Lack of Accountability

December 31, 2013

Lack of Accountability is a major stumbling to Malaysia’s progress

by Tan Siok

Tan Siok ChooACCOUNTABILITY is an infrequently used word in Malaysian authorities’ lexicon. Regulators’ persistent refusal to determine who was responsible for a mishap is effectively a denial of accountability. If allowed to continue, this no-fault syndrome could stymie Malaysia’s progress.

Parts of buildings and flyovers sag, MySikap, a new online transaction system, generated chaos while Malaysian students fare poorly in international assessments.

Despite injuries to individuals, property damage, massive inconvenience to car owners and question marks about Malaysia’s education system, determining how and why all these reversals happened is still lacking.

Possibly the most egregious example of construction frailties is Serdang’s seven-year-old hospital. Since 2011, the hospital has suffered from seven instances of crumbling masonry.

On December 4 this year, the emergency ward’s ceiling fell, the second occurrence within a month. Five days later, a similar failure hit its staff quarters. A partial collapse also plagued the intensive care unit, maternity ward and the main lobby which suffered twice – first in January 2011 and again a year later.

Thanks to tremendous public pressure, the Health Ministry named Ranhill Sdn Bhd as the developer who built this hospital. Till today, the authorities have yet to publicly announce whether an investigation has been undertaken to explain why these mishaps happened and what action is being taken to prevent future recurrences.

On February 28 this year, part of a flyover in Cyberjaya tumbled.According to newspaper reports, the flyover was built by PKNS, completed in 2009 and handed to Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (PLUS). Denying the flyover was handed over to it, PLUS disclaims responsibility for the partial collapse.

On the issue of responsibility for the flyover, the authorities remained resoundingly silent.Terengganu has witnessed so many instances of crumbling construction that Kuala Terengganu MP and architect Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin says the state is now nicknamed “Terengganu Darul Runtuh”.

Incidents that have given the state this unofficial moniker include:

  • in June 2009, the ceiling of the RM292.9 million Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium broke while early this year, the steel structure propping up the roof fell;
  • in October 2009, the roof of the Masjid Kampung Batu Putih in Kerteh crumbled;
  • in May this year, the roof of Masjid Kampung Binjai Kertas in Hulu Terengganu gave way; and
  •  in September this year, the Kampung Tebauk mosque in Bukit Tunggal was similarly afflicted.

Despite the plethora of construction woes bedevilling Terengganu, state and federal officials have remained eloquently silent.

Another eyebrow-raising event was the shambles caused by the new MySikap portal that prevented thousands of consumers last month from registering car ownership, renewing their driving licences and undertaking other car-related transactions.

Initially, a top official from the Road Transport Department announced the setting up of an independent panel to assess MySikap’s problems. Several days later, he reversed this decision without offering any explanation.

Although he proposed a system upgrade and suggested the portal could be stabilised by using additional servers loaned by IBM, will these proposals prevent another mishap without launching an investigation into why MySikap failed?

Emulating the Transport Ministry is their counterparts from the Education Ministry. Admittedly, the latter has announced their determination to improve Malaysian students’ dismal performance in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

No Education Ministry official has explained the performance gap between local and international assessments. Without this root cause analysis, how will these officials know whether Malaysia’s education system needs a revamp?

In the recent PMR examinations, 7.33% of students obtained Grade A in all subjects. In contrast, only 2% of our students were the highest achievers in the 2011 TIMSS and 1.3% in the 2012 PISA, Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang claims.

Yet another troubling issue – why was Malaysia ranked 52nd among 65 countries in the PISA assessment while Vietnam attained a surprisingly lofty ranking of 17th?

Differences in the marks obtained by Vietnamese and Malaysian students aren’t a fissure but a chasm. Vietnamese students scored 511 for maths, 509 for reading and 521 for science while their Malaysian counterparts’ results were nearly 100 points lower – with 421, 424 and 425 respectively.

Accountability doesn’t mean indulging in a blame game. Without determining why the performance of Malaysian students have stagnated and possibly declined, will the authorities’ proposed remedial action be effective?

This is akin to a doctor prescribing a proposed course of treatment without undertaking a biopsy to determine whether a growth is benign or malignant.

A starting point for any improvement must begin with an understanding of what went wrong. Next is determining why the failure happened. Only then can the process of renewal and rebuilding begin.Acknowledgement of a failure is the essential first step towards progress.

2014 calls for PRUDENCE

December 28, 2013

2014 calls for PRUDENCE

by The

2013 is coming to an end. It started highly charged on issues surrounding the 13th General Election; which witnessed Barisan Nasional retaining their power for the next 5 years. Various promises were made. Sweeteners were sprinkled to hood the public into believing that a better future holds in the coming months and years.

Nevertheless, barely 6 months into regaining Putrajaya, all hopes of joy and dreams of the rakyat to enjoy their hard eared money have been shattered in the wake of escalated cost of living. The government has made their promises sour in taste by announcing various prices hikes of goods and services as the closure to the year.

The public by large are flabbergasted in the manner policies are being hammered through, that will take toll on their incomes directly.

Big Spender Rosie and accomplice NajibIn the name of subsidy rationalisation and strengthening fiscal position, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has not left any stone unturned in ‘punishing’ the people of Malaysia by upping prices on daily essentials. First it was the hike in fuel price by 20 sen. Well as usual his justification was that we have one of the lowest priced fuel in the region. So subsidising it heavily does not make sense.

Then the sugar subsidy was removed. Again a very unsubstantiated, flimsy and lame excuse was used. Apparently the number of diabetics are on the rise because the government is subsidising sugar, thus the need for the move. What a genius deduction made by a person who has pretty much lost touch with the reality indeed.

But Najib was still not too appeased with the savings as he felt that more needs to be done to ‘safeguard’ the  interest of the public. Thus we are bracing a further rate hike on highway tolls and electricity in 2014.

And as icing, there is near confirmed possibility of hike in school bus and public transport fares. Taxis, buses, trains, and the LRT will all cost more in the coming year.A timely Christmas and New Year gift from Putrajaya for 2014.

As cumulative consequences and in definite terms, the overall cost of living will only spiral up as production of goods and services will also cost more. The entire supply chain  will not be spared and eventually the cost will drop flat on the laps of the consumers.

The hardest hit will be the middle income group which is already in a limbo with the current economic situation. Wages have not seen significant changes in parallel to inflation. The power of each ringgit has shrunk in its capacity over the years. It is baffling as to what is defined as a high income nation in the eye of the Malaysian government when in actual sense the purchasing power does not improve with time.

Consumers will need to dig in deeper into their pockets come 2014. A chunk of their salaries will go to paying higher current bills for sustenance; thus what will be left for savings will demand sharp juggling skills.

With a gloomy outlook on the global economic front coming ahead next year, it will be a much tougher battle to handle.

With many drawing up their New Year’s resolutions for 2014, please do keep in mind that financial prudence is highly recommended to be on the top of the list. That little pay increment or bonus one may obtain should be spread thin and well to cover any other surprises that BN may further spring on us.

Lee Kuan Yew, One Man’s View of the World

December 28, 2013

BOOK Review: Lee Kuan Yew, One Man’s View of the World

Singapore: Straits Times Press Holdings, 2013. Pp. 352, photographs, index.

Reviewed by Nina Ong (12-13-13)


In March 2007, when the Australian National University conferred an honorary degree on Lee Kuan Yew, protestors gathered with placards that implied that ANU was wrong to honour a leader whom many considered a “dictator” for his repressive measures to rein in the Singapore media and opposition. The New Mandala blog archive includes a number of insightful posts on the issue. Lee Kuan Yew’s reputation in the eyes of “Western publications” is not helped by his fiercely protective attitude towards his own legacy, which has resulted in him winning lawsuits in Singapore courts for alleged defamation in articles published in The Far Eastern Economic Review and The International Herald Tribune.

Nevertheless, Lee’s admirers continue to wax lyrical about him, viewing him as a “grand master” who, despite his small stage (my own native country, Singapore), has managed to impress world leaders and influence the policies of even a major power like China. A case in point would be Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, which, Lee implies in this book, One Man’s View of the World, was in part inspired by Deng’s exposure to Singapore’s economic success during his 1978 visit to the city-state. In fact, the book is peppered with anecdotes of Lee’s encounters with world leaders and his opinions of them. Of former PRC president Hu Jintao, he writes, for example, “Behind the benign, avuncular appearance, I think there is iron in the man.” (p. 32).

It all leaves the reader with little doubt that Lee wrote One Man’s View of the World for people who regard him as a visionary leader whose analyses of international politics and perceptions of world leaders are to be taken seriously. The more critical reader, however, will hardly find comments like the one on Hu perceptive. The same might be said of a great number of politicians, including Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin or even the American Vice President Joe Biden.

At the same time, if we can look beyond the sweeping views that one reviewer from Singapore calls “more entertaining than alarming or illuminating”, it is possible to gain fresh insight from One Man’s View of the World. How much readers gain from the book will depend on how they choose to read it. Like all autobiographical narratives, One Man’s View of the World tells us more about the man who wrote it than about the world that he observed.

Although not strictly an attempt to glorify the achievements of the man – a purpose better served by the pictorial book Lee Kuan Yew – A Life in Pictures,  from the same publisher – One Man’s View of the World seems to be a publication whose timing betrays the intention further to justify the People’s Action Party’s response to the challenges that Singapore faces by emphasizing similar challenges faced by other countries. For example, it would be difficult for those familiar with politics in Singapore not to notice the parallels between the country’s struggle with low fertility rates and the matter of Japan’s ageing population, which is the focus of the book’s section on that country.

Either Lee or his editors chose to title that section “Japan – Strolling into mediocrity”. Lee’s warning for Japan echoes his warning for Singapore. Of the former he writes, “Unless decisive action is taken very soon to resolve the population problem, no change in politics or economics could restore this nation to even a pale shadow of its post-war dynamism” (p. 129). Of Singapore, he asks rhetorically, “Is there a country in this world that prospers on a declining population?”, and then adds, “If I had to identify one issue that threatens Singapore the most, it would be this one” (p. 222).

Despite the fact that geopolitical issues in East Asia might be of greater concern than demography, especially to an international audience, these issues are only addressed in the last four pages of the discussion of Japan, and in a “Question and Answer” format.* Lee’s “answers” are brief compared to his treatise on Japan’s population problems.

One Man’s View of the World is unlikely to satisfy Lee’s critics because it lacks (again) absolutely any attempt to engage with their criticisms of him. Those who have read Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going (also from the same publisher), a thick volume on the economic realities to which Singapore must face up to survive as a country, will find the persona that Lee has created for himself in One Man’s View of the World familiar.

Lee continues to style himself as the dispenser of “hard truths” – a pragmatic politician who is brutally frank and has no regrets about his past actions. Examples of this stance include his continued unapologetic embrace of the idea that a person’s capabilities are largely determined by his or her genes: “[India’s] caste system freezes the genetic pool within each caste” (p. 149). Or his revealing non-reply to a reporter’s question about the effects of privileges for Malaysia’s bumiputeras: “Where do you think the talent pool is?” (p. 170). Or his dismissal of the view that his “Stop at Two” policy might have contributed to the long-term low fertility rate in Singapore as an “absurd suggestion” (p. 218).

Previously criticized for being secretive about his family life, Lee (or perhaps his editors) now seeks to disarm critics by providing shockingly honest details, even when this does not seem terribly appropriate. The caption at the bottom of a page with a photograph of his family at the wedding of his eldest son, Singapore’s current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to Ho Ching – no doubt a happy occasion – says little about the bride. Instead, it is revealed that the “flower girl is Loong’s daughter Xiuqi, whose mother Wong Ming Yang died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 31”. It is as if Lee is saying, “There, everything’s accounted for.” Judging from the responses to his book in Singapore, both on-line and off-line, it appears that he has mastered, in writing, the art of being frank to the point of political incorrectness, while deftly deflecting further discussion of thorny topics.

Nevertheless, his critics in Singapore should still read this book, not least because the book will provide them with an understanding of Lee’s perception of Singapore’s place in the global economy, which is crucial for anyone who seeks to offer a sound critique of Lee’s policies in Singapore, many of which are being continued by the current PAP government under his son, Lee Hsien Loong.

Younger Singaporeans, too, should read One Man’s View of the World, as should those interested in Singapore’s position on foreign policy issues. For the book does offer a broad perspective on world politics and quite successfully places Singapore in the context of an increasingly interdependent network of nation-states. Its succinct summaries of episodes in recent and not so recent history, such as Thaksin Chinnawat’s rise to power in Thailand or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, provide enough background information for readers unfamiliar with the regions discussed in the book. However, a lack of in-depth analysis of the multiple historical factors that shaped the regions discussed also characterizes the book. For instance, on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, British ambiguity in the 1917 Balfour Declaration is not addressed with Lee stating that the British “supported the settlement of Jews in Palestine with the view of eventually allowing them to form a Jewish state” and that the Balfour Declaration “formally set out this position” (p. 249). Yet it is relatively well known (indeed, it is in the ‘A’ levels History syllabus currently taught in Singapore’s schools) that the declaration, which Lee quoted, never mentions a “state” but a “national home” for the Jews.

Thus, those with a serious interest in learning more about international politics should still refer to other sources to supplement their knowledge. Readers who are wondering why regions such as Latin America and Africa are omitted from the book might want to flip to page 308. In his reply to a journalist’s question on his regular reading, Lee says, “I follow closely on the Internet news on Singapore, the region, China, Japan, Korea, America, India and Europe. The Middle East – occasionally, Latin America – almost zero, because it is not relevant to us. Too far away.” Readers invested in the growing trade links between Latin America and Singapore need not be alarmed, however, because Lee is no longer in charge of the government. He is very much a retired political leader speaking from his past experiences.

On a more personal note, when thinking of Lee Kuan Yew, as a Singaporean, I remember two moments. As a primary school student in 1990, I watched on television the National Day Parade and teared when Lee sang the National Anthem at the parade for the last time as Prime Minister after three decades in power. To a primary school student, that seemed like forever. Even at the age of nine, I had learnt at school and at home that Lee was an extraordinary man and that his stepping down from power could be a turning point for my country, for better or for worse. The second moment was when there was a palpable sigh of relief in Singapore, and the National Stadium erupted in the loudest cheers for a PAP leader since the General Elections of 2011, when Lee, frail but still walking on his own, appeared at NDP 2012, thus squashing rumours on the Internet of his passing.

Judged against a modern critical yardstick, One Man’s View of the World may fall short. It reveals Lee Kuan Yew as a man who remains steadfast in his convictions, despite the fact that those convictions are influenced by ideas that many readers now may regard as archaic. For readers interested in international politics, there will be points of disagreement on controversial issues regarding Asia, America and Europe. But, for historians interested in Singapore history, the book does offer rich insights into the man, insights that will gain value through study of the cultural milieu of his formative years.

Despite his prominence as a political leader, there is an unnatural dearth of academic writings on Lee Kuan Yew. One Man’s View of the World will certainly provide a rich source of information for future generations of scholars interested in analysing his leadership.

“Nina Ong” is the pseudonym of a graduate of the National University of Singapore who lives in her native country’s Bukit Merah neighbourhood. 


* We are told in a blurb that the Q&A sections of the book are “gleaned from conversations he [Lee} had with journalists from The Straits Times”. According to The Straits Times, the team of journalists and editors who helped to produce the book were also working together with Mr Shashi Jayakumar, the son of Singapore’s former Senior Minister, S. Jayakumar.

Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness

December 29, 2013

Food for Thought ahead of 2014. Negativity is the antidote to positiveFacebook-K and D thinking. So rediscover the power of negative thinking and may you find Happiness and Success, says Mr. Burkeman. For me the key to happiness is to be one’s authentic self. I have always looked at the positive side of life. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. That is the dictum for me. Good luck, Mr. Burkeman.–Din Merican

Against Positive Thinking: Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness

by Maria Popova

Exploring the “negative path” to well-being.

Having studied under Positive Psychology pioneer Dr. Martin Seligman, and having read a great deal on the art-science of happiness and the role of optimism in well-being, I was at first incredulous of a book with the no doubt intentionally semi-scandalous title of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (public library). But, as it often turns out, author Oliver Burkeman argues for a much more sensible proposition — namely, that we’ve created a culture crippled by the fear of failure, and that the most important thing we can do to enhance our psychoemotional wellbeing is to embrace uncertainty.

Besides, the book has a lovely animated trailer — always a win

Burkeman writes in The Guardian:

[Research] points to an alternative approach [to happiness]: a ‘negative path’ to happiness that entails taking a radically different stance towards those things most of us spend our lives trying hard to avoid. This involves learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure. In order to be truly happy, it turns out, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions – or, at the very least, to stop running quite so hard from them.

The American edition (once again with an uglified, dumbed down, and contrived cover design) won’t be out until November, but you can snag a British edition here, or hunt it down at your favorite public library.

Your Final 2013 Weekend Entertainment

December 28, 2013

Your Final 2013 Weekend Entertainment


Din and Kam2This is the final weekend for 2013. We think it is appropriate to close our 2013 weekend entertainment session by bringing back some great ladies of song of a bygone era. Let us start with Joni James, followed by Doris Day. And then we bring on Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington. You will probably agree with us these personalities, each in her inimitable style, have left an indelible mark on modern popular music and jazz.

Please have  a good New Year. Despite the tough times ahead, we all have the strength of character to withstand the pressures that can come with the rising cost of living.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Joni James

Doris Day

Rosemary Clooney

Ella Fitzgerald

Dinah Washington

Ramon’s Resolutions for 2014

December 28, 2013

Ramon’s Resolutions for 2014

by Tan Sri (Dr.) Ramon Navaratnam, Chairman, ASLI Centre of Public Policy Studies

Dr. Ramon NavaratnamWE are relieved that major elections at national and party levels are over. Thankfully they were conducted under peaceful conditions, although many would have preferred more “free and fair” elections.

We have passed the stage of politicking and rhetoric and should seek to implement all the election promises and deliver beneficial outcomes to the rakyat.Thus, it would be useful for us to review the past, examine our present concerns and needs and to propose inter alia, the following eight resolutions, for the adoption by our leaders and people.

We should resolve as follows:

  •  Peace and national unity must be strengthened. We should all refrain from hurtful and divisive comments and actions that will cause disunity. We should isolate all those who indulge in extremist remarks and actions that erode our peace and national unity.

The Government should come down hard on all persons who pose a threat to peace and unity in a fair and equitable manner that is accepted by all;

  •  Security standards have to be enhanced by greatly improving the crime index with more urgency.

The Police could use their new laws to go all out to break up the crime syndicates and get the kingpins, as they promised they would do, in order to get public support for the introduction of the new Crime Prevention Act;

  • Corruption is still high and despite all government initiatives, it has hardly improved. New laws need to be introduced and the MACC has to show that it is more effective by reducing the TI Index considerably and more significantly;
  •  Inflation is a growing threat to our well-being. The poor and lower income groups are now burdened with rising prices.

Despite the BR1M, they find it difficult to cope with daily living costs. The recent reduction in subsidies and the increase in toll, electricity and property rates are not the only cases of rising prices. There has to be an anti-inflation strategy to combat inflation.

The Government has to remove or reduce monopolies, closed and negotiated tendering practices and liberalise the economy much more. We have to adopt principles of the New Economic Model and phase out the abusive practices of the protective policies;

  • Social stability has to be buttressed by basic needs policies that have to replace race-based policies and practices.

Race economics have also undermined national unity.Some even claim that there is political and economic apartheid, which is quite ridiculous.However, these issues have to be boldly addressed and overcome, to give greater priority to the poor of all races;

  • Unemployment is looming as a serious problem and must be curbed quickly.

Graduate unemployment is a rising social threat. Can the Government seek faster ways of improving our education system by introducing more technical teaching to make our school graduates more productive and thus employable. We might also be able to reduce drug consumption and gangsterism;

  • Religious bigotry and religious intolerance have to be clamped down more strenuously before we have more disharmony and less religious appreciation and understanding of each other in our multiracial society.

Can a National Interfaith Council under the Prime Minister or his Deputy be formed next year to promote more religious goodwill?; and

  • Malaysia’s Human Rights record has to be improved as a matter of high priority.

We have not signed and ratified all the Core Human Rights Conventions.Malaysia has now to respond to 232 recommendations before the Human Rights Council in March 2014.

Surely, we can show the world that we are far better disposed to the promotion and protection of human rights in our country?

In conclusion, I believe that if we can sincerely adopt and implement the above eight New Year Resolutions, we would make a big leap forward in ensuring for ourselves – a more Happy and Prosperous and United Malaysia in 2014 and beyond!