Appoint brave men with entrepreneurial spirit as to captain our universities–Former UM VC Ghauth Jasmon

New York

June 21, 2016

COMMENT: When it comes to university administration, no one in Malaysia today is better qualified than Tan Sri Ghauth Jasmon, former Vice Chancellor of my alma mater, The University of Malaya (now Universiti Malaya). I welcome his appointment when it announced some years ago as great hope for the university, only to be disappointed that his insecure political masters decided to remove him.

Why? Tan Sri Jasmon had an independent and entrepreneurial streak and the guts to institute drastic changes in the way our oldest university would operate. He sought to improve academic standards, improve ranking of Universiti Malaya, and adopt a “publish or perish”culture among the academic staff. He also changed the business culture of the university Universiti Malaya to make less dependent on the government for funding. These objectives are noble ones but threatening to vested interests with a different agenda.

Bringing about change is a risky business. You need guts and vision with a strong heart. Italian  Niccolo Machiavelli was among the first political philosophers to have made this observation. In our country, men like Tan Sri Jasmon are not welcome because they upset the status quo. “Business as usual is good for those seek  to benefit, usually of personal nature, from it.

Yes, we need strong and committed  individuals, men (and women) who pursue excellence by example, to lead our universities if we are to change the standard of our institutions  of higher education. I wonder who will heed his call for moral courage, and entrepreneurship.–Din Merican

Appoint brave men with entrepreneurial spirit as to captain our universities–Former UM VC Ghauth Jasmon

by Minderjeet Kaur

This, says former Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor Ghauth Jasmon, is the formula to improve education standards in public universities.

Tan Sri Dr. Ghauth Jasmon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya was conferred the award of Honorary Degree of the Doctor of Science (DSc) by the University of Wales, Cardiff at a convocation ceremony at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on Friday, 4th May 2012. Tan Sri Jasmon is now Vice Chancellor, Sunway University

The way to improve standards at Malaysian universities is to employ vice-chancellors who are brave enough to make changes and think like entrepreneurs.

This is the view of former Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor Prof Ghauth Jasmon.

He said today that Malaysian public universities had failed to produce world class universities because they had become heavily reliant on the Government. This, he said, had made vice-chancellors complacent.

“In Malaysia, the Government gives students to varsities. Money is given. There are no challenges. The VC does not have any idea how to raise funds. They are too afraid to make any change because their neck is always on the chopping block from pressure groups and the Government,” he said.

He was speaking to about 100 people, mostly from the education sector, at a forum on expanding private higher education organised by the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.

Ghauth, who is well respected in education circles, said the Malaysian Government gave 80 per cent of the operating cost to each public university whereas the governments of Thailand and Indonesia only gave 20 per cent of the operating cost.

“The VCs in these two countries have no choice but to operate like private colleges. They offer courses relevant to the market needs. Their syllabuses are current, unlike ours. Some of our syllabuses have not changed for the past 20 years.”

He said the Thai and Indonesian university heads were entrepreneurs and go-getters. “Public universities in Thailand and Indonesia run their own businesses. Chulalongkorn University has 7 huge supermarkets, 1,400 commercial buildings. Indonesian public universities are successful too. Both countries started venturing out 30 years ago.”

The vice-chancellors in these two nations had to be on their toes to attract students without sacrificing the quality of education, as a drop in their standards or grades would not attract other students to register with them, said Ghauth.

In contrast, he said, most of the vice-chancellors in Malaysia were at a loss, especially since the Government announced budget cuts in operational costs for every public university.

The Government, in Budget 2016, had slashed university budgets by RM2.4 billion, from RM15.78 billion in 2015 to RM13.37 billion for the year 2016. Universiti Malaya had the most severe cut of 27.30 per cent, he said.

“The immediate reaction of public universities, especially the board members in UM, is to cut costs rather than expand business.”

Ghauth said some of the universities would, in such a situation, unsubscribe to online journals, charge for usage of sporting facilities and remind their staff to switch off lights, and repair leaking pipes.

Some administrators have suggested commercialising International Property rights and research papers.

“The truth is, there is not much money to be made from commercialising IP rights or selling research papers unless you are a Stanford or Harvard,” Ghauth said.

Saying the way to improve standards was to change the vice-chancellors, he pointed out that during interviews for the post of Vice-Chancellor, no one asked how the person would make money for the institution. “We need to change this,” he said.

During his time at UM, from 2008 to 2013, he had approached the University of Wales to have a joint venture with UM to open a private university – University of Malaya Wales. It started three years ago and operates out of UM. The money generated from the private university goes to UM.

“This is one way to be independent. The less we depend on money from the Government, the more UM can start standing on its feet. It can start making its own decisions to make UM world class.”

Ghauth said brave vice-chancellors were needed to make changes to Malaysian higher education. “Otherwise, it is just going to be worse from now on as the Government will continue to cut budgets due to the drop in oil prices.”

UM went up five spots to sit in 146th place in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings for 2015/ 2016. There are 20 over public universities in Malaysia.

Number of unemployed public university graduates to soar

 by Minderjeet Kuar

The number of unemployed people who graduate from local public universities is set to rise further, an academician warned today.

Not only would the unemployed figure from this group rise higher than the present 400,000, about 80 per cent of the jobless would be Bumiputera, according to Prof Ghauth Jasmon.

He estimated the figure at 600,000 in the next few years, if nothing was done to improve university education.

The former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor said the reality was that the private sector preferred hiring graduates from private universities and colleges.

“The private sector needs graduates who speak and write English. Many public university graduates are hired by the Government and join the civil service. But the Government cannot hire everyone,” he said.

Every year about 200,000 graduate from institutions of higher learning in the country.

He said despite the Government spending billions of ringgit on public universities, the demand for graduates from these universities remained low.

“It is a sad thing that this is happening. One way of overcoming the problem is for vice-chancellors to implement measures that will benefit the nation.Vice-chancellors need to be bold. They need to do what is good for the students and for the country so no funds are wasted.”

Ghauth, who was UM vice-chancellor from 2008 to 2013, said he had faced a lot of resistance from lecturers and students when he wanted to improve students’ soft skills, such as having extra English classes.

“The backlash to that was bad. There were demonstrations, encouraged by lecturers. They accused me of making Malay language as the second language. For the next one year, I had to continuously write to newspapers on the reasons for my move.”

Another move he made was to ask lecturers to submit their research and paperwork to International Scientific Indexing (ISI) journals. “The professors petitioned against me. They wanted to remove me. ISI journals have to be in English. They felt I was not in support of the Malay language.”

He then decided to reduce the salaries of UM professors studying PhD in Australia, United Kingdom and Canada who took three to four years longer than the deadline.

“I told them if you do not finish your courses by a certain time, the UM will cut your salary by RM200 to RM600 a month depending on the length of delay.”

Even though, there were objections, he said, the policy remained till today. He noted that almost 90 per cent of professors were now finishing their PhD on time.

He said vice-chancellors should not give in to pressure as they knew their measures were for the betterment of the country. It was not about being in the good books of everyone, he said.

Proton: An Expensive Mistake

June 9, 2016

Proton: An Expensive Mistake

by Koon Yew Yin

Malaysians deserve an explanation of why Proton, the brainchild of former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, remains in trouble, despite massive infusions of funds. The MITI Minister, Dato’Seri Mustapa Mohamed says that government cannot continue protecting and supporting Proton, and that the firm must learn to compete on its own after over three decades in existence. That is right. I, therefore, do not understand why the Malaysian Government must now subscribe to 1.25 billion RCCPS issued by Proton via GOVCO Holdings Bhd by way of a RM 1.25 cash payment. It is time to stop  using taxpayers’ money to underwrite a failed project.–Din Merican

All Malaysian taxpayers must have been shocked to read the article “Proton to raise capital” , car maker issuing Rm 1.25 billion convertible preference shares to Government, on page 3 of The Star on 7th June 2016.

Proton is a 100% unit of DRB-Hicom. When the redeemable convertible cumulative preference shares (RCCPS) is exercised into shares, the Government will end up with a 79% stake in Proton and DRB-Hicom’s shareholdings will be diluted from 100% to about 21%.

DRB-Hicom yesterday said the Government had agreed to subscribe to 1.25 billion RCCPS issued by Proton via GOVCO Holdings Bhd by way of a RM 1.25 cash payment.

Proton has been experiencing flagging vehicle sales in recent years and this has affected its cash flow position. Proton plays a crucial role in the national automobile industry where there are about 12,000 workers directly under it while about 50,000 are employed under various vendor companies.

The founding of Proton National Bhd. in 1983 was an expensive mistake to begin with. Billions of ringgit from taxpayers have been lost in the process. Moreover, to encourage people to buy Proton, the Government increased the import duty for other cars and car parts. As a result, consumers suffered. For over 30 years we have had to pay higher prices for all cars including Proton. Even this has not been sufficient to save Proton which has been sold five times already.

Now with the Government owning 79% of Proton, the hemorrhage will continue unless the Government, the controlling shareholder makes some drastic changes to the current system of producing cars.

  1. From the report, the Government representatives will come from the Ministries of Finance, Industry and Economic Planning Unit. I suggest some old Directors should be removed to be replaced by these Government representatives.
  2. It is also essential to remove a few of the top managers and replace them with new people with the necessary experience.
  3. The new management must see how to measure the efficiency of the 12,000 workers directly under the company. One way is to compare the labour cost of producing a similar car in Japan or compare it with Perodua which has been profitable since its inception in 1992.
  4. The new management must also see how the company buys parts from the vendors who are employing about 50,000 workers? Is the company obliged to buy parts from these vendors? Can the company call for quotations for the supply of parts from the open market?
  5. Proton should copy the way Perodua manufactures its cars. I understand that the Japanese have full management control of the car manufacturing process, although they are minority shareholders.

Malaysians are now wondering – will the burden on taxpayers and car owners be continued in other new ways?

One simplistic assumption which appears to have been made by Dr. Mahathir, the initiator of the national car project, is that an industry that is growing yearly should be profitable. It is not. In fact, industry data shows that the total profits of all the car companies over the last few decades amount to only a modest return, and that too only for the fittest in the industry. Even year on year increase in sales will not guarantee generating good returns to shareholders, even in a highly developed economy with a long tradition of successful car manufacturing such as Britain.

This is because one of the forces that limit profitability is the intensity of rivalry between car companies from around the world. This leads to oversupply and pressure on prices. This is exacerbated by a high degree of freedom for new competitors to enter the industry.

Consider the case of British Leyland, a vehicle-manufacturing company formed in the United Kingdom in 1968. It was partly nationalised in 1975 with the government creating a new holding company. The company incorporated much of the British owned motor vehicle industry, and held 40% of the UK car market.

Despite having profitable marques such as Jaguar, Rover and Land Rover, as well as the best-selling Mini, British Leyland had a troubled history. In 1986 it was renamed as the Rover Group, later to become MG Rover Group, which went into administration in 2005. This ended mass car production by British-owned manufacturers.

Today, many British car marques are now owned by foreign companies. For example MG and the Austin, Morris and Wolseley have all become part of China’s SAIC Motor Corporation Limited.

Another question to ask is why few car manufacturers, until recently, seem to go into bankruptcy? Then prices can rise relative to cost and shareholders can get a fair return.

There are two main reasons. In some countries there is always the perennial optimism of managers and shareholders. In Malaysia, the reason is different. Here, our Government has been changing rules and regulations to obstruct other cars from entering our market whilst providing special concessions including an ever ready supply of financial assistance to keep Proton afloat.

The end result is that some Malaysians have ended up with more expensive cars of other brands whilst most Malaysians have had little choice but to buy Proton – a poor substitute! This is the price we have to pay for brainless patriotism.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

ASEAN Economic Community: Shining light of the East

May 24, 2016

Ten countries in Southeast Asia are attempting to launch a single market for goods, services, capital, and labor, which has the potential to become one of the largest economies and markets in the world. Here are 12 things to know about the ASEAN Economic Community.

  1. The center of global economic gravity is shifting toward Asia. Within Asia, it is shifting toward the two giant economies of the People’s Republic of China and India. Their emergence as economic superpowers suggests that “economic size” bestows significant advantage in accelerating growth and fostering development.
    Source: ADBI. 2014. ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community
  2. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is in the process of creating a single market and production base, called the ASEAN Economic Community, which will allow the free flow of goods, services, investments, and skilled labor, and the freer movement of capital across the region. This is envisioned to be in place by 31 December 2015.
    Source: 24th ASEAN Summit. 2014. Myanmar. Nay Pyi Taw Declaration
  3. If ASEAN were one economy, it would be seventh largest in the world with a combined gross domestic product of $2.4 trillion in 2013. It could be fourth largest by 2050 if growth trends continue.
    Source: Speech by ADB Vice-President Stephen Groff. 2014. Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany. ASEAN Integration and the Private Sector
  4. With over 600 million people, ASEAN’s potential market is larger than the European Union or North America. Next to the People’s Republic of China and India, ASEAN has the world’s third largest labor force that remains relatively young.
    Source: Speech by ADB Vice-President Stephen Groff. 2014. Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany. ASEAN Integration and the Private Sector
  5. ASEAN is one of the most open economic regions in the world, with total merchandise exports of over $1.2 trillion – nearly 54% of total ASEAN GDP and 7% of global exports.
    Source: ADBI. 2014. ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community
  6. ASEAN is taking a more cautious approach to regional economic integration than Europe. In Asia, there is currently no serious consideration of a single currency.
    Source: ADB news release. 2015. An Increasingly Unified Asia Is Keeping an Eye on Greece
  7. The ASEAN Economic Community is founded on four basic initiatives: creating a single market and production base; increasing competitiveness; promoting equitable economic development; and further integrating ASEAN with the global economy.
    Source: ASEAN. 2007. Singapore. Declaration on the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint
  8. ASEAN’s physical infrastructure is critical to the ASEAN Economic Community’s goal of establishing a single market and production base. Cross-border roads, power lines, railways and maritime development will help propel the community forward. This will boost existing and new value chains or production networks.
    Source: Speech by ADB President Takehiko Nakao. 2015. 19th ASEAN Finance Ministers’ Meeting. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 
  9. One of the challenges to the ASEAN Economic Community is bridging the perceived “development divide” between the older and economically more advanced members – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, known as the ASEAN-6, and the four newer members – Cambodia (1999), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (1997), Myanmar (1997), and Viet Nam (1995).
    Source: ADB. 2013. The ASEAN Economic Community: A Work in Progress
  10. Some analysts believe that the ASEAN Economic Community will miss its December 2015 deadline because of the challenging requirements of economic integration, including changes to domestic laws and in some cases constitutional changes.
    Source: ADB. 2015. Realizing an ASEAN Economic Community: Progress and Remaining Challenges
  11. The flexibility that characterizes ASEAN cooperation, the celebrated “ASEAN way,” may hand member states a convenient pretext for noncompliance, according to one ADB report. How to enforce the accords remains an issue. Currently, the economic integration commitments lack sufficient mechanisms to ensure compliance.
    Source: ADB. 2015. Realizing an ASEAN Economic Community: Progress and Remaining Challenges
  12. ASEAN needs a plan beyond the ASEAN Economic Community to achieve the long-term development aspirations of its 10 member countries, according to an ADB study. This includes introducing structural reforms nationally and taking bold actions regionally to further deepen economic integration.
    Source: ADBI. 2014. ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community

ASEAN Economic Community: Shining light of the East

by Dr. Munir Majid

THE level of interest in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) among the business community in the world at large has increased tremendously since its pronouncement at the end of last year.

While not discounting its imperfections, foreigners are more focused on the opportunities and promise of the single market and production base.

With 90% of global economic growth coming from outside the advanced economies, one can understand why. But there are also ASEAN’s particular strengths which attract attention.

Many are becoming increasingly aware of the size of the ASEAN economy (US$2.7 trillion, the seventh largest market in the world with over 620 million people). Beyond that, they also realise that its growth potential is very capable of achievement with the demographic dividend ASEAN will reap from its young population (60% under 35 years of age).

 The latter means a high level of productivity from a work force when a lot of the world would see an ageing population not part of the work force increasingly dependent on the resources of the economy.

The young population will also be a huge part of the growing middle class which, on the demand side, will drive the consumption of a multiplicity of goods and services.

The expectation that ASEAN will become the third largest economy in the world after China and India (or fourth if the European Union is counted as one economy before mid-century is therefore not seen as fanciful.

At the same time, the very disparity in economic development in Asean is also seen as an opportunity to bring up the less developed countries from a low base. Here, large infrastructure development needs are making a number of foreign businesses consider where they might be involved.

Estimates of annual ASEAN infrastructure development needs vary widely from US$ 60bil to US$ 600bil, depending on the definition of what is the base requirement, but the sectors most in need are quite clear: energy, transportation and telecommunications.

The countries farthest behind in infrastructure development are also obvious, with Indonesia requiring around US$ 500bil for the rest of the Jokowi administration and Myanmar estimated to need US$ 350bil into 2025.

Companies in countries not so fashionable in ASEAN economic thinking, such as Russia, are seriously examining the technology they can bring to ASEAN economic development, in areas such as renewable sources of energy, water treatment and modern construction materials.

One Russian company is looking at, in the first instance, developing business-to-business e-commerce with ASEAN to facilitate two-way trade.

On the soft side – particularly with ASEAN’s young population – the greatest infrastructural need is for education and training. The more traditional investors in ASEAN, such as Britain, are looking at how they can address this beyond the conventional schools and universities.

Training in and introduction of new technologies in ASEAN are being mulled by many countries, particularly in Britain but also Russia. Creation of Artificial Intelligence in ASEAN for other markets as well is being looked at by one Russian company.

While not all this new interest in the ASEAN economic space has arisen from pronouncement of the AEC, that historic event last year has no doubt concentrated business minds on its promise and potential.

The United States, China, Europe and Japan no doubt have a long and abiding interest, but new interest among businesses in countries such as Russia is noteworthy. In August last year, the Russian and ASEAN economic ministers identified 57 new projects to be pursued.

The Russians now do not want just a roadmap. They want projects to be materialised.Of course, Russia has geopolitical reasons for wanting to develop trade and investment with ASEAN. At the Sochi summit this week with Asean leaders, after 20 years the Russian relationship with the region was raised to the level of a strategic partnership.

At the same time the Russians are drawing in the Eurasian Economic Union on their side of the partnership. They are also urging ASEAN to relate with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

All this reflects the geopolitical factors for Russia’s desire to develop the relationship with ASEAN – their deteriorated relations with the West and the sanctions against them.

Russia therefore needs to look East. ASEAN is a bright star. Whatever the geopolitical motive however, Russian businesses would not want to come to ASEAN if there were no opportunity.

Without taking sides or being drawn into any alliances, ASEAN  should get engaged with diversification of economic relationships for its own benefit. Russia, for instance, has got some very advanced technologies that could compete with the usual suspects to provide good terms and choice.

The ASEAN promise is not limited to the region. The foreign interests looking at and wanting to come to ASEAN also see how the market would expand, and how having ASEAN as their base makes good business sense.

It is to be hoped ASEAN companies see this too, and might want to engage with them for their own further expansion.

Beyond ASEAN there is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Comprising ASEAN and six other countries – China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand – the expanded free trade area would comprise three billion people and over a quarter of global Gross Domestic Product, and is growing. An ASEAN base, with its already large market, can be a springboard to an even larger one.

In addition, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), often seen as in opposition to the RCEP, could very well work to be complementary. With a market size of over 40% of global GDP, the TPP already has four Asean countries committed to join, with three more mulling over it.

Again, an ASEAN base would be a good platform from which to penetrate that already huge TPP market. An irony would be if, say, a Russian company in partnership with a Malaysian one were to produce goods or services in our country destined for America.

That prospect would be a test of US commitment to free trade. But that is another story.

The story now is about ASEAN and its AEC, which is engaging a lot of foreign business interest, whether driven by geopolitical or purely commercial considerations. The promise foreigners see in it is something we in ASEAN must also see. It is good to want to ensure an optimal AEC, but we must make business decisions now, as others are making.

Malaysia’s Aurat Air–Regulatory Incompetence

May 23, 2016

Malaysia’s Aurat Air:  Regulatory Incompetence

by Mariam Mokhtar

Did the government simply rubber-stamp Rayani Air’s license to operate, without conducting detailed checks, including its cash-flow analysis and break-even point?

Mr. A A Kaprawi

The statement by  Deputy Transport Minister Dato Abdul Aziz Kaprawi that the government will “be more stringent and impose a stricter standard operating procedure on all airlines” should set alarm bells ringing. It suggests that the government acted with haste and was extremely complacent.

So, how deeply committed is our government to safety and good management practices? Rayani Air is Malaysia’s first syariah compliant airline, but like any other airline, it must comply with rules and regulations.

Starting an airline is not merely about buying or leasing aeroplanes, then painting them in the new livery. Nor is it about finding the pilots, ground and cabin crew, engineers, and other personnel, to operate an airline.

Providing halal food, prayers before take-off and on landing, not serving alcohol, and staff who cover their aurat will not make an airline popular. Good and reliable service, efficient and friendly staff, well maintained planes, popular routes and accessible airports are part and parcel of a good airline experience.

Like any other business, Rayani Air’s owners would need funding and would have provided a business plan, to satisfy its backers or the bank. Did Rayani Air not do enough homework with regards to long-term funding? It cannot run Rayani Air for a few months, and hope that revenue from sales will enable it to continue. Even a simple home-based business does not operate like that.

When Rayani Air soared above Kuala Lumpur, in December, many people were sceptical because few people choose a certain airline, because it serves halal food. They base their judgement on the price, good safety record and reliability.

The Con-Artists of Aurat Air

Within months, the airline was dogged with delays, cancellations, a cracked cockpit windscreen and maintenance issues. Amongst other things, passengers were furious that their boarding passes were not printed.

Passengers were forced to travel on a coach service provided by the airline, although they would have preferred to be put on a later flight. Delays were common and stories about 485 employees not being paid, were leaked to the press.

Things came to a head on April 11, when Rayani Air’s Air Operation Certificate (AOC) was suspended, for three months, after it temporarily halted its operations following a pilot strike. The airline had failed to seek the Department of Civil Aviation’s (DCA) permission before ceasing operations.

Instead of dealing with the criticism of the passengers and staff, Rayani Air’s Chief Executive Officer, Ravi Alagendrran, said that the cracked windscreen was due to sabotage. He did not bother to wait for the results of an investigation. His statement attracted bad publicity, because it suggested that the airline had enemies.

He later retracted this statement, but he had introduced doubt in people’s minds about safety and security. The shattered windscreen was spotted by pilots, before the flight took off. Passengers may have wondered whether the alleged saboteur had damaged a vital piece of equipment, in a hidden part of the aeroplane and the fault was not detected in time.

The CEO’s statement about sabotage, probably infuriated the people managing Langkawi airport, as passengers wondered if security in the airport was lax.

According to The Malay Mail Online, pilots had refused to fly because the company’s two aircraft had structural faults. The airframe, which is the aircraft’s mechanical structure, that  includes its fuselage, wings and undercarriage, was unsafe.

Perhaps, the blame should not rest solely with the airline bosses. The government and the DCA are also to blame. They gave Rayani Air the go-ahead. They rubber-stamped the permit to fly, without checking the safety and viability of the aeroplanes, and funding to operate, for more than three months.

The government must tell would be business owners not to commercialise Islam. The government must stop deluding itself and thinking that a syariah compliant service need not follow normal business guidelines. It is not God’s will that makes an airline safe, but man’s endeavour. –


David Cameron is playing coy with Najib’s Corruption for Business

May 17, 2016

Conservative Party’s David Cameron is playing coy with Najib’s Corruption for Business

What can we expect from him? After all, David Cameron is just another politician who happened to be re-elected Prime Minister. His job is to take care of British interests. He will even entertain the most corrupt Prime Minister of Malaysia ever if  British businessmen can be benefit from deals out of Malaysia, be these be in Britain or in our country.–Din Merican