2014–a wretched and horrendous year for Malaysia

December 31, 2014

2014–a wretched and horrendous year for Malaysia

Commentary by The Malaysian Insider


Malaysia Truly Asia2014 has been a wretched and horrendous year for Malaysia, with very little spots of sunny cheer for Malaysians. All 52 weeks have seen us angry and sad – not quite the happy Malaysia Truly Asia that we portray in tourism advertisements.

Grief has been Malaysia’s main point of unity – from the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on March 8 to flight MH17 that was shot out of the sky on July 17 to the tragic crash of AirAsia Bhd Indonesian affiliate’s flight QZ8501 on December 28, in the last days of the year.

Three commercial plane crashes linked to Malaysia in just a year – what are the chances of that? And while that dominated the headlines, there has been other events that added to Malaysia’s grief. Statistics showed that 189 people died of dengue so far this year, up from 95 in 2013.

It has also been a record year for dengue cases which reached 98,128 up to December 6, according to the government statistics. That is about 40% of the record number of evacuees in the worst floods to strike Malaysia in decades. Even now, some 150,000 remain in evacuation centres as rescuers and aid workers try to grapple with a logistics failure to send food and water supplies.

At least 21 people have died in the current floods, the  Police said.Ironically, Malaysia is suffering the worst floods in a year when a severe drought led to water rationing in Selangor and a few other states. Climate change and indiscriminate logging have turned Malaysia into a country of extreme weather and disasters.

Also, veteran politician and DAP National Chairman Karpal Singh wasAni Arope2 killed in a road accident in April while another towering Malaysian, ex-TNB Executive Chairman Tan Sri Ani Arope, succumbed to cancer earlier this month. But death was not the only thing to stalk Malaysia in 2014.

Fundamentalism strode in again in the second day of 2014 when Selangor Islamic authorities seized Malay and Iban-language Bibles, saying it cannot be used in the country’s wealthiest state.

There had been cases earlier, at least one still pending in court, but the Selangor confiscation pitted the state against the advice of the country’s top lawyer, the Attorney-General.

Azmin AliIt would take a change of Menteri Besar and 11 months for the seized Bibles to be returned, but to another party. All the Bibles were stamped with a warning that it cannot be used in Selangor – reflecting Malaysia’s shrinking space for religious freedom.

Apart from religious authorities, other groups came to the picture to dominate the national discourse on race and religion. Putrajaya kept silent although on the global stage, Malaysia was a champion of moderation.

Kelantan’s renewed push for Islamic criminal laws, or hudud, tore up an already festering wound in a divided political pact and a country where some politicians and people believe an Islamic nation means a theocracy is in charge.

Mahathir-Vs-NajibIn a reflection of poorer electoral fortunes, Putrajaya went along with the idea of hudud, saying it will set up a technical committee to look into Kelantan’s request. This was an absolute reversal of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s stance that hudud was unjust to a section of Malaysians.

Regular as clockwork, Dr Mahathir took issue with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s leadership, in a repeat of what happened to the person who held the same office between them – Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

With anything from the BR1M cash aid to strategic investor 1MDB’s accounts, Dr Mahathir criticised a man some called his political son. A Najib and Obama in Hawaiigloomy global economic outlook and plunging global oil prices led to more criticisms from Dr Mahathir and the opposition.

But Najib, a politician who gets criticised when he opens or closes his mouth, kept his cool and silence, even managed to squeeze a golf game with US President Barack Obama in Hawaii on Christmas Eve – adding to the long list of global destinations he visited in 2014 while the country ran on auto-pilot.

That earned him some barracking as the golf round happened the same time that Kelantan and other states were inundated with fast-rising flood waters. In many ways, it was similar to Abdullah who was holidaying and opening a nasi kandar restaurant in Perth when floods struck Johor in 2006.

While the political drama within UMNO and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) played out in an already horrid year, Malaysians grouped up in civil societies in the last months of the year to write open letters to plead for rational dialogue, for common sense to set in.

The law courts made a few landmark decisions – that it was unconstitutional for religious authorities to restrict a Malaysian’s dressing or even seize books that have yet to be banned by the government.

And in the last week of the year, Malaysians went past the noise and rhetoric of fringe groups and divisive politicians to do what they do best – rally around other Malaysians in need.

They raised donations, bought food and water supplies and delivered them personally to flood victims in eight states – apart from a military and civil defence that did their job in the face of many hardships.

Perhaps Malaysians were happy that ministers and the fringe groups were abroad on holidays or silenced by the floods that the last week of the year showed us at our best – being Malaysians who help each other when push comes to shove.

We might want to forget 2014 for all the bad news and anger it has caused but if there is any lesson from this year, it is simply this – we are Malaysians united not by grief but for the great empathy and love for each other.

We proudly show it abroad and we dutifully do it when disaster strikes us. But we need to do it every day, no matter how much some try to divide us according to race or religion.

It has been a terrible year but when it came to the crunch, we are Malaysians for each other. May we have a better year ahead.


Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s New Year Message

December 31, 2014

This is what the Prime Minister said in his New Year Message and I quote: “Our economy is on track to grow by 5.7% this year, and 4.7% in 2015. Our deficit is falling, our reserves are strong; we have trusted financial institutions, low unemployment, and record levels of foreign investment. Malaysia’s economy is well placed to weather any storms.” All I can say is that I hope our Prime Minister is right. For my part, I am less optimistic and so I urge Malaysians to be more realistic.  Let us be prepared since 2015 is likely to be a difficult year.  — Din Merican

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s New Year Message

Twelve months ago, in my New Year message, I looked forward to a ‘prosperous and united’ Malaysia. 2014 did bring prosperity for Malaysia – our economy grew strongly. But it was also the year we were united in grief.

In the space of a few months, we lost 93 Malaysians. And we found ourselves at the centre of the world’s attention – not once, but twice.

The disappearance of MH370, and the destruction of MH17, are part of our story now. My heart reaches out to those who lost loved ones; and I share their sorrow. Like so many Malaysians, my family too was touched by tragedy.

This has been the most challenging year of my career – and one of the most difficult years in Malaysia’s history. But I take heart from the way we came together, as one nation, to #prayforMH370 and #prayforMH17.

In mosques, churches and temples, in shopping malls and online, Malaysians responded to these tragedies as one. In the face of two unimaginable disasters, we found unity. I believe we will come out of these twin tragedies stronger and more determined. We have been tested by disaster, but the spirit of the nation remains strong.

I am proud of the way we responded to these crises. We did not get everything right, but when MH370 went missing, we were able to bring together 26 nations – including China and the US – in a search that spanned half the globe. When Malaysia asked, the world answered.

And a few months later, when we found ourselves in the middle of a conflict zone, Malaysia was able to get the breakthrough that no one else could – securing the return of the bodies and black boxes from MH17. Quiet diplomacy helped bring us closer to finding out what happened to MH17, and securing justice for those who died.

Najib and Obama in Hawaii

Najib: “We are used to floods in Malaysia. But I was shocked by how bad the situation became”.Really, Sir!

At the end of the year, we faced new challenges. Northern states suffered terrible flooding, with lives, homes and livelihoods lost to the rising waters.

We are used to floods in Malaysia. But I was shocked by how bad the situation became. The scale of the destruction was profound, with so many people going through intense personal suffering. The Government’s priority is to get help to people who need it now – with the supplies and assistance for those who are stranded or displaced – and financial support, so that people can get their lives back together.

An aerial view of flooded streets of the National Park in Kuala Tahan, Pahang

Next year, our priority is recovery: to rebuild the infrastructure, the businesses and the homes that were damaged or lost. We must ensure that the development we pursue is environmentally friendly, so that we are not making future floods more likely – or more damaging.

As we continue the rescue and rebuilding operations, I pray for those who are still at risk. And our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters in Indonesia, as they continue the recovery of Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501.

Yet amidst the tragedies, there were high points too. 2014 was also the year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China. In Beijing, I stood in the hall my father visited back in 1974, and pledged that China and Malaysia would remain ‘partners for prosperity; connected by history, and firm in our commitment to peace’.

We also welcomed a US President for the first time in five decades. Back in 1966, Lyndon B Johnson saw rubber plantations; President Obama met young Malaysian computer programmers and entrepreneurs. It is hard to think of a better example of Malaysia’s remarkable development.

Every year, our country grows in stature. And every year the outside world takes a greater interest in Malaysia – in our people, our history and our future. These trends are set to continue in 2015, as we assume a bigger role in our region, and the world.

Next year we will chair ASEAN, as we prepare to launch the ASEAN Community. This is a momentous time for ASEAN, for its member states, and for the people of South East Asia. In 2015, under Malaysia’s chairmanship, we will lay the foundations for deeper regional integration. For the people of ASEAN, this will mean more opportunities – with more jobs, and easier ways to do business.

In 2015, we will also hold a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Far from just a diplomatic badge of pride, this is a chance for Malaysia to state our support for key objectives – including a dignified and secure future for the Palestinian people – and make a real contribution to global security problems.

Clearly, Malaysia will play a much bigger part in world affairs in the year to come. It is important that we continue to be a positive player, pushing the issues that we care about, and representing our people, our interests and our businesses. That is the only way we can ensure that Malaysian and South East Asian voices are heard.

But despite all the global attention, my focus is on the rakyat. Next year, I hope we can build a safer, more prosperous, and more equal society. The starting point is security. My greatest responsibility as Prime Minister is to ensure the safety and security of the Malaysian people. In recent years we have seen increasing threats from terrorist groups within Malaysia. In addition to our existing programmes to combat terrorism, we have also introduced a new terrorism white paper.

We are also strengthening our co-operation with foreign intelligence agencies, because the threat of violent extremism goes way beyond our borders. The so-called Islamic State continues to try to tempt people to join their war. Although they have had most success recruiting from Western nations, some Malaysians have fallen victim to this propaganda.

Our position is quite clear. As I said at the UN General Assembly this year, ‘the actions of these militants… violate the teachings of Islam, the example set by the Prophet Mohammed, and the principles of Islamic law. We reject this so-called Islamic State. We reject this state defined by extremism. And we condemn the violence being committed in the name of Islam’.

Yet security for Malaysians is not just about protection from violence, but also about social and economic security. So in the year to come, I also want to focus on maintaining our economic record, and strengthening the bonds between our people.

In a globalised economy, risks can spread far and fast. No country is isolated from global events. We have already had a taste of the challenges that will come in 2015, with the falling oil price over the past few weeks affecting everything from the ringgit to rubber.

Cheaper oil is a double-edged sword. It makes some things cheaper for consumers, but it also reduces government revenues – money we spend on development and support for the people.

Other nations are facing the same challenges, and some are already under great stress. Yet Malaysia has been fortunate to escape the worst downsides – because the fundamentals of our economy are still strong.

Our economy is on track to grow by 5.7% this year, and 4.7% in 2015. Our deficit is falling, our reserves are strong; we have trusted financial institutions, low unemployment, and record levels of foreign investment. Malaysia’s economy is well placed to weather any storms.

In last year’s message, I talked about how we were getting our finances under control whilst the global economy was strong.I wrote that ‘by acting responsibly now, we will strengthen Malaysia’s economy in the long-term – and the benefits will be felt much more widely. By taking the steps needed to make Malaysia’s economy stronger, we are not only protecting our nation against financial crises, we are also opening up new jobs – and new opportunities’.

We need to be proactive, to build a resilient economy that is prepared for any eventuality. With global events causing problems for many countries, I am pleased that we have already taken measures to protect our economy. Just last week, the World Bank confirmed that Malaysia remains in a strong position precisely because we acted to rationalise subsidies.

But keeping economy resilient means constantly anticipating risks, and acting to strengthen the economy whenever possible. It is with this in mind that we are introducing the GST next year. The GST will replace, not add to, the existing sales tax – and many goods will be exempt. It will help strengthen the government finances, so that we can continue productive expenditure – on things like roads, schools and hospitals – for the benefit of the people. And alongside the GST, we will continue the reforms to make our economy more competitive, which will bring more opportunities for our businesses, and higher income for the people.

Although we are exposed to global risks, we have strong fundamentals, and clear and consistent government policy. So I am confident that Malaysia’s economy will continue to grow, and bring more jobs and a better standard of living.

Our challenge is to ensure that that applies for all Malaysians, not just a few. In the months and years ahead, I want us to focus not just on GDP growth figures, but on the lives and needs of the rakyat. Although Malaysia’s economic performance has been exceptional, I know that people do not always feel they are getting their piece of our national success.

So alongside our efforts to strengthen our economy – by raising incomes, reducing spending, and boosting productivity – we will also work to reduce inequality by narrowing the gap between the rich and poor.

Last year, I said I looked forward to a more prosperous and united Malaysia. Although this has been a difficult year, we have achieved both. In 2015, as we prepare to play a bigger role on the world stage, I want us to work together to build a safer, more prosperous, and more equal society. I wish you all the best for the year ahead.

Book Review: The Fourth Revolution

December 31, 2014

‘The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State’

Review by Philip Stephens

source: http://www.ft.com

Germany’s Angela Merkel has a favourite set of statistics. The 28 nations of the European Union account for 7 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of output and 50 per cent of welfare spending. The implication is clear enough. If Europe is to compete with the rising economic powers of the east and south, it will have to shrink the state.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge take up the theme with gusto in The Fourth Revolution. Citing Merkel with approval, they carry the baton for freer markets, further privatisation and a smaller state – with implications more radical than any likely to be considered by the most reform-minded of German chancellors.

The authors’ argument is familiar enough. The sclerotic democracies of the west are being outpaced by leaner, often autocratic, competitors. If the west wants to prosper, it should learn from the small-state dynamism of the rising rest.

The book’s opening pages are unequivocal. The rich nations – the US and Japan as well as Europe – suffer from “elephantitis”. “Supersized” government is an omnipresent nanny. “The sensible, law-abiding Englishman cannot pass through an hour”, they write, “without noticing the existence of the state.”

I must confess I have not come across the suffocating hand of government while writing this review. But, as befits the editor and management editor of a magazine as sure of its free-market liberalism as The Economist, Micklethwait and Wooldridge start with unshakeable conviction and marshal the evidence accordingly. They sometimes get carried away. An unkind description of this approach would be one of policy-based evidence-making.

Fourth RevolutionTheir account of the vicissitudes of government certainly has swept, beginning with the insights of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and the coming of age of European states (the first revolution), journeying through the small-state liberalism of Victorian England (the second) and lamenting the path to big government of the postwar period (the third).

The heroes are standard-bearers of individual freedom such as John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Paine; the villains, the apostles of government-is-good-for-you such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb, John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge.

The case is elegantly made, with big-picture philosophy and political economy punctuated by colourful detours into the world’s rising economies. We meet the young mandarins in Shanghai who plan to reclaim China’s once unrivalled reputation for efficient administration, and the medical entrepreneurs in Bangalore pioneering better, and cheaper, approaches to open-heart surgery.

As for the west, the global financial crash and subsequent recession have provided the authors with plenty of ammunition. Debt levels are high almost everywhere. Political gridlock has left the US with an unsustainable fiscal position and a chronic lack of investment in basic infrastructure. European governments are battling simultaneously large deficits and sky-high unemployment.

The success of populist parties of the right in the recent European elections would also seem to point to the constraints imposed by democracy even on governments keen to slim down the state. Ageing populations consuming more healthcare and expecting more welfare are unlikely to become any less demanding.

The authors’ evangelical fervour, however, is a distorting prism. For reasons that are not quite clear, they see the great social revolution of the 1960s as somehow the fault of big government. Many would consider that civil rights in the US, greater equality for women and homosexuals, and the assault on establishment elites advanced rather than set back the cause of individual freedom.

Lee-Kuan-YewThere is an occasional hankering after authoritarianism. Singapore, a curious but recurring favourite of small “l” liberals, is preferred over California, whose dysfunctional government provides “the ultimate example of the perils of democracy”. But wasn’t California the cradle of the technology revolution?

The authors are right that the west needs to adapt. In some cases this will mean harnessing new technology to the provision of public services and, in many, it requires a rethinking of welfare provision. But size is not everything – witness the success of Europe’s Nordic states. What matters is effectiveness.

The European voters who turned out in their millions for anti-establishment parties were neither protesting against an over-mighty state nor, by and large, demanding higher spending and taxes. The targets of their wrath were governments and an EU that had failed to protect them from economic and social insecurity.

The story of the times is not so much of the supersized state but of governments gravely weakened by the power shifts inherent in globalisation. Porous borders, sprawling multinationals, digital communications and growing cross-border trade and travel have greatly reduced the capacity of governments to provide for the security of their citizens. There is the real challenge of the age.

LKY Hard Truth

*Philip Stephens is an FT columnist

2014 in Review

December 30, 2014

Thank You for Your Contributions in 2014

Soon we will be into 2015. What a year 2015 can be depends on all of us working together as Malaysians and members of our global community since the Year of the Goat is going to be a tough one. Take comfort, though that tough times don’t last but tough guys do.

Thank you guys–from four corners of the globe, 207 countries to be exact–for your support, ideas and comments in 2014. If only those in power take them seriously and use them as feedback, they can make Malaysia a better place.

I look forward to reading what you have to say about what is posted in 2015 on this public service blog which welcomes comments and views from all sides of politics–right, left and center.It has been educational for me to read your comments, and I hope you too have benefited from this blog.image

You guys and I share a common mission to make Malaysia and the world a great place to live and work. The frustrating part for us Malaysians in particular is that our rich diversity and heritage are not fully appreciated.In fact, they are many in our midst who want to destroy our pluralism. I have not met some of you, but via your comments I have come to know you and enjoy your company very much. So please keep writing and sharing.

My wife, Dr. Kamsiah who monitors this blog (despite her busy schedule as a thoroughly professional ortho-implantologist in private dental practice) has been a source of assistance and inspiration to me. I am greatly indebted to her for her  criticisms, suggestions and ideas about how to make this blog better and more interesting. But I take full responsibility for all its shortcomings. She joins me in wishing you a Happy and Good New Year. Please read this report (below) which is specially prepared by WordPress.com. –Din Merican

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 Annual Report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 2,500,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 107 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Nik Raina now closer to freedom

December 30, 2014

Appellate court bins JAWI’s appeal, Nik Raina now closer to freedom

By Ida Lim@www.themalaymailonline.com

 The Court of Appeal today dismissed the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department‘s (JAWI) contest against a High Court ruling that found its premature raid of a bookstore to be illegal and procedurally improper.

Justice Datuk Mah Weng Kwai, who headed a three-man panel, said in a unanimous decision that JAWI had acted unconstitutionally when it seized a book three weeks before it was officially banned.

He said the department also acted in bad faith and unconstitutionally by prosecuting the manager of the Borders bookstore branch it raided simply because she was Muslim.

Nik Raina 2014The Muslim manager of the Borders bookstore branch, Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, was arrested by JAWI a week after the raid and later charged in the Federal Territory Shariah High Court on June 19, 2012 for allegedly distributing and selling a book that was against Islamic laws.

If convicted under Section 13 (1) of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territory) Act, Nik Raina will be liable to a maximum fine of RM3,000, a maximum two years’ jail term or both.

On March 22 last year, Borders’ owner Berjaya Books, Borders assistant general manager of operations and merchandising manager Stephen Fung and Nik Raina won a judicial review in the High Court against JAWI, the home minister and the Islamic affairs minister.

In the same judicial review decision in favour of Nik Raina last March 22, the civil court ordered JAWI to withdraw its charge against Nik Raina in the Shariah court.

But on October 7 last year, the Shariah court dismissed JAWI’s application to withdraw the charge and decided that it should be maintained until the Court of Appeal decides on today’s case.

Today, Shamsul Bolhassan represented all three appellants, while Rosli Dahlan was the lead counsel for the three respondents.

During the appeal hearing, Rosli said that the public and therosli-dahlan2 bookstore were never notified that the book was banned prior to the sudden raid and book seizure in May 23, 2012.

He also said the Home Ministry’s ban on Canadian author Irshad Manji’s book, “Allah, Liberty and Love”, was gazetted almost three weeks later, while there was no fatwa (religious decree) issued against the book that religious enforcers claim are contrary to Islamic laws.

Justice Datuk Mohd Zawawi Salleh and Justice Datuk Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid were also on the panel of judges today.

Today, Mah also noted that no action can be taken against the bookstore’s owner, Berjaya Books, as it is “a corporate entity and incapable of professing a religion”, saying the actions against it was “unlawful”.

Mah also said JAWI — which had questioned Nik Raina’s colleague, Fung — had acted illegally and irrationally against the non-Muslim senior Borders employee, saying: “It is an abuse and unreasonable exercise of discretionary power, unconstitutional and procedurally improper.”

Among other things today, the Court of Appeal also upheld the High Court’s powers to carry out judicial review, saying that the Shariah Criminal Offences Act does not remove the civil court’s jurisdiction to interpret the Shariah Criminal Offences Act even though it is a law for Muslims.

While agreeing that the offence Nik Raina is accused of does not require a fatwa to be issued, the court said, however, that it would “offend the sense of justice” to prosecute an individual when the public did not know the book was illegal.

Highlighting that JAWI did not have a search warrant, the court said the presence of a group of reporters and photographers during the raid showed that the religious department had pre-planned the visit and would have had time to first obtain a warrant.

JAWI’s appeal was struck out as it was without merits. It was dismissed without costs. When approached after the ruling, Shamsul said the three appellants had yet to decide if they will be filing for appeal at the Federal Court — the country’s highest court.

I remember Dean Martin

December 29, 2014

Dean-Martin-my-kind-of-christmasI remember Dean Martin who passed on December 25, 1995. I was able to visit his grave site with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah,  and my friend in Los Angeles, Orang Malaya in 2011. I also met for the first time my dear sparring partner, Dr. M. Bakri Musa and his wife Karen Musa. I thought it is appropriate for me to present the man with a golden voice. Here he is for your listening pleasure.–Din Merican