Tan Sri Cecil Abraham , a senior private lawyer from Messrs ZulRafique & Partners (an UMNO law firm) to defend him, the A-G Chambers (A-GC) and the MACC.

I find that surprising since I am told that the A-GC has over 800 lawyers, making the A-GC the “largest law firm” in the country. By contrast, I am told that the largest private law firm in the country has a maximum of 140 lawyers.

 Putrajaya needs to review its policies as it can't afford to spend taxpayers' money on the AG's own legal problem.


Putrajaya needs to review its policies as it can’t afford to spend taxpayers’ money on the AG’s own legal problem.

That means the Government of Malaysia spends millions of ringgit to staff the A-GC in order to defend the government. Yet when the Government is sued, A-G Gani Patail engages private lawyers. Does that makes sense to you?

Is A-G Gani Patail admitting that he is not confident of the A-GC, which he heads, to defend him and the government in the face of the law suit by Lawyer Rosli Dahlan? Is A-G Gani Patail admitting that the A-GC is incompetent? Was that why Tan Sri Shafee Abdullah was asked to be an ad hoc DPP to prosecute the appeal against Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Or is there is a commercial logic to that? Is A-G Gani Patail outsourcing legal work to his friends in the private sector to reward them for covering up for his misconduct and incompetence?

Cecil Abraham sits in the MACC’s Operations Review Panel.

Cecil Abraham sits in the MACC’s Operations Review Panel.

I had a chat with Tan Sri Robert Phang who has always been critical of A-G Gani Patail. He told me a more worrisome story. Robert Phang questioned whether Tan Sri Cecil Abraham (right) is a fit to lawyer to defend the A-G because Cecil Abraham sits in the MACC’s Operations Review Panel, which advises on oversights in the MACC. One of the committee’s functions is to ensure that the MACC and other government agencies do not commit abuses. It is like an Ombudsman. If so, how can Cecil Abraham defend A-G Gani Patail and the other MACC officers whom Rosli has accused of fixing him? Is that not a conflict of interest?

Other lawyers tell me that Cecil Abraham is the senior lawyer implicated in the PI Bala SD case over the Altantuya murder. I am stunned by all these revelations. It seems that all the committees and advisory panels in the MACC and other government agencies are to cover up for their wrongdoings rather than to expose and correct them. No wonder our country is headed for doom !

Americk Sidhu, PI Bala's lawyer makes a startling revelation at the Bar AGM that Cecil Abraham confided in him that he prepared the 2nd SD on instructions from Najib.

Americk Sidhu, PI Bala’s lawyer makes a startling revelation at the Bar AGM that Cecil Abraham confided in him that he prepared the 2nd SD on instructions from Najib.

I am told that Rosli’s Statement of Claim against A-G Gani Patail contains very damning revelations about A-G’s misconduct. I am told that with every victory that Rosli gained against A-G Gani Patail, more and more civil servants and people are coming up to him to offer assistance and being more willing to be witnesses in his cases. This was unlike before when many were afraid to be associated with him.

Is that why AG Gani Patail does not want to go to trial and employ all kinds of delaying tactics in Rosli’s suit against him. Is that why A-G Gani Patail engaged Tan Sri Cecil Abraham to strike out Rosli’s suit? Otherwise, why is A-G Gani Patail so afraid to go to trial in Rosli’s case?

But now that Tan Sri Cecil has lost this striking out application and the A-G is ordered to pay cost to Rosli, who is going to bear this cost? Should taxpayer’s money be used to pay for the misconduct of these rogues in government? If we taxpayers have to bear this cost, then A-G Gani Patail and the likes of him will never be repentant. There will never be accountability!

In my view, A-G Gani Patail must bear the full costs of his misconduct. He must be held accountable and he must pay the legal fees charged by his friend Tan Sri Cecil Abraham. I am also of the view that the MACC should sack Cecil Abraham from being on its Advisory Panel. Cecil Abraham cannot sit there to pretend that he is acting as a check and balance against the MACC’s misconducts whereas he is also covering up for the MACC when the MACC is sued by Rosli, and getting well paid by the Government using tax payer’s money!

Conflict of Interest

The conflict of interest is so clear and it is appalling that a senior titled lawyer like Tan Sri Cecil Abraham cannot see that. I also feel that the Bar Council should not stand idle arms akimbo with this revelation. The Bar Council should subject Cecil Abraham to disciplinary proceedings for breaching such common sense rule on conflict of interests. Cecil has dishonored the Bar and the Council must act against him!

Well Done, JC Wazeer Alam Mydin 

In that regard, I must congratulate Judicial Commissioner Wazeer Alam Mydin for having a fair sense justice in not allowing A-G Gani Patail to strike out Rosli ‘s claim. A judicial Commissioner is basically a probationary judge. For a probationary Judge to do this means JC Wazeer is indeed a brave man who would not tolerate public authorities who commit abuses and then claim immunity. It is indeed a brave probationary judge to stand up to the A-G and tell it to the A-G’s face that the A-G is not above the law.

The winds of change is blowing and judges like JC Wazeer Alam will be a credit to the judiciary. JC Wazeer Alam is indeed a brave man to make this iconic statement:

“The claim by AG of his absolute public and prosecutorial immunity is an anathema to modern democratic society.”

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April 11, 2014

A-G not immune to legal action, rules Judge

by Hafiz Yatim@www.malaysiakini.com

The Attorney-General is not immune to legal action, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled today.

Judicial Commissioner Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera said this in dismissing Attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail’s application to strike out the suits by former Commercial Crime Investigation Department director Ramli Yusuff and his lawyer Rosli Dahlan.

Public authorities who abused their powers have been "insulated" from prosecution for "far too long" by using the Public Authorities Protection Act.

Public authorities who abused their powers have been “insulated” from accountability  for “far too long” by using the Public Authorities Protection Act.

“I am afraid that the notion of absolute immunity for a public servant, even when mala fide or abuse of power in the exercise of their prosecutorial power is alleged in the pleadings, is anathema to modern day notions of accountability.

“I agree that deliberate abuse of power by a person holding a public office is tortious and is referred to as misfeasance in public office.

“Such a tortious act can arise when an officer actuated by malice, for example, by personal spite or a desire to injure for improper reasons, abuses his power,” Vazeer Alam said.

“This is keeping with developments in modern jurisprudence that absolute immunity for public servants has no place in a progressive democratic society,” the judge added. The A-G and two other officers from the A-G’s Chambers were named in the respective suits filed by Ramli Yusuff and Rosli Dahlan.

They had sought to strike out the suits on the grounds that they should be immune to such action in carrying out their prosecution powers. Ramli had filed a RM128.5 million suit against A-G Gani, former IGP Musa Hassan and several Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officers.

Rosli had filed a separate suit amounting to RM48 million against the same parties.The two are suing them for abuse of power, malfeasance in the performance of public duty, malicious prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct, among others.

Suits not filed out of time

Judicial Commissioner Vazeer Alam also ruled that the two suits for malicious prosecution were not filed out of time as this cause of action accrued upon the determination of the final appeal. He said that the court could not consider the period to be when Ramli or Rosli  were acquitted, as there were subsequent appeals against the acquittals made after this.

“As with Ramli’s case, the appeals lodged by the public prosecutor were dismissed in June and in November 2011. Therefore the filing of the action on Nov 1 last year is well within the time stipulated in Section 2 of the Public Authority Protection Act,” the  ruled,

Vazeer Alam also allowed the two to name the MACC in their legal action, since the MACC took over from the Anti-Corruption Agency.

Ramli had sued the defendants for their claim that he was the policeman in the Copgate affair and that he had RM27 million in assets.

Subsequently, Ramli was charged with the non-disclosure of some of his assets and the case against him was thrown out. Ramli’s lawyer friend Rosli was also hauled up as a result of this.

Ramli, who was a former state Police Chief for Pahang and Sabah, said in his statement of claim that his relationship with Gani soured in 2006.

This was after he met then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and recommended that former Malaysia Airlines chairperson Tajudin Ramli be prosecuted for the severe losses suffered by the company.

“But the A-G decided not to prosecute Tajudin. I even told the PM then that if the AG was reluctant to prosecute Tajudin, the CCID would have the necessary resources to conduct the prosecution.

“This earned me Gani’s permanent displeasure…” Ramli said in his statement of claim.

‘A brave decision’

After today’s court session, Ramli commended the judge for his brave decision. “I am not doing this for Ramli Yusuff but for the Police Force, some of whom have been victimised as a result of this. And I am also doing this for the serving government officers who have also been victimised.

“I am also seeking closure to an event that has affected my possible career advancement,” he said.

The RM27 million investigations had hindered his promotion to be the Inspector-General of Police, he added. This post was subsequently handed over to Musa Hassan.

Rosli, on commending today’s High Court decision, said abuses by the public authority have for too long been insulated by invoking the Public Authority Protection Act.

“Today, a brave judge has declared that absolute prosecutorial immunity is  anathema to the modern concept of democracy. This is to remind the public authorities that no one is above the law,” Rosli said.

Several Police Officers under Ramli’s charge have also been prosecuted as a result of the Copgate affair and all of them have acquitted and have been reinstated to their posts during former IGP Ismail Omar’s tenure.

Ramli was represented by Harvinderjit Singh, while Chethan Jethwani and Darvindeer Kaur appeared for Rosli. Senior lawyer Tan Sri Cecil Abraham, Rishwant Singh and Senior federal counsel Dato Amarjeet Singh represented the defendants.

Vazeer fixed June 18 for case management to possibly fix trial dates for the hearing.

Fund Scandal Looms in Malaysia


February 27, 2014

Fund Scandal Looms in Malaysia

Mysterious sovereign wealth fund may be billions in debt

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100Political insiders in Malaysia say Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak could be facing a fresh political crisis due to the murky dealings of a sovereign fund established five years ago to drive investment in strategic domestic industries.

A widening circle of critics, fed in part by exhaustive reporting on independent news sites such as Malaysiakini, say the fund may have run up as much as RM40 billion (US$12.18 billion) in debt and has few assets to show for it beyond what are described as overpriced acquisitions of independent power producers in Malaysia.

On February 18, Opposition MP Tony Pua of the Democratic Action Party announced on the floor of Parliament that the fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd, known as 1MDB, had yet to file accounts for the financial year ended March 2013 and that KPMG, the independent auditor, had suddenly resigned. Deloitte Malaysia has since taken over the accounts.

In 2012, 1MDB made a US$1.75 billion private bond placement, one of the biggest private US dollar bond placements on record from Asia, through Goldman Sachs, to acquire a portfolio of power assets. Other bond placements also have been made. According to US laws, failure to file financial accounts is a violation of the law, which should be raising concerns among the bondholders.

 ‘Bold and Daring’
A United Malays National Organization operative told Asia Sentinel a major scandal is lurking in the fund, which is wholly owned by the country’s Ministry of Finance, although no clear evidence has emerged of the exact nature of the scandal.  

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, both of whom have soured on Najib, are said to be questioning the operation of the fund. There has been a rising tide of gossip about the fund’s political connections, particularly to Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and a close friend, Low Taek Jho, who was active in founding the fund. 

Jho Low, as he is known, has become a New York social figure, seen out with Paris Hilton and pouring Cristal champagne for a succession of showgirls.  He and Rosmah’s son by her first marriage, Riza Aziz, produced The Wolf of Wall Street, a major box office success that has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Ironically, the film can’t be shown in Malaysia because of its excess profanity.

Low reportedly was behind Wynton Group, which showed an interest in bidding for the famed Claridge’s, Berkeley and Connaught hotels in London. According to a Malaysian website, in a court document filed in Ireland, Low made the approach in 2010.  According to the court filing, Low was said to have had the backing of an unnamed Malaysian “sovereign wealth fund,” which was not named. Low has acknowledged having friends in Khazanah Nasional Bhd, another Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. The 1MDB fund wasn’t mentioned

Little is known of 1MDB’s operations. As Asia Sentinel reported at the time, it raised hackles when it started in April 2009 as a fund arranged by Jho Low and started by the Terengganu state government, which borrowed RM10 billion (US$2.87 billion at 2009 rates). Critics questioned why an oil-rich state with revenues of RM5-7 billion a year would have to borrow money to start a sovereign fund rather than using windfall revenues from oil and other commodity bonanzas.

The Terengganu fund morphed into 1MBD under the Ministry of Finance in September 2009 to “focus on strategic development projects in the areas of energy, real estate, tourism and agribusiness.” The fund’s website quotes Najib saying its mission is to “be bold and daring… to break new ground and do things differently.”

1MDB soon acquired a strategic partner in an obscure Saudi firm, PetroSaudi International, headed by Tarek Essam Ahmad Obaid, a member of the vast Saudi royal family. Reports indicated that PetroSaudi had signed a memorandum of understanding with Ghana National Petroleum Corp. although the MOU has apparently not resulted in a major project.  

According to a statement by Azmi Khalid, then chairman of the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, 1MDB loaned PetroSaudi about US$1billion, leading to additional questions over why a government fund set up to explore investment in Malaysia was loaning money to a joint venture in Africa. PetroSaudi, despite rumored ties to the Saudi royalty, was unable to come up with its own cash in the joint venture but got 1MDB to accept a potential oil site in Turkmenistan. Subsequently, the loans to PetroSaudi climbed to US$1.7 billion.

Debt and not much else
An exhaustive probe of the sovereign fund by writers Ho Kay Tat and Afiq Isa for the Malaysian publication The Edge, found that about all 1MDB has to show so far “is a multi-billion ringgit debt portfolio, the bulk of which was used to buy several independent power producers at hefty price tags.” 

Its main asset is a 48-hectare chunk of land passed to the fund by the government when the Malaysian Air Force closed its base at Sungai Besi, near downtown Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle. It is a near-priceless plot that 1MBD is to develop as a financial center called the Tun Razak Exchange, named for Najib’s late father. That work hasn’t started yet.

Through a series of complicated financial engineering moves in 2012, the loan to PetroSaudi was prematurely terminated and redeemed, according to Tony Pua’s presentation on the floor of Parliament.

“However,” Pua said, “the repayment of US$2.32 billion (RM7.93b) was made in a perplexing manner in a “segregated investment portfolio” based in the Cayman Islands. To date no one has been able to verify with any certainty who the investment portfolio manager is, the fund’s performance or for that matter, if the money actually exists.”

The “investment” in the Cayman Islands, Pua said, “raises highly suspicious questions as 1MDB is desperately trying to raise funds through new bond issuance in Malaysia to fund its aggressive acquisitions of independent power producers as well as its mega-projects in Bandar Malaysia and Tun Razak Exchange. In fact, 1MDB is already laden with an estimated more than RM40 billion in debt, and hence such investments is a luxury that 1MDB does not have.”

KPMG, in 1MDB’s first financial statement in 2010, raised an “emphasis of matter” over a US$1 billion investment in the PetroSaudi joint venture, which was subsequently converted into a US$1.2 billion (RM3.95b) loan within a period of less than six months. The “emphasis of matter” was removed in subsequent financial accounts as the joint venture was servicing the loan with interest payments, it was also highlighted that 1MDB extended an additional US$700 million (RM2.3b) in loans to the JV, despite receiving less than US$200 million in interest between 2011 and 2012.

To date,  no one has been able to verify with any certainty who the investment portfolio manager is, the fund’s performance or for that matter, if the money actually exists, Pua said.

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore


February 22, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore

For Singapore, due to history, geography, demography, economy and recent political experiences, Malaysia has perpetually been its lynchpin concern and preoccupation. In the past, S Rajaratnam, the Republic’s first foreign minister, had described Singapore’s relations with Malaysia as ‘special’ and there is nothing to suggest that this has changed in anyway. If anything, the ‘specialness’ has been intensified and further reinforced due to a whole array of factors, not least being the imperatives of national, regional and international economics. A weakening United States, an assertive China, an unstable Thailand and a new nationalistic leader in Indonesia can change the political and security architecture in the region to the detriment of both states and hence, their bilateral ties.

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYIn the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965, the emotive dimension of Singapore’s view of Malaysia was dominant. Even though this has largely dissipated, it is not totally absent. Still, the pragmatism with which both states have moved forward is definitely a milestone achievement in bilateral ties in Southeast Asia.

For Singapore, continuity rather than change remains its key perspective on Malaysia. This was especially true after the May 2013 general elections where the Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) was returned to power albeit with a weaker majority. Still, Prime Minister Najib, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) and the BN are in power and that is what matters even though the winds of change must also be disconcerting. The disquiet would be more, not so much from the economic aspect as it would be from the rising racial and religious polarisation of Malaysia in the last few years that was brought to the forefront during the last general elections.

The ‘Allah’ issue has not been helpful and the recent firebombing of a church in Penang has merely raised the ante of what this will mean for Malaysia and possibly, even multiracial and multi-religious Singapore. All that aside, the single most important development of late has been the rising warmth in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties under Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Tun Razak. While past imperatives of history, geography and demography remain relevant, most dominant in the new narrative has been the personal warmth of the two Prime Ministers (Lee and Najib) and the strategic nature of their bilateral ties.

Most of the past issues have been addressed or settled such as relocation of Customs and Immigration Complex, land reclamation and even water. Most importantly, has been the breakthroughs that both leaders have made vis-à-vis two issues, namely, the resolution of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the land exchange deal as well as Singapore’s support for the Iskandar Development Project in Johor. Other positive developments in ties include the holding of annual leader’s retreats, re-establishment of links between both countries’ stock exchanges, Malaysia’s agreement to sell electricity to Singapore, the agreement to build high speed train link from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, the amicable post-Pedra Branca technical talks to resolve legacy issues over the islands’ dispute and finally, the establishment of a Singapore consulate in Johor Baru.

If there is one key factor that has brought bilateral ties to a new height, it is the cooperation in the Iskandar Project. Not only is the Singapore Government supporting investments in the project through Government-linked companies such as Temasek Holding but also playing an important role in encouraging the private sector to invest in the project. Additionally, thousands of Singaporeans are expected to be permanently based in the Iskandar region and Johor as a whole, bringing interdependence to a level that was never seen before. To that extent, Iskandar has been the key game changer in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties of late.

The breakthrough in bilateral ties was a function of a number of factors. First, the decision by both sides to adopt a new approach to bilateral ties in order to garner win-win results. Second, the personal warmth of the top leaders was extremely helpful. Third, the calculation of the mutual benefits that would be gained by both sides in view of the increasing regional and global competition. Fourth, over the years, there has also been increasing economic interdependence with Singapore as one of the top investors in Malaysia over the last two decades or so. Two-way trade and investments are among the highest between the two states. Fifth, there is also the realisation of increasing security indivisibility of both states. Finally, the ideological pragmatism of both sides has also helped in boosting bilateral ties.

While Singapore expects Malaysia in 2014 to have a largely ‘normal’ year barring any unexpected events – all the more to be the case as the UMNO annual assembly has opted for status quo – the Republic is also mindful of the many uncertainties that can unexpectedly crop up to affect bilateral ties. While 2014 can expect the warming of ties to continue, this cannot be taken for granted. First, the warm ties of two Prime Minister, both of whom are sons of two former prime ministers  who were not close, may not survive personalities if a more nationalistic prime minister takes over in Singapore or Malaysia. Second, tensions could surface if the promised cooperation proves futile or produces one-sided benefits, say in Iskandar Project. Finally, growing domestic tensions in Malaysia, especially among the Malay and Chinese communities in Johor or in Malaysia could spill over into Singapore-Malaysia relations.

Hence, for Singapore, while Malaysia in 2014 is expected to continue ‘good business as normal’, there are also potential minefields that might explode, and hence, the need for caution. ‘Special relations’ are important but can never be taken for granted, and this also holds true of Singapore’s view of Malaysia in 2014.

Bilveer Singh is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, adjunct senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and President of the Political Science Association of Singapore.

What goes around comes around for Najib


February 4, 2014

“The exercise of power demands that one looks truth in the face, however brutal or disturbing, unless one decides to shy away from it with demagogy or short-term political calculation”–President Jacques Chirac, My Life in Politics

Malaysia

Comeuppance or Deja vu: What goes around comes around for Najib

by The Malaysian Insider

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100What goes around comes around. Just after the 2008 elections, Datuk Seri Najib Razak watched as the then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi got skewered for Barisan Nasional’s (BN) abysmal showing at the polls, with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad leading the campaign to oust Pak Lah from office.

The constant hammering took its toll and in March 2009, Abdullah made way for Najib. Until today, Abdullah’s supporters believe that the so-called groundswell against the PM was not as widespread as painted by Dr Mahathir and his instigator-in-chief, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

But Abdullah had little drive to stay and fight, concerned that a war with his nemesis would mortally wound UMNO. Truth be told, he also never recovered from that day in March when BN lost five states and the two-thirds control of Parliament.

So he handed power over to Najib, though his men on the ground told him that Najib was part of the campaign to unseat him. By then, he either chose not to believe that his Deputy was plotting against him or was indifferent.

Wounded and upset, some of Abdullah’s supporters consoled themselves with the belief that Najib would receive his comeuppance one day.It seems that day has come.What goes around comes around.  It has taken about five years but Najib now knows what it feels to be under siege by Dr Mahathir and his supporters.He is concerned. He should be.

Because he has witnessed the tenacity and destructiveness of Dr Mahathir; the manner inTDM which the former Prime Minister keeps chipping away at the perceived weaknesses of his enemy and the doctor’s ability to paint a dire picture for party and country if his target remains at the helm.

The Mahathir machinery has started moving, with the former PM meeting small groups and repeating the mantra about Najib being a weak leader and the real possibility of BN losing power in the next polls if he is still at the controls.

For good measure, Dr Mahathir has also hammered Najib’s reliance on advisers, consultants and Pemandu, the government efficiency unit led by former Malaysia Airlines Managing Director Datuk Seri Idris Jala.

Sound familiar? It should. In 2008, the attack was on Abdullah’s reliance on the Fourth Floor, his group of youngish advisers. Najib’s circle knows the parallel between then and now.They have no intention of waging open warfare against Dr Mahathir and other critics.

What the PM and his team intend to do is meet as many powerful individuals in UMNO and influential Malay groups to explain his political and economic strategy as well as answer directly criticisms raised against him by Dr Mahathir, Tun Daim Zainuddin and others. By doing so, the Najib camp hopes that the attempt to create a groundswell against him in UMNO would be stillborn.

The PM and his team know that critics in UMNO are predicting that there would be a change in leadership soon, as early as April. But they scoff at this talk, pointing out that Najib has the powerful UMNO Supreme Council in his corner and, unlike Abdullah, is prepared to use all the powers of incumbency to stay in office.

The only problem with relying on UMNO bigwigs for support is that the support is never ironclad.Often enough, the lure of lucre and power can tempt even the “staunchest” supporter.

najib-and-badawiAt the height of the attacks against Abdullah, several powerful politicians swore to defend him.But in closed-door sessions, they, too, attacked Abdullah.

Today, one of these individuals is holding a powerful position in UMNO and has reportedly pledged his allegiance to Najib. Najib’s challenge is to persuade,convince or cajole the power brokers in UMNO that he is going to end up winning any war of attrition being mounted against him by his critics.

But it will not be a walk in the park. Far from it. There is anger over the rising cost of living; the seemingly endless missteps by government ministers and the sense of drift in Malaysia.

Given this uneasy equilibrium, Najib and his team cannot afford an all-out war against their critics, a situation that will roil the country further. He has to show his party that he remains their best bet and that his critics are coming to the table with dirty hands, motivated by self-interest and family considerations.

Abdullah’s supporters in UMNO are watching this drama unfold with an equal measure of indifference and glee.What goes around comes around.

Wisma Putra: Fine Tuning Diplomat Selection


January 4, 2014

Wisma Putra: Fine Tuning Diplomat Selection

by Datuk Dr. Ananda Kumaraseri@http://www.nst.com.my

Wisma PutraWisma Putra

IN my preceding article two primary measures were pinpointed as appropriate responses for raising the bar of the performance of our diplomats individually as well as collectively as an effective well-oiled diplomatic apparatus. The first was to fine tune the selection process of newly recruited diplomats from amongst eligible candidates each year so that Wisma Putra would be vested with a complement of competent career diplomatic officers.

The other was to enhance professionalism in our diplomatic machinery by providing comprehensive training to recruits and to reinforce this foundational footing with periodic training in specific aspects of diplomacy and international relations as they progress up the rungs in their diplomatic career.

There is certainly a need to fine- tune the selection process of our diplomats. As stressed in an earlier article, the practice of randomly allocating newly recruited officers into the Administrative and Diplomatic Service (PTD) to pursue a diplomatic career had often resulted in square pegs in Wisma Putra. This was primarily because the interest, mental make-up and potential in terms of the competency of officers allocated were not thoroughly gauged in respect to carving out a distinguished diplomatic career.

As a consequence, the performances of a number of them were often impregnated with unpredictable outcomes. Aside from this drawback, regrettably, the converse scenario of officers having a keen interest in embarking on a diplomatic career and at the same time possessing the aptitude and personal qualities required of a successful diplomatist being denied of such an opportunity was also distinctly evident.

These observations were keenly noted when I was entrusted with the onerous task to set up and head the Centre of International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) in Intan (the National Institute of Public Administration), in 1978.

So, a key challenge that the CIRSS endeavoured to address was the unsatisfactory mechanism adopted by the Public Services Department (PSD) of arbitrarily allocating officers to Wisma Putra and to other public agencies that were actively engaged in foreign affairs matters such as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, largely as a pro forma exercise.

The following year, the PSD introduced a four-month long Specialization Programme as part of the compulsory one-year training programme on public administration and management for PTD recruits with the view to streaming them into different fields of public administration. One of the training specialisations designated by the PSD was International Relations and Strategic Studies that came under the purview of the newly established CIRSS.

A major setback was that the recruited PTD officers designated to undergo the specialisation training in International Relations and Strategic Studies were arbitrarily decided by the PSD. Nonetheless, the CIRSS on its own initiative took upon itself to institute an in-house evaluation of the suitability of the officers to assume what may be termed as an internationalist career.

To our utter dismay, the independent evaluation earnestly undertaken by the CIRSS and submitted to Wisma Putra as well as the PSD was not taken into account in the eventual posting of the newly recruited PTD officers.

Many who were keen on pursuing an internationalist career and who possessed the temperament, mindset and competency were assigned to state-level and district administration posts or were dispatched to some public agency that had only a minimal exposure to matters relating to foreign affairs.

Equally disturbing was the fact that many who had no inclination of embarking on a diplomatic career were posted to Wisma Putra and other public agencies having a distinctive international relations frontage. Simply put, the evaluation initiative of the CIRSS ended in a graveyard of noble endeavours.

While on this point, the practice pursued by established foreign services come readily to mind as a validation of the urgency to review the selection process of our future diplomatists. In particular, the practice of the British and French foreign services that enjoy long and impressive histories and are regarded as outstanding among diplomatic services may be used as reference.

The abiding aim of both foreign services is to recruit the crème de la crème from amongst the large number of graduates qualified to carve out a diplomatic career. Both diplomatic services rely heavily on a conventional method of firstly gauging potential capabilities of newly recruited diplomatic officers.

The selection of new entrants into the foreign services is noted to be an intensive process of elimination. Aside from appearing for competitive examinations designated to establish communication skills, primarily the ability to set out one’s ideas and thoughts clearly and cogently in the oral and written forms, intensive interviews and tests are set to establish sound character traits, personality and a positive attitude.

The high degree of competitiveness in the selection process ensures that the cream of high intelligence is selected into the foreign services each year. It is on this initial solid foundation that the high levels of professionalism in their foreign services have been established.

Your Weekend Entertainment: Let Christmas Begin early


December 21, 2013

Your Weekend Entertainment: Let Christmas Begin early

Kamsiah and DinYes, let us begin our Xmas celebration of songs a little early this year. We wish all Christian friends and all of you who are men and women of goodwill Happy Holidays.

For us here in Malaysia we will keep dreaming of a White Christmas and unless a miracle happens, Xmas in our country will likely be a wet one this year. Snow or no Snow, wet or dry, Christmas will be Christmas for humanity. We can still enjoy ourselves visiting Christian friends to taste the cakes and soft drinks.  True, it is a Special time of the year. May there be Peace and Goodwill and let us rejoice that we are alive to experience Xmas 2013. It could be different in 2014.

We bring back Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, WAM and Mariah Carey for this weekend with their renditions of Xmas classic. Our Special Guest is Mr. Melvin Howard Tome (aka The Velvet Fog), the composer of The Christmas Song.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Bing Crosby

Dean Martin

Nat King Cole

Frank Sinatra

WHAM

Mariah Carey

Special Guest–Mel Tome

The Velvet Fog

Enrique on Urban Development


December 11, 2013

Enrique on Urban Development

Enrique PenalosaEnrique Penalosa (left) is an influential thinker on urban challenges particularly those related to the relation between urban design and sustainability, mobility, equity, public space and well being. His vision and proposals have significantly influenced policies in numerous cities throughout the world. He is currently a consultant on Urban Vision and Sustainability Strategy and works with many local, regional and national governments as well as other organizations all over the world. He is President of the Board of Directors of ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy).

As mayor of Bogotá, the 7 million inhabitant’s capital of Colombia, between 1998 and 2000 he implemented profound changes which transformed the city and its citizens’s attitude towards it. He massively improved slums, built formidable schools and nurseries, beautiful libraries and hundreds of parks and other pedestrian spaces. He was a leading innovator in America in creating a 300-km bicycle path network, restricting car use and radically improving pedestrian facilities. He built more than a hundred kilometers of pedestrian-only streets and greenways, such as the Porvenir Promenade, a 24 km pedestrian and bicycle- only street that goes through the poorest neighborhoods, and the Juan Amarillo Greenway, a pedestrian street that goes from the richest to the poorest neighborhoods of the capital. Inspired in the Curitiba model he created the TransMilenio bus system which has been a model to many cities and it is now considered the best bus system in the world.

Penalosa has lectured at many universities throughout the world as well as many environmental, urban, and managerial forums. His work and ideas, as well as his articles, have been featured in publications from many countries.

Enrique Penalosa is an influential thinker on urban challenges particularly those related to the relation between urban design and sustainability, mobility, equity, public space and well being. His vision and proposals have significantly influenced policies in numerous cities throughout the world. He is currently a consultant on Urban Vision and Sustainability Strategy and works with many local, regional and national governments as well as other organizations all over the world. He is President of the Board of Directors of ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy).

As mayor of Bogotá, the 7 million inhabitant’s capital of Colombia, between 1998 and 2000 he implemented profound changes which transformed the city and its citizens’s attitude towards it. He massively improved slums, built formidable schools and nurseries, beautiful libraries and hundreds of parks and other pedestrian spaces. He was a leading innovator in America in creating a 300-km bicycle path network, restricting car use and radically improving pedestrian facilities. He built more than a hundred kilometers of pedestrian-only streets and greenways, such as the Porvenir Promenade, a 24 km pedestrian and bicycle- only street that goes through the poorest neighborhoods, and the Juan Amarillo Greenway, a pedestrian street that goes from the richest to the poorest neighborhoods of the capital. Inspired in the Curitiba model he created the TransMilenio bus system which has been a model to many cities and it is now considered the best bus system in the world.

Penalosa has lectured at many universities throughout the world as well as many environmental, urban, and managerial forums. His work and ideas, as well as his articles, have been featured in publications from many countries.He holds a BA in Economics and History from Duke University, a Master’s Degree in Government from the IIAP in Paris and a DESS in Public Administration from the University of Paris II. He was also a Visiting Scholar at New York University for 3 years and has taught at several Colombian universities.

Let us listen to him–Din Merican

NY Times Book Review:‘The Map and the Territory’ by Alan Greenspan


October 22, 2013

NY Times: Books of The Times

Humans Can Be Irrational, and Other Economic Insights

‘The Map and the Territory’ by Alan Greenspan

by Binyamin Appelbaum

Alan GreenspanAlan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, writes in his new book, “The Map and the Territory,” that he has been thinking about bubbles since the financial crisis of 2008. Specifically, he has been trying to understand why he and so many other economic forecasters failed to see the housing bubble that caused the crisis.

The mistake, he writes, is that forecasters treated humans as rational decision makers — a functional fiction that no longer seems functional. But Mr. Greenspan sees a way forward: Humans, he writes, are irrational in predictable ways. What economists like to call “the animal spirits” can be incorporated into economic models.

“I have recently come to appreciate that ‘spirits’ do in fact display ‘consistencies’ that can importantly enhance our ability to identify emerging asset price bubbles in equities, commodities and exchange rates — and even to anticipate the economic consequences of their ultimate collapse and recovery.”

This is promising stuff. It might even make an interesting book. But the subject barely holds Mr. Greenspan’s attention for a single chapter.

The rest of this book is instead devoted to a discursive tour of recent economic history, punctuated by conservative policy prescriptions. He declares that he no longer finds it possible to make economic forecasts because of “governmental restrictions against competition in domestic markets.”

This tour has its attractions. Mr. Greenspan, one of the nation’s most astute economic observers, has a rare talent for framing economic trends. He writes, for example, that as the value of the nation’s economic output has increased since the 1970s, the weight has not. He means this literally: If everything “Made in the U.S.A.” in 2013 was placed on a giant scale, it would weigh about as much as everything “Made in the U.S.A.” in 1977. It’s hard to imagine a more vivid illustration of what it means to say that the United States has shifted toward a “knowledge economy.”

Still, Mr. Greenspan has been talking about the weight of the economy for a few decades now, and much of this book feels similarly familiar.

Accounts of the financial crisis, in particular, have assumed the character of Mr. Potato Head kits. There is a box of standard explanations, and each writer picks the ones he finds most appealing. Mr. Greenspan’s Potato Head is made up of predictable parts: He blames the government for encouraging subprime lending but absolves the Federal Reserve’s policy of low interest rates.

He has not tried to enliven this account with any history of his involvement as Fed chairman from 1987 until 2006. He covered some of that ground in his 2007 memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” but that book, written before the financial crisis, already seems dated.

In this new book, Mr. Greenspan writes that the crisis could have been entirely prevented by stricter capital standards, which would have limited the unstable reliance of financial institutions on borrowed money. But he does not explain that under his leadership, the Fed played the lead role in creating rules that let banks set their own capital levels, with predictable results.

AG's Latest Book“The marked increase in risk taking of a decade ago could have been guarded against wholly by increased capital,” he writes. “Regrettably, that did not occur, and the accompanying dangers were not fully appreciated, even in the commercial banking sector.”

The most provocative part of the book is Mr. Greenspan’s assertion that government spending on Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs is the reason that the American economy has grown more slowly in recent decades. He writes that taxation of upper-income households is reducing their ability to invest in new ideas and new machines and new buildings. Less investment yields less innovation, slower growth in productivity and less economic growth.

With an economist’s precision, he calculates that this decline in investment has reduced growth since 1965 by 0.21 percentage points a year — “a consequential difference,” he writes, of about $1.1 trillion in lost output.

Americans must choose, he writes: “Do we wish a society of dependence on government or a society based on the self-reliance of individual citizens?”

This is actually an optimistic view about the stagnation of innovation and growth. Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, has won a wide audience for his view that we’ve simply run out of transformative ideas. Mr. Gordon and other economists also see a wide range of other problems, including an aging population, declining educational achievement and rising income inequality.

Mr. Greenspan is suggesting that the problem can be fixed by throwing money at it.Yet it is not obvious that the American economy has been suffering from a lack of financing. While Americans saved less, the rest of the world was only too happy to shovel money into the United States. Mr. Greenspan in this same book subscribes to the view that the housing crash was caused in part by an overabundance of foreign investment in the American economy.

Furthermore, taxation cannot be the reason Americans are saving less. The New York Times reported last year that most Americans in 2010 paid a smaller share of income in taxes than households with the same inflation-adjusted incomes paid in 1980. Mr. Greenspan notes that the wealthy are paying more in taxes — but that is only true because they are making more money. Households earning more than $200,000 saw the largest decline in taxation as a share of income.

It’s also worth noting that productivity and growth have sagged most dramatically since President George W. Bush cut taxes in 2001. Maybe another round of tax cuts would turn things around. Or maybe we really are just running out of new ideas.

Mukhriz Mahathir fails in his bid for UMNO Vice-Presidency


October 20, 2012

MY COMMENT: I am disappointed that Mukhriz Mahathir was notDato Din Merican chosen as one of UMNO’s Vice Presidents. To me, he would make a better Vice President than Hishamuddin Hussein who is in my book an incompetent and inept Cabinet minister, but was narrowly beaten by the latter. Hishamuddin rode on the coattails of Zahid Hamidi and tacit support from his Prime Minister and cousin, and must now kowtow to the Home Minister on party and other matters.

Some regard Mukhriz’s defeat as a sign of rejection of Mahathirism. Well, it is not that simple. Mukhriz is not Mahathir. Never misjudge this young politician who is widely read and intelligent, and well endowed with excellent soft skills which he acquired from his famous doctor mother, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah. His loss is because he could not take on the President’s men who worked in concert to defeat him by playing the race and religion cards. The participation of Ali Rustam and Isa Samad also reduced his chances of victory. 

My message to the Menteri Besar, Kedah is that he should not give up. In stead, he should assess what went wrong with his campaign and learn lessons from it. Defeat is hard to take but it is key to success in the future. In the meantime, he should concentrate on bringing development to Kedah, work with the present party leadership, and stay connected with UMNO grassroots.–Din Merican

Mukhriz Mahathir fails in his bid for UMNO Vice-Presidency

http://www.malaysiakini.com

ANALYSIS: For the second time in a row, Mukhriz Mahathir’s bid for a key position in UMNO’s hierarchy has been thwarted and none is likely to feel it more than his father – Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Mukhriz Mahathir2In the weeks that followed his announcement of his candidacy for UMNO’s Vice-Presidency, Mukhriz has been the centre of attention and rightly so. For one, he is the scion of one of the most famous and influential Malaysians ever. He is also the Menteri Besar of Kedah.

His campaign platform was a call for change, a rare virtue in UMNO, on which he boldly claimed that status quo meant certain defeat for BN in next general election.

It all sounded good on paper, but there was one problem – as admitted by his father, Mukhriz was not the “chosen one”. In less ambiguous terms, Mahathir likely meant that his son was not among the President’s men.

Endorsement culture

Immediately after the last week’s election of Khairy Jamaluddin andKJ Shahrizat Abdul Jalil as head of UMNO’s Youth and Wanita wings respectively, it did appear as though UMNO members with voting rights were out to maintain status quo.

These voters were also aware of the fact that Khairy, and in particular Shahrizat, were deemed to be UMNO President Najib Abdul Razak’s endorsees who were given powerful government portfolios before the UMNO polls.

But when it came to the six-man Vice-Presidency race, there were no overt signals from Najib and his Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, who in public advocates an open contest.

However, the outcome of the vote in the UMNO divisions that they headed – Pekan and Pagoh – made it clear that retaining the three incumbent Vice-Presidents – Hishammuddin Hussein, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Mohd Shafie Apdal – was definitely on the agenda.

After all, it was this combination which helped UMNO improve its performance during the last general election. Why should UMNO rock the boat, especially with an untested Mukhriz along with an aging Isa Samad and Mohd Ali Rustam?

Working in teams

To Mukhriz’s credit, he did come close to winning a seat, but not without some damage to his reputation, particularly in how his parents had to come out in public to defend him.

Mahathir was forced to defend allegations by international magazine The Economist which alleged that Mukhriz was gunning for Najib’s position as UMNO President. He even penned a long essay on his blog condemning the magazine.

On the other hand, Mukhriz’s mother, the normally media shy (Tun) Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, gave a rare interview to Malay daily Sinar Harian where she made it clear that her son’s political career was independent of his father.

But apart from his parents, there were few other cheerleaders for Mukhriz who had chosen to work alone, unlike the three incumbent Vice-Presidents which packaged themselves as a team.

In UMNO, where feudal practices still permeates the party, endorsements from the right people and strategic alliances are a powerful tool which Mukhriz, Isa and Mohd Ali had ignored.

Not long after retaining her position, Shahrizat had openly endorsed the three incumbents and had urged her fellow Wanita UMNO members to vote for them. The Wanita vote is estimated to comprise 20 percent of the 146,000 Umno members with voting rights.

Is Hisham the Achilles’ heel?

For now, all is not lost for Mukhriz as he finished with a respectable fourth hishammuddin-hussein-in-lahad-datu-300x225place, trailing Hishammuddin by a narrow margin, but far ahead of Mohd Ali and Isa. The pressure is now on the more senior and experienced Hishammuddin, as the younger Mukhriz knows he still has another shot in the future and this election result shows that he is still within striking distance.

The fact that Hishammuddin had to run an intense cross-country campaign to lobby for support at the eleventh hour, even though he is among the President’s men, is testament to the fact that his popularity within UMNO is on the decline.

This is a serious blow to Hishammuddin, who once helmed the education, home and defence ministries – senior cabinet positions that traditionally form the pathway to premiership.

ZHZahid’s performance as Home Minister – flamboyantly bringing back preventive detention and having a seemingly tough stance on organised crime – had won him praise within UMNO and by being the Vice-President with the most votes, makes him the de facto number three in UMNO.

This is in comparison with Hishammuddin’s relatively lacklustre tenure as Home Minister between April 2009 and May 2013, a period that also saw several police personnel killed during the Lahad Datu incursion.

Transformation’ vs ‘Mahathirism’

As the UMNO election draw to a close, the power and culture of incumbency within the party is becoming increasingly clear and it will make it more difficult to attract new younger talent.

Moreover, the dynastic nature of UMNO politics – as seen in the political success of Hishamuddin, Khairy and Mukhriz who are all either descendents or in-laws of previous Prime ministers – still hold sway and does not auger well for BN which will have to face four million new young voters in the next general election.

Mahathir doesn’t seem to have a problem with this and had made it clear aDr M month ago that “smart” and “new” people should be allowed to rise in politics, which many saw as yet another endorsement for Mukhriz.

To Mahathir’s opponents in UMNO, this comes too little too late, since he has been blamed for fueling cronyism and nepotism during his 22-year reign as party president.

To his supporters, the man is a nostalgic symbol of an invincible and decisive UMNO which the country needs now. Is that the change being sought? To reverse Najib’s “transformation” agenda?

For now, it seems, UMNO’s grassroots wants the transformation agenda to continue and remain BN’s main thrust in the next general election. However, judging from the significant number of popular votes obtained by Mukhriz, a yearning for ‘Mahathirism’ still exist.

The Demise of Chin Peng: An End to COIN ERA?


October 2, 2013

No. 181/2013 dated 2 October 2013

RSiS

RSIS presents the following commentary The Demise of Chin Peng: End of the Classical Counterinsurgency Era? by Ong Weichong. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward anycomments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at  RSISPublication@ntu.edu.sg

The Demise of Chin Peng: An End to COIN ERA?

By Ong Weichong

The death of Chin Peng marked the ‘end of an era’ in counterinsurgency, but the ‘lessons’ from the Malayan Emergency remains enduring to this day

Commentary

IN MANY ways, the death of Chin Peng, the leader of the Communist PartyChinPeng and Comrades of Malaya (CPM) marked the ‘end of an era’. Of the major Asian insurgent leaders who fought against the colonial powers in the ‘Wars of National Liberation’ era (1945-1975), Chin Peng, outlived them all. It was an era that came to define modern ‘classical’ insurgency and ‘classical’ counterinsurgency (COIN) as we understand those terms today.

Mao and HoThe guerrilla successes of Chin Peng’s contemporaries Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh are now enshrined as classics of insurgency whilst the guerrilla campaign in which Chin Peng was so intimately involved, the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), has become a paradigmatic case-study of how a COIN campaign can be waged and won.

Founded in 1930, the CPM’s focus in its first decade of existence was to foment unrest against the colonial government of Malaya. One of the CPM’s key post-war strategies was to gain political ascendancy through the control of labour. Decisive influence over trade union organisations thus became the CPM’s foremost weapon in its effort to control the masses.

However, no mass urban uprising occurred and from 1948, the CPM switched its attention and strategy to mobilising the rural populace. The CPM’s open armed struggle against the British government, which began in June 1948 led to the declaration of a state of Emergency in Malaya and a 12-year long COIN campaign involving more than 300,000 British, Commonwealth and Malayan forces.

In the use of military force, by 1951, there was a gradual move away from large-scale army sweeps towards a more effective system of small-unit patrols. Intelligence by surrendered enemy personnel (SEP) and Special Branch infiltrators was used to target selected insurgents with ‘minimum force’. Instead of carpet bombing the jungle, the primary use of air power was in psychological operations that eroded the morale and will of the CPM’s fighters.

templerMost importantly, General Gerald Templer, High Commissioner of Malaya, treated the Emergency not as a military problem but a civilian problem. In this campaign, the decisive tactical element was the village police post rather than the army battalion. Both Templer and his military predecessor Gen Harold Briggs, adopted an integrated civil-military approach where all security forces (including the armed forces) operated under civilian control.

Battle for hearts and minds

In the battle for ‘hearts and minds’, the creation of the Malayan Home Guard proved not only to be an invaluable link between the security forces and the populace – but it was an exercise in trust. The act of entrusting a shotgun to what was once a Chinese squatter sent a strong message of the government’s faith to the very same population group that the CPM was actively courting – that “we the government trust you.”

Ultimately, the promise of independence for Malaya and citizenship for the Chinese population convinced the rural Chinese that their future was in an independent Malaya rather than one dominated by the Communists. By July 1960, the government forces of an independent Malaya had sufficiently rolled back the CPM insurgency to declare an end to the Emergency.

What remained of the hard core elements of the CPM retreated across the border to Southern Thailand to reorganise. From their newly established jungle strongholds in Southern Thailand, the CPM continued to battle Malaysian security forces from 1968 to 1989 until the signing of the Hat Yai Peace Accord.

Impact on Contemporary COIN

The impact of the Malayan Emergency on contemporary COIN thought and practice cannot be underestimated.  More than half a century on, the applicability of lessons from the Malayan Emergency remains a hotly debated subject within academic and practitioner circles. However, there can be no question of how the ‘rediscovery’ of the works of Robert Thompson and Frank Kitson have been influential in setting the tone of the ‘COIN Renaissance’ in the last decade.

Certain key principles of classical COIN have been ‘rediscovered’: the recognition of the population as the centre of gravity; well-developed actionable intelligence as the key to success; the use of security forces as part of an overall coordinated response; the imperative of development and good governance in addressing the political, social and economic conditions that led to insurgency; and the concept of ‘winning hearts and minds’ – or winning the confidence of the population in actual terms.

The ‘renaissance’ of these classical COIN ‘big ideas’ have been-general-david-petraeus instrumental in transforming the way in which the United States military and its coalition partners think and fight in the last decade. Gen David Petraeus, former Commander ISAF and Director CIA, was very much the intellectual driver and public face in this transformation. Indeed, in a speech in June 2013, Gen Petraeus maintained that “contrary to pundit opinion, the Counterinsurgency Era is not over. That is, quite simply, because the Insurgency Era is not over. Insurgency does not appear to have gone out of style. It is, after all, amongst the oldest style of warfare.”

Insurgencies of today, be they Al Qaeda’s diffused brand of global insurgency or the Taliban’s more localised version, may have evolved beyond the ‘Wars of National Liberation’ template of Chin Peng’s era. But as Gen Petraeus warned in a recent September 2013 interview with the Small Wars Journal: “to reject the principles associated to defeating a Maoist insurgency would be foolish.” He said bin Laden’s [Abbottabad] letters showed how much he had embraced the Maoist concepts and used the very vocabulary of people’s wars. Al Qaeda did not typically have the strength, certainly not at the outset of the campaign, to seize and hold terrain.

Chin Peng may have passed on, but the Maoist precepts of insurgency that have inspired the CPM’s own and others will remain a wellspring of ideas for insurgents well beyond the classical insurgency era. For the counterinsurgent, to ignore these time-honed principles, particularly the human and psychological dimensions that drive people’s wars, is to risk defeat.

____________________________

Ong Weichong is Assistant Professor with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is author of the forthcoming book Malaysia’s Defeat of Armed Communism: Securing the Population from Subversion in the Second Emergency 1968-1981.

 


Accept the Facts of our History, says Tengku Razaleigh


September 27, 2013

MY COMMENT: It is sad commentary to acknowledge that UMNODM latest3 members are unable to recognise Tengku Razaleigh’s considerable talents and countless contributions to the development of our country. He was given many assignments at a very young age by Tun Abdul Razak and carried those tasks with distinction. We can associate PERNAS, especially Pernas Securities and Tradewinds, PETRONAS and Bank Bumiputera Malaysia Berhad with this intellectual and urbane Prince from Kelantan.He was also Minister of Finance and Trade Minister.

I have monitored his career for decades, in the same manner as I do with Tun Dr. Mahathir, and in recent years interacted with him for his insights into the making of our history and for views on contemporary political and socio-economic issues. I found him to be brutally frank and hard hitting but always polite, serious, contemplative, enlightening,  and eloquent.  Tengku Razaleigh speaks softly but always with full command of facts. Who says, except for Tun Dr. Mahathir, age is a hindrance in politics. I associate age with maturity, experience and wisdom. There are exceptions, of course, as in all things.

Reading Netto’s piece on his speech at MBRAS gathering merely reaffirms my view that Ku Li, (which I use with respect and fondness) should have been Prime Minister of our country and if given a chance today, he would be an outstanding one. That is a personal point of view, which is not shared UMNO membership which chooses its President and Prime Minister. History has been unkind to him. But I am glad he continues to speak up on current politics. May he continue to do so in good health. –Din Merican

Accept the Facts of our History, says Tengku Razaleigh

by Terence Netto @http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (MBRAS) did well to bring two people who had some engagement with the creation of Malaysia in 1963 to shed perspectives on that event.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was a young economist and member of UMNO when Malaysia was formed. He was invited by MBRAS to deliver a lecture in Kuala Lumpur yesterday on the formation of Malaysia 50 years ago.

The MP for Gua Musang used the occasion to remind his listeners what UMNO has chosen to miss out on when the party neglected last week to place him among the contestants for its presidency.

tun dr ismail abdul rahmanHe plunged into the miasma of contention that has in the last decade engulfed the issue of Sarawak’s and, especially, Sabah’s joining Malaysia and emerged with a constructive handle by which to steer matters to a resolution.

This was his proposal to restart a review process that was scheduled to be held in 1973, 10 years after Malaysia’s formation, but did not take place because the person who was to chair the task, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman (right), died in August that year.

Twenty-nine months later, Abdul Razak Hussein, the Prime Minister who had approved the review, also died. And with that the matter was consigned to a backburner.

(Tun) Hanif Omar, the former Inspector-General of Police, was a young officer who was tasked with assignments connected to Malaysia’s formation immediately prior and long after the seminal event took place.

Chairing yesterday’s lecture by dint of his chairpersonship of MBRAS, Hanif had shards of absorbing information to contribute but these did not cohere the way Razaleigh’s discourse did because, while Hanif’s bits and pieces did inform, they did not enlighten.

hanif-omar2-may11_180_283_100No doubt, Hanif’s (left) recall of interesting, even intriguing, minutiae would make for a plum pudding of a memoir on a career that spanned the early decades of Malaysia’s emergence to full-fledged nationhood.

But minus a frame, Hanif’s tidbits generated sparks but there was little illumination to be had. Tidbits can titillate but it is insight that enlightens and charts the way forward.

For that reason, Razaleigh’s paddling was more constructive for he chose to steer by a compass he took from Malaysia’s principal proponent, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Federation of Malaya’s first Prime Minister in 1957 and of the confab that emerged in 1963, with Singapore’s merger with the federation, joined together with Sarawak and Sabah, with Brunei choosing to stay out for nebulous reasons, on which Hanif had some quirky takes.

Broad and generous vision

The Tunku’s vision was broad and generous. He sought to allow Lee Kuan Yew to outflank formidable left wing forces through Singapore’s merger with Malaya and to counterbalance the thereby numerical superiority of the Chinese with the natives of Sarawak and Sabah who had vast tracts of territory but little know-how to develop it, besides having to face an incipient communist insurgency and Sukarno’s adventurism.

In Razaleigh’s recap of the consultations and negotiations that preceded the formation of Malaysia, the breadth and generosity of Tunku’s vision had the redemptive power to overcome the penumbras, crochets and quavers in the Malaysia agreements.

But recalcitrant realities are always baulking ideals, realities like the mortality of pivotal leaders – Ismail’s unexpected death in 1973 – before he could get down to the task of a review of the founding documents that presaged Malaysia’s formation, a review that could have taken cognisance of incubating discontents in Sabah and Sarawak.

Not for nothing did the Tunku, in the last years of his life (he died in December 1990) while staying in Penang, refer to Ismail as ‘that noble one” to visitors who tapped his recollections of past history the elder statesman had witnessed.

RazaleighRazaleigh did not just steer by the vision the Tunku enunciated in 1961 when he first mooted the idea of Malaysia.

He had opinions of his own, the most telling of which was that Putrajaya should not pass off August 31 as Merdeka (Independence) day for Malaysians, Sabahans and Sarawakians included. The day is only significant for those on the Peninsula, not for the whole of Malaysia.

Razaleigh said only September 16 has historical significance for Malaysians because it was the day on which Malaysia was founded, an opinion that elicited Hanif’s faint demurral.

Clearly, for Razaleigh, the way out of the churning discontent in Sabah and Sarawak that he said posed “unprecedented political and economic challenges” to Malaysia required candid acceptance of the facts of our history that must be taught to the young if they are not to inherit the whirlwind.

US Investors Support the ASEAN Economic Community But Question the 2015 Deadline


September 25, 2013

APB-EWCNo. 232.

US Investors Support the ASEAN Economic Community But Question the 2015 Deadline

by John Goyer

ASEAN Is Integrating Internally…

As ASEAN continues on its long path toward regional economic integration,Seal_of_ASEAN. US companies are responding by developing strategies to operate in and adapt to the region as a single market and production base. In the “ASEAN Business Outlook Survey” released August 2013 and prepared by the US Chamber of Commerce and AmCham Singapore, slightly over half of US companies surveyed said that their companies are preparing strategies based on ASEAN’s plans to reduce and eliminate barriers to trade in goods, services, and investment among its member countries.

The survey, highlights of which were presented at the August 19-21 ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Brunei Darussalam, polled 475 senior executives representing US companies in all ten ASEAN countries, and found great optimism toward the region. 79 percent of the respondents reported that their company’s level of trade and investment in ASEAN has increased over the past two years, and an overwhelming 91 percent of respondents expect it to increase over the next five years.

This optimism is based, significantly, on economic integration; most respondents—77 percent—say that ASEAN integration is important in helping their companies do business in the region. One survey respondent explained that the “seamless movement of goods and services will enable productive operations across the ASEAN region.”

ASEAN’s work on intra-regional tariff reduction, liberalization of trade in services, liberalization of investment, and streamlining of customs administration and procedures are all factoring into US companies’ investment decisions. The majority of survey respondents were in the services sector and 68 percent attached importance to the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services. 56 percent of respondents reported that the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement is important to their companies’ investment plans; 59 percent said the same of the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement, while the figure for the trade facilitation and customs development work plan was 63 percent.

The positive outlook for ASEAN should be encouraging for policymakers in the region. Not only are individual ASEAN countries attractive investment destinations, but the potential of an integrated region with a population of 600 million, a $2 trillion GDP, and good growth prospects is raising ASEAN’s profile in the eyes of US investors.

…and Integrating Externally…
While working to integrate its own internal market, ASEAN has recently entered into free trade agreements with a number of its major regional trading partners: China, Japan, India, Korea, and a joint agreement with Australia & New Zealand. The survey sought to gauge usage of these FTAs by US companies with operations in ASEAN. As it turns out, a significant number of US companies are seeking to take full advantage of these agreements. Nearly half of the US manufacturing companies surveyed say that they utilize the provisions of these agreements to export goods from ASEAN to its major FTA partners: China (63 percent), Japan (48 percent), India and Korea (47 percent), and Australia & New Zealand (45 percent). This, in turn, is boosting ASEAN’s total exports, and helping facilitate its integration with the rest of Asia.

Use of the services provisions for these agreements is much lower however, perhaps reflecting the limited coverage of services in those agreements. Of ASEAN’s three FTAs for which services provisions are in effect (services provisions for India and Japan have yet to be implemented), 33 percent of respondents reported exporting services from ASEAN to China. For Korea, and Australia & New Zealand, the figures were 27 percent and 21 percent, respectively. There is likely to be room for significant growth in this area, given that services account for the greatest share of economic output in most ASEAN countries, and that the barriers to trade in services tend to be high relative to trade in goods.

While significant numbers of US companies are using these agreements, many still are not, which raises a question of how much untapped export potential exists. Respondents cited a variety of reasons for not using these FTAs, but one common theme was simply a lack of familiarity with the agreements.

…but Facing Skepticism
ASEANThe ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in a sense represents the culmination of ASEAN’s aspirations toward regional integration. The AEC articulates the vision of an economically-integrated region by the end of 2015 between all ten member states: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The vision is for a single market and production base in a highly competitive economic region with equitable economic development and fully integrated into the global economy.

As the survey demonstrates, US companies clearly think that the AEC is important; however, just over half of respondents surveyed—52 percent—do not think that this goal will in be place by the 2015 deadline. Only 23 percent of respondents believe that ASEAN will realize the goals of the AEC by 2015, with the remainder of respondents neutral on this question. Of the respondents who answered that it was “unlikely” for the AEC’s goals to be met by 2015, 59 percent—or almost two-thirds of respondents—believe it will not happen until 2020 or later.

Whether warranted or not, this skepticism suggests that additional education and outreach needs to be done, and ASEAN should be doing more to broadcast the AEC benchmarks that it has already met. As one survey respondent aptly stated, “The AEC 2015, we feel, will have enormous and positive impact in the years following 2015, but is not well understood within our region, let alone outside of it.”

Looking Ahead
ASEAN is an attractive market in itself, but it has the opportunity to position itself at the very center of a rapidly evolving regional trade architecture. This survey shows that while US companies are thinking regionally, they will need to focus increasingly on strategies to take advantage of ASEAN’s potential as integration accelerates. Meanwhile, ASEAN will need to enhance its efforts to educate investors about the AEC and the advantages of an economically integrated region. If both sides do their part, the benefits of an integrated ASEAN will be realized sooner rather than later and to the benefit of all.

John Goyer is Senior Director for Southeast Asia at the US Chamber of Commerce. He can be contacted via email at jgoyer@uschamber.com

This article was first published in Asia Pacific Bulletin No. 232.

The Abdullah recrudescence


September 19, 2013

The Abdullah recrudescence

by Terence Netto (09-16-13)  @http://www.malaysiakini.com

badawi yearsAn upswing in the hitherto low ratings of the premiership of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi seems to be taking place.

The stock of Malaysia’s fifth Prime Minister was low when he was compelled to give up office in April 2009 in the face of electoral shocks to Umno-BN in Election 2008.

It was a vertiginous fall, after a mere 48 months, from the results of Election 2004 when Abdullah, cresting on the wave of national expectations of political reform and institutional revival after 22 years of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad imperium, led his coalition to an impressive 64 percent take of the popular vote.

Four years later, as a result of his backpedaling on critical areas, like reform of the Police force and the fight against graft, Abdullah saw his popularity nosedive from its heady electoral perch of 2004 to the doldrums of Election 2008.

A year on from that stinging setback – months spent in a forlorn bid to stave off the inevitable – Abdullah bowed and accepted the end of his season at the top.

Perhaps the only consolation of his retreat was the grace with which he brought if off, it being a mark of statesmanship that a leader yields gracefully what he has no longer the power to withhold.

Now, a little over four years from Abdullah’s valedictory graces, there is an uptick in his ratings.  For sure, a leader’s ratings on those fairly bogus scales of history can flicker around like a speedometer gone wrong.

This is because not only are leaders judged on what they have done and what they have failed to do there is also the question of the vagaries of history.

The forces that influence the historical standing of leaders – shifts in popular opinion, the emergence of consciousness of some ideal or necessity, demographic changes – operate on levels of complexity one can only perceive, and that too vaguely, some time after they have occurred.

Maintaining a certain restraint

Abetting the Abdullah recrudescence is his relative quiet in comparison with the noisily captious ways of his predecessor. It’s de rigueur for retired leaders to maintain a certain restraint when commenting on current affairs.

It’s not that they are debarred from commenting on current goings-on: awareness that vision is always 20/20 in hindsight properly restraints the impulse to hold forth archly on current affairs.

Abdullah has abided by this restraint and only commented when there was a need to or when such comments as he made did not obtrude on the prevailing debates.

The retired Mahathir, by contrast, was an albatross around Abdullah’s neck Dr Mand is a millstone around present Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s.

[The] ‘Awakening’, a book of retrospectives and assessments of Abdullah’s tenure, published last month, has been well-timed to call attention to moves he made during his tenure -  checking fiscal irresponsibility, opening space for dissent, and attempting to restore judicial independence – which stand him in good stead compared to the track record of his predecessor and that of his successor.

Again here, the contrast with the memoirs of Mahathir, ‘A Doctor in the House’, a tawdry exercise in obfuscation, was stark. Mahathir is the more prolific writer, having written tracts early in his career and even during his time as Premier, but his aims in his memoir were abjectly self-serving. His book deserves the oblivion it quickly attained.

Which brings us to the factor that judicious observers would be apt to cite as the most likely to figure in the revised estimates of the premiership of Abdullah Badawi.

This was his attempt to restore independence to the judiciary, an institution that suffered the debilitation Mahathir visited it through the impeachment of Lord President Salleh Abbas in 1988 and promotion of mediocrities to the bench.

Mahadev Shankar,This plus point about Abdullah’s tenure was made by no less a judicial luminary than Mahadev Shankar, the retired Court of Appeal judge, who presided at the launch of ‘Awakening’ in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

At the launch, Shankar cited the acquittal of Anwar Ibrahim on appeal of the guilty verdict in the first sodomy charge preferred against him in 1999 in validation of his opinion that Abdullah freed the judiciary to do the thing they were appointed to do.

Shankar deployed the inelegant term “scrotal gumption” to describe the decision of judges who sat on the acquitting panel.

It may have taken “scrotal gumption” for the judges to acquit Anwar on the charge which many felt at the time it was levelled – and more so in retrospect – to have been trumped up.  For Abdullah, however, it must have been plain decency that prompted his exercise in judicial restoration.

That exercise is by no means complete but that he commenced it at all is stupendous and explains the man’s reviving historical fortunes.

Chin Peng dies in Bangkok, Thailand


September 17, 2013

Chin Peng dies in Bangkok, Thailand

by Leven Woon | September 16, 2013

http://www.freemalaysiatoday

Chin PengFormer Secretary-General of the now defunct Communist Party of Malaya, Chin Peng has died in Bangkok.

According to Bangkok Post, the 90-year-old Chin Peng died at a hospital in Bangkok on Monday morning. He died of old age and was pronounced dead at 6.20am.His relatives will perform religious rites for him on Friday.

Chin Peng led the CPM’s guerrilla insurgency and fought against British and Commonwealth forces to establish an independent Communist state.He lived in exile in Thailand and was not permitted to return in Malaysia.

Hours after former Communist Party of Malaya leader Chin Peng died in Bangkok, police are on alert to prevent his remains from entering Malaysia.

Hours after former Communist Party of Malaya leader Chin Peng died in Bangkok, police are on alert to prevent his remains from entering Malaysia.

Chin, a long time public enemy of the state, has been denied entry to Malaysia although Malaysia government has signed a peace accord with CPM in 1989.

A Sitiawan native, he has made several appeals to the government to reconsider his plight as a senior citizen, saying he would like to visit his parents’ graveyard.

Born in 1924, Chin Peng rose to become the CPM Secretary-General in 1943 and waged a war against the British colonial administration and subsequently the Malaysia government to establish a communist state.

The war became known as the Malayan Emergency, and CPM was blamed for killing those who refused to co-operate with them.This period also saw the formation of thousands of new villages, as the government strived to curb the CPM’s influence in the rural areas. CPM members were forced to retreat to the Southern Thailand in 1970s.

Two weeks ago, former Special Branch Deputy Head Yuen Yuet Lengchin-peng2- (right)  told FMT that he is in support of Chin’s return to Malaysia, as he said the war had long ended.

DAP Chairman Karpal Singh immediately echoed the statement, saying that the time had come for the government to be pragmatic and compassionate as well as to see the plight of a senior citizen.

Meanwhile Perkasa head Ibrahim Ali told FMT that Chin Peng’s remains should not be allowed to be brought back into Malaysia.“For me, Chin Peng is not just a terrorising communist, he was also a criminal,” he said, adding that events about Chin Peng and his party should be erased from the nation’s history

On Slogans and Fuzzwords


August 29, 2013

On Slogans and Fuzzwords

by Aerie Rahman@ www. themalaymailonline.com (08-28-14)

Malaysia-- Endless PossibilitiesThe Malaysian government has once again given free sumpit ammunition to their detractors to derail them. The comical Endless Possibilities slogan was massacred by cynics who had a field day toying around with it. Let us not forget that the tepid 1 Malaysia slogan that is heralded as a masterpiece by the Najib administration is at best, flaccid.

The problem with both “complementary” slogans is that they are extremely ambiguous and thus allow too much room for interpretation. Does 1 Malaysia mean the abandonment of affirmative action policies or does it mean a Malaysia ruled by one political power base?

As for Endless Possibilities, well, the interpretation for this is endless. According to political anthropologist Andrea Cornwall, development discourse is peppered with jargon which serve as buzzwords and buzzwords. The same can be applied to slogans.

These are soundbites, which are concise and succinct, but they are not precise. They could mean anything and nothing at the same time and thus are fuzzwords.

I don’t doubt that when the prime minister gives these slogans a shout out, he means it in an idealistic manner. For him, Endless Possibilities and 1 Malaysia would mean an aspiring, harmonious Malaysia.

But the Prime Minister and his coterie of ministers are not normal Malaysians like you and me. They live in their own ivory towers. They are equipped with police outriders to part the Red Sea of the atrocious Friday evening KL traffic. They live ensconced in well-guarded residency areas. They can give employment to their children as “volunteers” for their causes.

Their lived realities are different from ours. Hence, they can afford to have a worldview where 1 Malaysia and Endless Possibilities are seen in a positive light.As for the rest of us, we are not so lucky.

What’s in a slogan?

The fetishisation of 1 Malaysia is rather scary. We have a Kedai Runcit 1 Malaysia and various paraphernalia devoted to promoting the 1 Malaysia cause. Even our KTM Komuter trains are painted with the 1 Malaysia logo. I predict that the next move would be to engrave the number 1 in front of the name of civil servants on their nametags. Just imagine: 1 Hishammuddin and 1 Zahid Hamidi. Beat that Israel!

It appears that 1 Malaysia has evolved to become Malaysia’s national philosophy. Deaf EarsNevertheless, like all slogans, this national philosophy lacks substance and analysis. It fails to embed itself into our national consciousness because of the high ambiguity and polarised interpretations. The same goes for DAP’s lukewarm Middle Malaysia. I haven’t heard much of it since its inception.

To diminish the ambiguity, a slogan must be teleological — it must have a clear goal. I have many qualms with Mahathir Mohamad. But Wawasan 2020 is quite a nice touch. It displays the audacity to aspire and strive to be a developed nation by 2020. It asserts that whatever it is, we must all pull our weight to be developed by 2020.

The only problem with this slogan is that the janji mestilah ditepati. The failure to reach the target by 2020 would only confirm that we as a nation have failed ourselves.

Context is everything

I believe that a slogan must be applicable to the contextual considerations that the nation is in. Wawasan 2020 was concocted in the early 90s when Malaysia’s economy was booming and we were receiving lots of petroringgits. The slogan was compatible with the national mood which was brimming with optimism.

Malaysia Boleh is another slogan that was created during the heyday of our economic growth. It defined a Malaysia that had the capacity to aspire and reach for the stars. Of course, in contemporary Malaysia this slogan is viewed in a more cynical manner but at that time, it was on almost everybody’s lips.

The government’s idealistic sloganeering is not in tandem with the tense atmosphere shrouding Malaysia. People are looking for a decisive prime minister who is certain on providing solutions for the problems at hand. Curiously enough, the prime minister is silent on polemical issues but very noisy when it comes to promoting his slogans — as if they were magical incantations to our woes.

The slogans are smokescreens, obscuring the real problems that the average Malaysian encounters. When people are crying out for real policy solutions, the response, which is by supplying more slogans like Endless Possibilities is ill-timed and unsettling. Against this backdrop, no wonder these slogans are met with endless sarcasm.

Najib-PM2013The Prime Minister counters his critics by claiming that Endless Possibilities is a form of national branding to project to the world. However, if the rakyat are cynical and have little confidence in this lacklustre brand, what are the chances that the international community would buy it? What matters more: how the rakyat sees it or how the world sees it?

Malaysia is facing a turbulent period. Crime is everywhere. Corruption is endemic. Cronyism is entrenched. The world economy is in a rupture and the Ringgit is weakening. Crass nationalism is gaining momentum. The rakyat is jittery, in need of firm but fair leadership to steward this nation to calmer waters.

I don’t like slogans but if the government insists on the need for slogans, it is imperative that the slogans respond to the pulse of the nation. In these uncertain times, slogans that assuage, assure and demonstrate leadership to the rakyat are optimal. At least, it shows that the government recognises these fundamental problems.

Recognition is a few steps away from solution.Construct slogans which address specific issues plaguing the collective conscience. “Zero Crimes” would be suitable for the Home Ministry determined to reduce crime.  “A Malaysia for All” sounds welcoming to those abroad and acts as a precursor to address the religious and ethnic intolerance beleaguering us. “A Roof above

Every Malaysian Head” can be one for the housing issue in the Klang Valley.We need a listening government. You know what? That could be a slogan in itself: The Listening Government.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/aerie-rahman/article/national-sloganeering#sthash.BdPuCyAP.dpuf

The Malaysian government has once again given free sumpit ammunition to their detractors to derail them. The comical Endless Possibilities slogan was massacred by cynics who had a field day toying around with it. Let us not forget that the tepid 1 Malaysia slogan that is heralded as a masterpiece by the Najib administration is at best, flaccid.

The problem with both “complementary” slogans is that they are extremely ambiguous and thus allow too much room for interpretation. Does 1 Malaysia mean the abolishment of affirmative action policies or does it mean a Malaysia ruled by one political power base?

As for Endless Possibilities, well, the interpretation for this is endless.

According to political anthropologist Andrea Cornwall, development discourse is peppered with jargon which serve as buzzwords and buzzwords. The same can be applied to slogans.

These are soundbites, which are concise and succinct, but they are not precise. They could mean anything and nothing at the same time and thus are fuzzwords.

I don’t doubt that when the prime minister gives these slogans a shout out, he means it in an idealistic manner. For him, Endless Possibilities and 1 Malaysia would mean an aspiring, harmonious Malaysia.

But the prime minister and his coterie of ministers are not normal Malaysians like you and me. They live in their own ivory towers. They are equipped with police outriders to part the Red Sea of the atrocious Friday evening KL traffic. They live ensconced in well-guarded residency areas. They can give employment to their children as “volunteers” for their causes.

Their lived realities are different from ours. Hence, they can afford to have a worldview where 1 Malaysia and Endless Possibilities are seen in a positive light.

As for the rest of us, we are not so lucky.

What’s in a slogan?

The fetishisation of 1 Malaysia is rather scary. We have a Kedai Runcit 1 Malaysia and various paraphernalia devoted to promoting the 1 Malaysia cause. Even our KTM Komuter trains are painted with the 1 Malaysia logo. I predict that the next move would be to engrave the number 1 in front of the name of civil servants on their nametags. Just imagine: 1 Hishammuddin and 1 Zahid Hamidi. Beat that Israel!

It appears that 1 Malaysia has evolved to become Malaysia’s national philosophy. Nevertheless, like all slogans, this national philosophy lacks substance and analysis. It fails to embed itself into our national consciousness because of the high ambiguity and polarised interpretations. The same goes for DAP’s lukewarm Middle Malaysia. I haven’t heard much of it since its inception.

To diminish the ambiguity, a slogan must be teleological — it must have a clear goal. I have many qualms with Mahathir Mohamad. But Wawasan 2020 is quite a nice touch. It displays the audacity to aspire and strive to be a developed nation by 2020. It asserts that whatever it is, we must all pull our weight to be developed by 2020.

The only problem with this slogan is that the janji mestilah ditepati. The failure to reach the target by 2020 would only confirm that we as a nation have failed ourselves.

Context is everything

I believe that a slogan must be applicable to the contextual considerations that the nation is in. Wawasan 2020 was concocted in the early 90s when Malaysia’s economy was booming and we were receiving lots of petroringgits. The slogan was compatible with the national mood which was brimming with optimism.

Malaysia Boleh is another slogan that was created during the heyday of our economic growth. It defined a Malaysia that had the capacity to aspire and reach for the stars. Of course, in contemporary Malaysia this slogan is viewed in a more cynical manner but at that time, it was on almost everybody’s lips.

The government’s idealistic sloganeering is not in tandem with the tense atmosphere shrouding Malaysia. People are looking for a decisive prime minister who is certain on providing solutions for the problems at hand. Curiously enough, the prime minister is silent on polemical issues but very noisy when it comes to promoting his slogans — as if they were magical incantations to our woes.

The slogans are smokescreens, obscuring the real problems that the average Malaysian encounters. When people are crying out for real policy solutions, the response, which is by supplying more slogans like Endless Possibilities is ill-timed and unsettling. Against this backdrop, no wonder these slogans are met with endless sarcasm.

The prime minister counters his critics by claiming that Endless Possibilities is a form of national branding to project to the world. However, if the rakyat are cynical and have little confidence in this lacklustre brand, what are the chances that the international community would buy it? What matters more: how the rakyat sees it or how the world sees it?

Malaysia is facing a turbulent period. Crime is everywhere. Corruption is endemic. Cronyism is entrenched. The world economy is in a rupture and the Ringgit is weakening. Crass nationalism is gaining momentum. The rakyat is jittery, in need of firm but fair leadership to steward this nation to calmer waters.

I don’t like slogans but if the government insists on the need for slogans, it is imperative that the slogans respond to the pulse of the nation. In these uncertain times, slogans that assuage, assure and demonstrate leadership to the rakyat are optimal. At least, it shows that the government recognises these fundamental problems.

Recognition is a few steps away from solution.

Construct slogans which address specific issues plaguing the collective conscience. “Zero Crimes” would be suitable for the Home Ministry determined to reduce crime.  “A Malaysia for All” sounds welcoming to those abroad and acts as a precursor to address the religious and ethnic intolerance beleaguering us. “A Roof above

Every Malaysian Head” can be one for the housing issue in the Klang Valley.

We need a listening government. You know what? That could be a slogan in itself: The Listening Government.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/aerie-rahman/article/national-sloganeering#sthash.BdPuCyAP.dpuf

Thorstein Veblen’s Singapore?


August 16, 2013

Thorstein Veblen’s Singapore?

merlion-singapore201356132915

Thorstein Veblen’s vision of a society run by “engineers” has been realized  in contemporary Singapore: a country increasingly ruled by economists, engineers, and other technocratic experts with First Class Honours undergraduate degrees, Oxbridge and Ivy League Masters degrees and PhDs. Whether this society truly fulfills his dreams and meets his expectations is a question worthy of debate.

by PHUA Kai Lit, PhD

Introduction

Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857 – 1929) was an unorthodox American economist of Norwegian ancestry. He was an economist of the institutional school who made a distinction between “industry” (production for the satisfaction of human needs) and “business” (profit maximization through market manipulation, restriction of production and other similar practices). He hoped that “engineers” – a group dedicated to productivity and not profit maximization  – would seize power from the vested interests and run society for the good of all (Borus, 1995).

 Other intellectuals have also envisioned societies run by elites who are civic-minded and dedicated to the creation of the “good society” or to the improvement of societal welfare. Plato’s “philosopher kings” and H.G. Wells’ “Samurai” are useful examples.

 Interestingly enough, Singapore’s present political leaders are composed heavily of technocrats (economists, engineers and other technically-trained experts in contrast to the lawyers of the U.S. Congress). They are also some sort of  “philosopher kings” in the sense that they are almost invariably high academic achievers and come from the ranks of the “best and the brightest” (with each succeeding generation of leaders, the ruling elite has become even more and more technocratic).

Singapore’s first generation of political leaders such as Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye and C.V. Devan Nair were initially followers of Fabian socialism – just like H.G. Wells (in this essay, Chinese names are listed in the East Asian manner, i.e., last names first). However, the ruling political party in Singapore, the People’s Action Party (PAP), gradually drifted away from Fabian socialism towards technocratic pragmatism and finally quit the Socialist International in 1976 as the effort of some of the other parties to get it expelled from the organization was gathering steam. Ironically, C.V. Devan Nair published a book called “Socialism That Works – The Singapore Way” in the same year! Today, there is no more talk of socialism and brotherhood/sisterhood among the leaders of the PAP – instead, there is continuous pressure on its people to compete with each other and excel.

Some American conservatives regard Singapore as an example of a “Capitalist Paradise”. The Guru of monetarism, Milton Friedman, was actually invited to speak in Singapore as an honored guest in the lecture series named after Lee Kuan Yew. Nothing can be further from Fabian welfare state socialism than Friedman’s brand of libertarianism and monetarism of course.

 “First Generation” Leaders

 Lee Kuan Yew: the first Prime Minister of independent Singapore and currently “Senior Minister” in the Singapore Government. He graduated in law from Cambridge University and the Middle Temple, London with highest honors. He helped to found the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and became Prime Minister when he was only 35 years old.

Goh Keng Swee: one of the prime architects of Singapore’s highly successful economic development programs, he received a PhD in economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has served as economic adviser to the post-Mao Government of the People’s Republic of China.

Toh Chin Chye: He served as Deputy Prime Minister under Lee Kuan Yew. A PhD holder in one of the biological sciences, he eventually became an internal critic of the People’s Action Party and its increasing authoritarianism.

S. Rajaratnam: Educated at King’s College, University of London, he became a journalist and the first Foreign Minister of Singapore.

 CV Devan Nair: He was an activist in the teachers’ trade union and built links between the PAP and the trade union movement. He fled into exile after his fallout with Lee Kuan Yew and is now a strong critic of the Singapore Government.

 “Second Generation Leaders”

 Goh Chok Tong: He graduated with First Class Honours in economics from the local university before completing a Masters degree in economics at Williams College. He managed the state-owned shipping company, Neptune Orient Lines, before being recruited into politics by the PAP. He was selected by his peers to take over as Prime Minister from Lee Kuan Yew although Lee had always made it known that Goh was not his first choice as a successor. He has been Prime Minister since late 1989.

BG (Brigadier-General) Lee Hsien Loong : The eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, he received First Class Honours in mathematics from Cambridge University. Subsequently, he earned a Masters degree in computer science from Cambridge University. He is one of the leading contenders to succeed the current Prime Minister of Singapore Goh Chok Tong.

Tony Tan Keng Yam: He was a PhD science lecturer at the National University of Singapore and subsequently, Chairman of the local bank Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC). He was recruited into politics by the PAP.

Richard Hu Hsu Tau: Dr Hu was a former Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (the central bank) who was recruited into politics and into the position of Minister of Finance by the PAP.

Ong Teng Cheong: Educated as an architect in Australia, he served as President of Singapore from 1993 to 1999 (a largely ceremonial position until the PAP enhanced the powers of the Presidency just before Ong contested for the position). Apparently, he was keen to run for a second term as President but did not gain the support of other top political leaders in the PAP. After leaving the position, he made known his unhappiness to the public and traded sharp exchanges with his erstwhile former political colleagues.

 Wong Kan Sen: A graduate of the local university, he also received a Masters degree from the London Business School. He worked as a teacher, civil servant and human resources manager with a leading multinational corporation before becoming a politician.

 “Third Generation Leaders”

 BG (Brigadier-General) George Yeo Yong Boon:– He received a degree in engineering with First Class Honours from Cambridge and an MBA from Harvard University with high honors. He is one of the more philosophically-minded of the PAP’s top leaders.

Lim Hng Kiang – Another top PAP leader with an honors degree in engineering from Cambridge University. He served as the top manager of the Housing and Development Board (HDB – Singapore’s highly successful public housing entity) before being recruited by the PAP.

Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean – An engineer by training, he studied at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Imperial College and Harvard University.

David Lim Tik En – One of the newer technocrats recruited by the PAP. He studied engineering at the University of Melbourne. He was the Chief Executive Officer of the Jurong Town Corporation before entering politics.

As with other things in Singapore, the process of leadership renewal has to be a thoroughly planned operation. (Then) Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his associates were entirely certain that the key objectives of state policy, and the broad strategies to achieve them, that they had devised and introduced were the only correct ones, the only ones suited to the realities of Singapore. Therefore, what was required was a second generation leadership that had the necessary technocratic-managerial skills and capabilities to be able to pursue those objectives and strategies effectively. They did not see any special need for new leaders who possessed political skills, who were “word spinners” in the words of S. Rajaratnam.

As Vasil indicates, the PAP has established a unique system of recruitment of its top political leaders and Ministers. Talented individuals are “spotted” and have to pass through a barrage of observations, interviews, attachment to a veteran MP and allegedly, even psychological tests before being offered safe parliamentary seats to contest (under the PAP banner) in General Elections. After winning these safe seats, they may be offered responsibility as junior ministers and if they pass this test, they would then be offered higher level positions with greater responsibilities. Individuals who fail to perform would be unceremoniously dropped back into political oblivion. This would effectively spell the end of their careers as would be politicians and ministers.

Singapore’s Achievements

 By conventional economic indicators, Singapore’s economic development program has been a great success. When the PAP first came to power in 1959, unemployment was a major problem. By the early 1970s, high rates of economic growth had led to the resolution of this problem. Today, there are many foreign workers in Singapore. These range from Filipino maids and Thai construction workers to Malaysian, Indian, Australian, Hong Kong, Japanese, European and American professionals and managers. A high percentage of service sector workers such as hotel employees in Singapore are Malaysian citizens.

Recently, an American was hired to run the government-owned Development Bank of Singapore. Economic growth rates have been consistently high and Singapore’s foreign exchange reserves are certainly impressive relative to the size of its population. Its per capita GNP is among the highest in the Asia-Pacific region. It is not uncommon to find Singaporean women working as professionals and holding high level managerial positions in both the government and the private sector.

 When Singapore was expelled (after only two years) from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, its economy was heavily dependent on the entreport (transshipment) trade through its excellent natural harbor. It was also heavily dependent on the economic effects of the British Naval Base in the northern part of the island. Today, it has managed to diversify its economy and has built up a thriving export-oriented electronics industry and a significant banking and finance industry.

Singapore’s economic growth is also reflected in its other socioeconomic indicators such as those pertaining to health, education, housing, and transport and communications. Its infant mortality rate is lower than that of the United States. The life expectancy of its citizens is comparable to those of the richest Western countries. There is universal literacy among its younger generation.

The public schools are excellent: it is not uncommon for parents from the neighboring Malaysian state of Johor to send their kids to study in Singaporean public schools – including the primary and secondary schools. The National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University are two of Asia’s leading universities. Singapore is also one of the most wired nations in the world.

Singapore’s housing program is one of its great success stories. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has been instrumental in relocating the population from the overcrowded and unhealthy slum housing of the colonial era to high rise apartment blocks in the many satellite townships scattered all over the island nation. Although some of the lower end HDB-built apartments may be small, all of them are built with flush toilets and piped water supply and this has contributed to the improvement in health indicators. The newer, high end HDB apartments in the township of Pasir Ris at the eastern tip of the island are of such high quality and design that they can almost pass for the condominiums built by private sector developers.

Singaporeans who live in HDB-built high rises (more than three quarters of the population) own their apartments and pay for them through usage of part of their CPF funds (the Central Provident Fund is Singapore’s compulsory, publicly-managed retirement scheme financed by payroll deductions and employer contributions into individual accounts). Only a small percentage of Singaporeans are so poor that they have to rent apartments from the HDB.

The transport and communications systems of Singapore are excellent. The road and light rail system (MRT or Mass Rapid Transit) and Changi International Airport are efficiently maintained and well run. Singapore’s port facilities are also well known for their efficiency. Road traffic volume is kept under control by a deliberate policy of making ownership of a car beyond the financial capability of the majority of Singaporeans.

All these undoubted successes are impressive when contrasted with the problems of the 1950s and early 1960s:

When Singapore achieved its Independence in the mid 1960s, there was political instability and ethnic tension. Unemployment was a serious problem. There was industrial unrest in an economy heavily dependent on entreport trade and the British Naval Base in the northern part of the island. There was even some doubt about whether Singapore could survive its expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia. Lee Kuan Yew wept bitter tears at a televised press conference as he broke the news of the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia to his people.

A great contrast with the Singapore of today indeed: “politically stable” under the dominance of the PAP, full employment, little labor unrest and relatively harmonious interethnic relations. The economy is diversified and becoming increasingly high tech and sophisticated. The Singapore bureaucracy is also famed for its efficiency and lack of corruption.

The Dark Side of Singapore

“When I see my leaders do what they have done, I feel like an outcast – that this is no longer my home – that it is PAPs (sic) home and that I am only their guest and have to play by THEIR rules or get out”.

Paul Sands (quoted in The General Elections are Over, 3  January, 1997)

The Government of Singapore is strongly authoritarian and paternalistic by Anglo-American standards. Although things have loosened up under Goh Chok Tong (e.g. male Singaporeans can now openly sport long hair whereas they could not do so when Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister. During the Lee era, male foreign tourists were even required to get their locks shorn before they could enter the Republic), the regime continues to maintain tight control of its citizens. Resident foreigners who wrote critically on the Lees or the regime such as Christopher Lingle have had to flee from the country in haste when the authorities started investigating them. Singaporeans like C.V. Devan Nair (a former President), Francis Seow (a former Solicitor-General) and Tang Liang Hong (a former election candidate for the opposition Workers’ Party) have had to go into exile after falling foul of the Governments of Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. Nevertheless, to be fair to the PAP government, “responsible” opposition politicians, i.e., those who manage not to antagonize the Government such as Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Kiang are tolerated in Parliament. Foreign newspapers and periodicals such as the International Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Time, Asian Wall Street Journal, Asiaweek and the Economist have been either forced to eat humble pie and publish apologies to Lee Kuan Yew or the Government for allegedly publishing libel or have had the permitted circulation of their periodicals slashed to small numbers within the island Republic from time to time for “interference” with Singapore’s domestic politics (see Lingle, 1996). The PAP politicians have been accused by the opposition of continually devising ways to put the latter in positions of disadvantage: these range from old-style gerrymandering of electoral districts and restriction of access to the mass media, to the creation of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), multimillion dollar libel suits against certain opposition politicians and latterly, threats to withhold public spending in districts which elect opposition Members of Parliament. For opposition political candidates to contest in multi member GRCs during the election (in contrast to the traditional single member electoral districts), they have to come up with a team of between three to six candidates. The ethnic composition of the teams was even specified when GRCs were first introduced in 1988 (see Ooi, 1998). GRCs put the opposition parties at a significant disadvantage since most Singaporeans are reluctant to participate openly as candidates for opposition parties in the elections.

In the area of economics, although official statistics claim low rates of inflation, these are probably underestimated because certain goods are not included in the basket used to calculate the index of inflation. Singaporeans routinely complain about the high cost of car ownership and the high prices of private, landed property and privately-built condominiums. The counter-argument is that high housing prices in the private sector are not surprising because of scarcity of land in Singapore and also that HDB-built apartments continue to remain affordable for most citizens. The Government has recently identified the emerging problem of increasing income differentials between highly educated employees (including those who work for multinational corporations) and those who are lowly educated and possess low skills. This problem, however, is attributed to the globalisation of the economy and the “digital divide”. The use of Government powers to reduce income differentials through increased income redistribution is not favored as the PAP leaders believe that this would promote an undesirable “welfare mentality”.

In social matters, the Malays are the most disadvantaged of the major ethnic groups in Singapore. They are over-represented (in terms of their percentage composition of the total population) among the less well educated and lower paid and among “problem” sub-groups such as drug addicts and educational underachievers. The Malays are also subjected to de facto discrimination as a high percentage of job ads openly state ethnic preferences (as well as gender and age preferences) for the job being advertised. Unskilled foreign workers are another category of underprivileged residents of Singapore. Cases of abuse of maids (domestic workers) from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and so on are reported from time to time in the local mass media.

The education system of Singapore is openly (and proudly) elitist and there is considerable pressure on schoolchildren to excel in their studies. High achievers are rewarded well, e.g., as Presidential Scholars and Singapore Armed Forces Scholars and sent for further studies at top knotch universities overseas. These Scholars are likely to end up eventually in high level positions in the bureaucracy, Government-linked corporations (GLCs) or the armed forces. Thus, high achievers like Lee Hsien Loong and George Yeo were sent to places like Cambridge and Harvard for tertiary-level studies and served as high-ranking officers in the Singapore military before moving into politics.

One of Singapore’s most popular comic book characters is “Mr. Kiasu” – a personification of Kiasuism, i.e., a person who hates losing out to others (“kiasu” literally means “afraid to lose” in a local Chinese dialect), are overly competitive, highly envious of the success of others and eager to sabotage, backstab and undercut others so as to protect one’s position or chances for advancement. The motto of Mr Kiasu in Singaporean English is “Everything Also I Want”, i.e., “ I Want It All For Myself” (and perhaps even “And I’ll be Damned if Anyone Tries to Stop Me”).

Ask Singaporeans what the “5 Cs” are and they will tell you with a snicker that it refers to Cash, Car, Career, Credit Card and Condominium. My belief is that the rise of Kiasuism and materialism in Singapore is directed related to the Government’s constant exhortations to students to excel in academic studies, in its promotion of elitism, e.g., schools are regularly ranked – even secondary schools – and the list of rankings are published in the local newspapers), its strong emphasis on economic growth and constant reminders to Singaporeans of potential competition from neighboring countries and so on. The pressure on Singaporeans to excel is so great that significant numbers of Singaporeans (in relation to its population) emigrate every year.

Conclusion

I have discussed Singapore’s undoubted and widely-recognized economic success. I have also discussed its less well known “dark side”. Veblen’s “engineers” are indeed in firm control of the Singaporean polity. With each new generation of PAP politicians, Government ministers becomes even more and more technocratic in composition. Singapore functions like a well-oiled piece of sophisticated machinery. Perhaps this is why some Singaporeans feel like they are just like cogs in a highly efficient economic machine overseen by highly qualified and brilliant (and even arrogant) engineers.  The Veblenian “engineers” of Singapore have ensured that the basic needs of Singaporeans are being met. But this is at a price. The price is having to live under a hierarchical system and having to follow the directives handed down by the technocrat-politicians. Veblen’s “engineers” in Singapore, interestingly enough, have collaborated with multinational capital to mutual benefit in the building of a dynamic economic machine – a case of successful collaboration between national technocrats and international capitalists. Singapore’s economic growth depends on investment by multinational corporations and well-run Government-linked corporations (GLCs). Local capitalists are weaker and subordinate to the technocrat-politicians of the PAP.

Veblen also came up with the concept of  “conspicuous consumption”. This is very obvious in Singapore. Badges of “conspicuous consumption” are literally worn with pride in Singapore. These are the “branded goods” or “designer goods” with conspicuous labels especially favored by Singaporeans. Those who can afford to own cars prefer luxury models. In short, Veblen’s “engineers’ have taken over in Singapore and have created a dynamic, highly rational and efficient society. But they have also created a society which functions in ways that Veblen never envisioned. Indeed, contemporary Singapore can be better labeled as “Max Weber’s Singapore” rather than “Thorstein Veblen’s Singapore”, i.e., a society which emphasizes (overemphasizes?) instrumental rationality to the point where the “iron cage of rationality” is a real threat to the social and mental well-being of individual Singaporeans and resident foreigners.

K.L. Phua is a sociologist who teaches public health at the International Medical University in Malaysia. He has also lived and worked in Singapore as a manager for a number of years.

If you are interested in Singaporeana, check out Sintercom – Singapore Internet Community

 Bibliography

Asiaweek 2000 The Next Generation, August 1, 2000

Borus, D.H. 1995 Thorstein Veblen in Fox, R.W. and J.T. Kloppenberg eds. A Companion to American Thought Blackwell: Cambridge, Massachusetts pp. 702-703

Leifer, M. 1995 Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia,London: Routledge

Lingle, C. 1996 Singapore’s Authoritarian Capitalism Barcelona: Edicions Sirocco and Fairfax: The Locke Institute

Ooi, C.S. 1998 Singapore in Sachsenroder, W. and U.E. Frings eds. Political Party Systems and Democratic Development in East and Southeast Asia Volume 1: Southeast Asia pp 343 – 402,Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Sands, P. 1997 in The General Elections are Over. Singaporeans Share Their Joy, Their Pain and Their Thoughts on the Results

http://sintercom.org/sef97/postelection.html

Selvan, T.S. 1990 Singapore: The Ultimate Island Melbourne: Freeway Books

Vasil, R. 1992 Governing Singapore Singapore: Mandarin

The Awakening: Badawi goes soft on SIL Khairy Jamaluddin


August 9, 2013

Badawi goes soft on SIL Khairy Jamaluddin

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT by Terence Netto: So far so good. Former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s retrospectives were going nicely for him until the subject of his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin came up.

NONEAbdullah’s reflections on the personalities that factored on his watch as Prime Minister (October 2003 – April 2009) were making good headway towards renovation of his standing as a failed PM until the matter of his son-in-law’s presumed influence on him came up for comment.

Here Abdullah missed out on a good opportunity to shed necessary perspective on a matter that dogs almost all serving politicians: how to counter the inevitable public perception of bias when the powerful are blood relations to underlings seen as wielding undue influence?

Abdullah’s response – conveyed in reflections that appear in a compilation of assessments of his premiership titled “Awakening: the Abdullah Badawi Years in Malaysia” – is flat denial that Khairy wielded “undue influence” on him in the five years and five months he was Premier.

Until that denial issued from Abdullah, the former Premier’s reflections – on predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohamed, on MIC strongman S Samy Vellu, on tackling the inflammatory journalism of Utusan Malaysia, etc. – engendered its own dynamic of credibility.

But when Abdullah opted for implausible denial rather than elucidating comment on the subject of his son-in-law, credibility oozed out of his reflections the way a garden hose goes limp from having suddenly sprung a leak.

This is a pity, because a sufficient period of time has passed since his administration ended for our memory of its impact to congeal around a summary of its strengths and its weaknesses.

Those strengths – he initiated glasnost (opening space for criticism) and attempted to restore independence to a hitherto compliant judiciary – are enhanced when seen against the disabling legacies he inherited from his predecessor, Mahathir.

About Abdullah’s weaknesses, an absolving perspective has come to be shed on them, especially when viewed against the obstacles he had to contend with as, say, when he tried to reform the Police force and came up smack against entrenched interests within it.

Those reactionary forces grew bold during 12 years of Mahathir’s sleepwalking tenure as home minister, he having taken over from Musa Hitam who resigned in February 1986 before relinquishing the post to Abdullah in January 1999 when the latter was also appointed the Deputy Prime Minister.

Abdullah enjoyed an early, if evanescent, popularity when he took over the premiership from Mahathir in late October 2003. A new-broom PM can always count on a receptive welcome but Abdullah did not sit on his haunches and expect the good vibes to continue.

Reform of the Police Force was the first item on his agenda. This reform move resonated with the public.

NONEA Royal Commission was set up to recommend reforms which it duly did but Abdullah, even after the propulsion of a thumping victory in the general election of 2004, could not leverage on the mandate to compel the police into acceptance of the Royal Commission’s cardinal reform – the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

Reactionary elements in the Force signaled brazen opposition before which Abdullah backpedaled, a mistake that boded disaster for his tenure as PM.

It was against this background of Abdullah’s vacillation on Police reform that Khairy Jamaluddin’s transition from political novice to powerful presence behind the scenes took place.

The grapevine began to buzz with stories of Khairy’s influence on major decisions and even of his interference with the civil service.Some Ministers in Abdullah’s cabinet, holdovers from Mahathir’s era, began to relay to the former PM stories about the extent of Khairy’s influence.

This served as grist for Mahathir’s sniping at Abdullah, attacks which grew in intensity from 2006.

A once famous blogger, now long gone to seed, made his reputation during this period largely on the stories he dredged up and collated as the “Khairy Chronicles”, an intriguing amalgam of half-truths, rumor and fanciful twists.

Exasperatingly, Abdullah mixed vacillation over Police reform with deafness to the need to decisively demonstrate that Khairy was not a power behind the scenes.

Khairy increasingly became a target of criticism even as public disappointment mounted against Abdullah over the latter’s dithering on reform.

It is disingenuous on Abdullah’s part to now say that Khairy had no “undue influence” on him. As well believe Wanita UMNO leader Shahrizat Jalil when she contended that she had nothing to do with the scandalous way in which a national cattle breeding project was managed by a company run by her husband and children.

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