Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong’s Message to PAP MPs

September 29, 2015

Now on a more sombre and serious note read this from Barack Obama:

…development is threatened by bad governance. Today, we affirm what we know to be true from decades of experience — development and economic growth that is truly sustainable and inclusive depends on governments and institutions that care about their people, that are accountable, that respect human rights and deliver justice for everybody and not just some.

So, in the face of corruption that siphons billions away from schools and hospitals and infrastructure into foreign bank accounts, governments have to embrace transparency and open government and rule of law.

And citizens and civil society groups must be free to organize and speak their mind and work for progress, because that’s how countries develop; that’s how countries succeed

Note: I wonder what our Prime Minister Najib Razak might say to UMNO, MCA, Gerakan and other partners in Barisan Nasional. Let me suggest something for your consideration. You are welcome to add your own.

To those who lost the election, he would say take it easy.  He would talk his Ikan Bakar seller, Jamal and ask him to invite you to join his Red Shirt group and help to defend me, and protect maruah orang Melayu against pendatang cina.

Here are the 3 things from our Prime Minister, apart from tahniah for their success.

1.Carpe diem quam minimum credula ( seize the day and don’t worry about the future). Just forget your promises to those who were foolish enough to vote for you in GE13. Sapu semua before we lose in GE 14.

MACC won’t touch if you are loyal to me. They are toothless and dysfunctional. Don’t worry about Abu Kassim, the MACC Chief as he has been badly traumatised by 1MDB.

2. Gua tolong lu, lu tolong gua. Forget about integrity. We have the National Integrity Institute and my side kick, Dato Paul Low to worry about this.  They are doing a lot of research on this subject. But don’t expect the Institute to come with their recommendations any time soon.

3. Cash is King. If someone put loads of money into your personal bank account say it is a d0nation from those generous Arabs with loads of petrodollars to give you. If don’t  know what to say, get in touch with that Keruak fella from Sabah, Khairy Jamaluddin and Nazri Aziz. These guys know what I will say before I can speak. Don’t worry about me. In case you do not know, I am keramat. I am untouchable as long I can take care of Rosmah. Her ilmu is very strong. Even Harun Din, PAS Spiritual leader cannot get near her. –Din Merican

Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong’s Message to PAP MPs

…integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental to our party. We must never tire of reminding ourselves of their importance.–PM Lee Hsien Loong.

PAP wins 2015 General Elections Led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

PAP wins 2015 General Elections Led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

It is a tradition for the Prime Minister to send a letter on “Rules of Prudence” to all the PAP MPs after an election. The context each time may be different but the subject remains constant, because integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental to our party. We must never tire of reminding ourselves of their importance.

2. Our party has won 83 out of 89 seats in the just concluded general election, with all seats contested. Overall, the PAP won 69.9% of the votes.

3. The people have endorsed what we have done in the previous term, and given us a clear mandate to take Singapore forward beyond SG50. Now we must fulfil what we have promised to do in our manifesto. We must never break faith with the people, but must always carry out our duties to them responsibly, address their worries and advance their interests.

4. Be humble in victory. As MPs, always remember we are servants of the people, not masters. Do not mistake the strong election result to mean that our efforts have succeeded, and that we can afford to slacken.

Much work remains to be done tackling issues which concern Singaporeans, and finding new ways to improve people’s lives. Listen hard to voter concerns, help them to tackle pressing needs, and convey their worries and aspirations to the government.

Persuade them to support policies which are in their own long-term benefit, while helping the government to formulate good policies and stay in close touch with the people.

Upholding our reputation and integrity

5. One vital factor that has enabled the PAP to retain the trust of Singaporeans all these years is honesty and integrity.The PAP’s reputation for clean, incorruptible government is one of our most precious assets. As PAP MPs, your personal standing reflects this high standing of the Party as a whole.

I cannot stress strongly enough that every MP must uphold the rigorous standards that we have set for ourselves, and do nothing to compromise them. Never give cause for allegations that you are misusing your position, especially your access to ministers. That would discredit both you and the Party.

6. As MPs, you will come across many different sorts of people. Many altruistic, public-spirited individuals will help you without wanting anything in return, spending time and money to get community projects going and to serve residents. But a few will cultivate you to obtain benefits for themselves or their companies, to gain respectability by association with you, or to get you to influence ministries and statutory boards to make decisions in their favour.

Gift hampers on festive occasions, entertainment, and personal favours big and small are just a few of countless social lubricants which such people use to ingratiate themselves to MPs and make you obligated to them.

7. You must distinguish between these two groups of people, and be shrewd in assessing the motives of those who seek to get close to you. At all times be seen to be beyond the influence of gifts or favours.

8. Be scrupulously proper in your contacts with government departments or public officers. Do not lobby any ministry or statutory board on behalf of anyone who is not your constituent or grassroots activist. Do not raise matters with public officers on behalf of friends, clients, contractors, employers, or financiers to advance their business interests.

Conduct business with government agencies in writing and avoid making telephone requests. If you have to speak, follow-up in writing to put your requests on record.

9. MPs are often approached by friends, grassroots leaders or proprietors and businessmen to officiate at the openings of their new shops or other business events. They usually offer a gesture, such as a donation to a charity or constituency welfare fund.

Though it may be awkward to refuse such requests, once you accept one, you will be hard-pressed to draw a line. As a rule, you should decline invitations to such business events. If you feel you should attend, please obtain prior approval from the Whip.

Separating business and politics

10. Separate your public political position from your private, professional or business interests. MPs who are in business, who occupy senior management positions in companies, or who sit on company boards should be especially vigilant.

You must not exploit your public position as Government MPs, your close contacts with the Ministers, or your access to government departments and civil servants, for your personal interest or the benefit of your employers. Your conduct must always be above board.

11. MPs who are employed by companies or industry associations may at times have to make public statements on behalf of their company or industry association. If you have to do so, make it clear that you are not speaking as an MP, but in your private, professional or business capacity.

12. Do not use parliamentary questions as a means to lobby the government on behalf of your businesses or clients. When you raise questions in Parliament related to your own businesses or your clients, be careful to first declare your pecuniary interest in the issue.

13. You may, however, speak freely to Cabinet ministers, who are your parliamentary colleagues. Ministers will listen carefully to arguments on principles, especially when they relate to the general policy of their ministries.

But ministers will not exercise their discretion to change individual decisions without very good reasons which they can justify publicly. Parliamentary secretaries and ministers of state who intervene in their ministries to reverse or alter decisions should promptly report the matter to their ministers to protect themselves against possible accusations of misconduct.

The government must always base decisions on the merits of the issues, and cannot yield to pressure from interested parties.


14. MPs are often invited to serve on the Boards of private and publicly listed companies. This is a sign that the private sector values PAP MPs’ integrity and experience, and reflects the high standing of the party and of PAP MPs in general.

The party permits MPs to serve as directors, provided you keep your private and public responsibilities rigorously separate, and your private appointments do not compromise your duties and performance as an MP.

15. The public will closely scrutinise your involvement in companies, because you are a PAP MP. Conduct your business activities so as to bring credit to yourself and to the party.

Adverse publicity on your performance as a director, or lapses in the companies you are associated with, will tarnish your reputation as an MP and lower the public’s regard for the party.

16. You should not solicit for directorships in any companies, lest you appear to be exploiting your political position to benefit yourself.

17. You should not accept directorships where your role is just to dress up the board with a PAP MP or two, in order to make the company look more respectable.

18. Some grassroots leaders are businessmen who own or manage companies. You should not sit on any boards of companies owned or chaired by grassroots leaders appointed by you, so as to avoid the perception that you are obligated to them or advancing their business interests.

19. If you are offered a directorship, you have to decide for yourself whether to accept. The Party is not in a position to vet or approve such decisions.

20. Before accepting, consider the possible impact of the directorship on your political life. Ensure that the company understands that you are doing so strictly in your private capacity, and will not use your public position to champion the interests of the company, or lobby the government on its behalf.

21. Make every effort to familiarise yourself with the business, track record and background of the key promoters of the company. Satisfy yourself that the company is reputable, and that you are able to make a meaningful contribution. Specifically, just like anyone else contemplating a directorship, you should ask yourself:

a. How well do you know the company, its business strategy, financial status, shareholding structure and the underlying industry?

b. Do you know your fellow directors, the way the board and its committees fulfil their responsibilities, the reporting structure between board and management and the relationship between shareholders and the company?

c. Do you have sufficient industry, financial or professional expertise to fulfil your expected role and responsibilities as a Director? Do you understand your obligations under the law and the Code of Corporate Governance? Will you be able to discharge your fiduciary duties properly and without fear or favour?

d. Will you face any conflicts of interest, and if so can you manage them? If in any doubt, you should decline.

22. Once you have decided to take up a Directorship, please inform the Whip. Detailed reporting requirements are listed in the Annex.


23. MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament. If you have to be absent from any sitting, seek permission from the Government Whip. Please inform the Whip if you have to leave the Parliament premises while a sitting is on.

24. If you travel abroad, or need to be absent from Parliament for any reason, you must apply to the Speaker for leave, with copies to the Leader of the House and the Government Whip. You should also inform the Whip where you can be reached while abroad.

25. I have asked the Speaker to give all MPs, particularly new MPs, ample opportunity and latitude to speak in Parliament. Your first opportunity will be during the debate on the President’s Address at the opening of Parliament in January 2016.

Following that, at the Budget Debate, all MPs should speak up. Script your speeches or put your key points in note form to structure your presentation and help the media.

26. The public expects PAP MPs to express their views frankly, whether for or against government policies. During debates, speak freely and with conviction. Press your points vigorously, and do not shy away from robust debate.

However, please exercise judgement when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery.

27. Bring out questions and issues that Singaporeans and your constituents have concerns about, and grapevine talk for the government to rebut, but avoid unwittingly lending credence to baseless gossip. This will show that you and the party are in touch with the ground, and speaking up for Singaporeans.

Bringing up pertinent issues and questions in a timely manner helps ministers to put across the facts, explain the reasons for policies and decisions, and maintain public confidence in the openness and integrity of our actions.

28. Your honest, informed views are an important political input to ministers when they formulate and review policies. Ministers will accept valid, constructive suggestions, but they have to challenge inaccurate or mistaken views.

Over time, the public will see that PAP backbenchers are as effective as opposition MPs, if not better, at holding ministers to account, getting issues fully debated, and influencing policies for the better.

Important public occasions

29. On certain occasions, like the National Day Parade and the Investiture Ceremony for National Day Awards, the whole establishment, i.e. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, will be there. Those who cannot attend must have very good reasons. Those who have accepted the invitation must attend, otherwise they leave empty seats, which does no credit to them or to the party.

30. At all public functions and constituency events, punctuality is of paramount importance.


31. You should not accept gifts which might place you under obligations which conflict with your public duties. If you receive any gifts other than from close personal friends or relatives, you must declare them to the Clerk of Parliament who will have the gifts valued. If you wish to keep the gifts, you must pay the government for them at the valuation price.


32. Party branches should not raise funds on their own without permission, for example by soliciting advertisements for a souvenir magazine or a carnival.

If you intend to raise funds, please clear it beforehand with the organising secretary. When your branch embarks on a collective fund-raising activity, eg. a Family Day or Walk-A-Jog, you must follow the rules strictly.

Financial prudence

33. As MPs, you should manage your personal financial affairs prudently. Do not over-extend yourself or become financially embarrassed. This would be not only a potential source of personal embarrassment, but also a weakness which may expose you to pressure or blackmail.

34. In particular, be careful about making major financial commitments assuming that you will continue to receive your MP’s allowance. While MPs typically serve several terms, you cannot assume that you will automatically be fielded in future general elections, or that if fielded you will definitely be re-elected. There is neither tenure nor job security in politics.

Declaration of income

35. For your own protection, every MP should disclose to me, in confidence, your business and professional interests, your present employment and monthly pay, all retainers and fees that you are receiving, and whether your job requires you to get in touch with officers of government ministries or statutory boards on behalf of employers or clients.

Office holders need not do so because you will be subject to the reporting requirements of the Code of Conduct for ministers. This should be done by 31 October 2015.

General misbehaviour

36. The PAP has held our position in successive elections because our integrity has never been in doubt, and because we are sensitive to the views and attitudes of the people we represent.

MPs must always uphold the high standards of the party and not have lifestyles or personal conduct which will embarrass themselves and the party. Any slackening of standards, or show of arrogance or indifference by any MP, will erode confidence in him, and ultimately in the party and government.

New MPs can pick up the dos and don’ts from older MPs. You should conduct yourselves always with modesty, decorum and dignity, particularly in the media. You must win respect, not popularity, to stay the course.

Media publicity

37. I am releasing a copy of this letter to the media so that the public knows the high standards we demand of our MPs.

* Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister, is Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party (PAP).

HRH Sultan Nazrin reminds public servants

September 29, 2015

Sultan Nazrin reminds public institutions to remain independent

Perak’s Sultan Nazrin Shah has reminded politicians and civil servants particularly Muslims to act as reliable trustees by remaining independent in discharging their duties.

“Here, I cannot but stress to our leaders and administrators who are placed by the public in positions of trust that they should act as reliable trustees and carry out their ‘fardu kifayah’ (collective obligation) and public duty with integrity and ‘taqwa’, on behalf of the rest of us and for the sake of all.

“They should recognise the great importance of preserving and strengthening our institutions and of maintaining their integrity and independence,” the sultan said in his speech at the World Islamic Countries/University Leaders’ Summit 2015 in Putrajaya yesterday.

He said recent developments in the country were God’s “stress test”, adding that upholding public trust was more important during periods of crisis.

“It is when the going gets tough, as Allah reminds us, that we will be able to find out those who truly have integrity. “That is the true test from Allah, the best ‘stress test’ for the institution, the truest measure of whether our institutions can weather the storm.

“Because once lost, once the trustee fails his or her test, once the ‘al-amin’ (the faithful) no longer remains trustworthy, it will be difficult to regain the trust, the integrity and the independence of our institutions, be it in education, administration, the judiciary, the regulatory and enforcement agencies and even the monarchy,” said Sultan Nazrin.

He expressed hope that leaders would improve the quality of the country’s institutions and not allow their integrity be undermined.

The Ruler also spoke on the importance of keeping universities and academic institutions free of materialistic demands of “progress” and industries”. He reminded academic administrators of the original role of education to create a well-balanced graduate, instead of producing cogs for the wheels of industries.

“This traditional humanistic role of universities has changed since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It has increasingly diverged from its historical mission as a place of human transformation by seeking knowledge and understanding for their own sake, towards becoming a place for training graduates solely to meet the needs of our industries and businesses.

“That original humanistic transformative role of universities may be in danger of extinction if we continue simply to follow the requirements of our material world in its sheer materialism.

“It is for this reason that our university leaders and administrators today, I believe, should not forget that original ‘metaphysical’ mission and pay heed to the transformative role that universities ought to play in society.”

The Sultan also touched on the refugees crisis in Europe, and said Muslim nations should do more to assist them.

“I have been deeply moved by one Syrian refugee who recently compared the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Abyssinian Christian King Negus, who famously sheltered Muslim refugees during their first Hijrah in the time of the Prophet.

“And another Syrian refugee eloquently said: ‘We will tell our children that Syrian migrants fled their country to come to Europe when Makkah and Muslim lands were closer to them’.

“I hope the ummah can do better in handling our own refugee crisis,” said Sultan Nazrin.

China’s Ambassador Tells Malaysia to Stop the Racism

September 26, 2015

China’s Ambassador Tells Malaysia to Stop the Racism

by John

china_ambassador_huang_mugshot_tmiAmbassador Huang

Huang Huikang, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia, is expected to be summoned to the country’s Foreign Ministry on September 28 for a remarkable visit last Friday to the center of a Chinese area threatened by Malay-supremacy thugs to say the Chinese government is opposed to terrorism, extremism and any forms of discrimination based on race.

Such an action by an Ambassador, not just in Malaysia but anywhere, is virtually unheard of. By any measure, it constitutes unprecedented interference in domestic politics and is viewed by critics as a raw assertion of Chinese power. China is now Malaysia’s second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to US$28.2 billion in 2014 and may well be the largest, since Malaysia’s trade with Singapore is US$33.3 billion and Singapore acts largely as an entrepôt, shipping goods on to other countries including China.

Huang’s stroll through Chinatown was a clear indication that China would not tolerate any form of criminal intimidation. But it has also raised serious concerns in the ethnic Chinese community that what is regarded as mainland ham-handedness could make it worse for them rather than better.

Nonetheless, despite the allegations of affront, Huang’s visit to the Petaling Street area appears to have played a role in bringing to a halt, however temporary, growing threats and intimidation by so-called Red Shirts led by a United Malays National Organization Division Chief named Jamal Md Yunos against Chinese hawkers and merchants in the area, the epicenter of the urban Chinese community, home of the historic 127-year-old central market and to hundreds of Chinese street hawkers and traders. Police arrested Jamal Yunos and warned Red Shirt protesters against marching through the area. The Red Shirts had been scheduled to march through Petaling Street today, Sept. 26 amid outright threats of violence.

The Red Shirt protest is closely tied to Malaysia’s deteriorating political situation, in which critics say the Prime Minister is attempting to use a perceived threat by the Chinese, who dominate the economic landscape, to attempt to dominate the political one as well via the Democratic Action Party, the predominant ethnic Chinese party. Najib’s position is threatened by not just the domestic political equation, but by investigations into allegations of money laundering and corruption by the US, Swiss, UK, French and Singaporean governments. 

He and UMNO officials have responded by blaming an international conspiracy to bring down parliamentary democratic rule in Malaysia. Add that international conspiracy the Chinese community. On Aug. 29, the good government NGO Bersih brought hundreds of thousands of protesters against to the streets in a two-day rally dominated by the Chinese, giving UMNO the opportunity to characterize the rally as a DAP stratagem to wreck the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition.

As tensions have grown, the Red Shirts have flung insults including Cina babi, meaning “Chinese are pigs,” seemingly with the support of officials linked to UMNO. Last week, police had to use water canon to drive back Red Shirt protesters attempting to force their way into the Petaling Street area, allegedly to demand that authorities raid traders allegedly selling fake goods or running other illegal activities.

Mahathir Mohamad, the 90-year-old former prime minister attempting to bring down Najib, charged last week that Najib is paying the protesters to distract from charges that US$861 million had mysteriously appeared in his personal bank account in 2013. Some of the protesters have acknowledged that they have been paid although Najib, in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, denied he had done so.

Huang, wearing a batik shirt, presented mooncakes to the traders in recognition of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which begins on Jan. 29. Reading from a prepared statement, he said that: “Nobody has the right to undermine the authority of the law or trample on the rule of law. The Chinese government has always pursued peaceful co-existence in international relationship and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. But with regard to the infringement on China’s national interests, violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses which may damage the friendly relationship between China and the host country, we will not sit by idly.”

“I think Najib has brought (the Ambassador’s action) upon himself,” said Din Merican, a longtime academic and blogger now teaching at a university in Cambodia. “His racist rhetoric is raising international concerns since in a globalized world, there are many stakeholders. Najib must show that he can protect the interest of foreign investors who have stakes in Malaysia. Fanning the flames of racial hatred and Islamic bigotry is not an option for him. China is sending a message to Najib to stop going overboard with his racism.  The non-interference argument can no longer be used when human rights are being abused with impunity. The Red shirts are Najib’s paid proxies. The besieged Prime Minister is looking for a pretext to declare emergency rule to extend his political life. He knows that UMNO and Barisan Nasional will lose the general election in 2018 if he remains Prime Minister.”

Ambassadors “don’t do that,” said Wong Chin Huat, a political scientist and fellow at the Penang Institute in Penang. “I find it extraordinary because Ambassadors don’t do things in public.You go make a call, you don’t leave a trace”. Wong pointed out that the Ambassador didn’t make a clear distinction whether he was speaking for Chinese nationals or Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese as well.

“That is a no-no in Malaysia,” Wong said. “Some ethnic Malays feel uncomfortable with the idea that a Chinese Ambassador is acting in a way that he appears to be representing the Chinese here. I would be offended myself if he is saying that. If he wants to express concern, he should be doing it privately.

Najib catches much of the blame from observers over Huang’s move, although Gerakan and the Malaysian Chinese Association, two ethnic Chinese component parties in the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition led by UMNO, come in for their own share of criticism.

“Najib is fomenting this to save his political skin,” said a Malay businessman who declined to be quoted by name. “But Gerakan and the MCA haven’t got the balls to stand up to him.”

“Malaysia views his remarks seriously,” a foreign ministry official told local media. “It is tantamount to interfering in Malaysia’s domestic affairs.”

Armand Azha Abu Hanifah,  a member of UMNO’s youth wing executive committee, demanded an apology from Huang for both the government and the Malaysian people.

The Closing of the Japanese Mind

September 26, 2015

Ask not (’tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away.
Seize the present (carpe diem); trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may–

The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace.

The Closing of the Japanese Mind

by Noah Smith
Most people who follow news from Japan will be paying attention to the economy, or possibly to the fist-fight that broke out in the Diet over security policy. But there was a huge and very worrying change in Japanese education policy that somehow hasn’t received much public notice.

Essentially, Japan’s government just ordered all of the country’s public universities to end education in the social sciences, the humanities and law.

The order, issued in the form of a letter from Hakubun Shimomura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, is non-binding. The country’s two top public universities have refused to comply. But dozens of public schools are doing as the government has urged. At these universities, there will be no more economics majors, no more law students, no more literature or sociology or political science students. It’s a stunning, dramatic shift, and it deserves more attention than it’s receiving.

It is also a very bad sign for Japan, for a number of reasons. First of all, eliminating social science could signal a return to a failing and outdated industrial policy. Many observers interpret the change as an economic policy itself, intended to move the Japanese populace toward engineering and other technical skills and away from fuzzy disciplines. But if this is indeed the aim, it’s a terrible direction for Japan to be going.

Japan’s rapid catch-up growth in the 1960s and 1970s was based on manufacturing industries. This is common for developing countries. But when countries get rich, they typically shift toward service industries. Finance, consulting, insurance, marketing and other service industries don’t produce material goods, but they help organize the patterns of production more efficiently — something Japan desperately needs.  Since it’s a country with a shrinking population, it can only grow by increasing productivity.

But Japanese productivity has grown very slowly since the early 1990s, and has fallen far behind that of the US If Japan is going to turn this situation around, it will need more than a workforce of skilled engineers. It will need managers who can communicate with those engineers and with each other. It will need conceptual thinkers who can formulate business plans and strategic vision. It will need marketers who can establish and increase Japanese brand recognition. It will need financiers who can channel savings away from old, fading industries and toward productive new ones. It will need lawyers to sort out intellectual property cases and help businesses navigate international legal systems. It will need consultants to evaluate the operations of unprofitable, stagnant companies and help those companies become profitable again.

In other words, it will need a bunch of social science and humanities students. So the education change is a big step backward economically. But what it signals about Japanese politics and the policy-making process might be even more worrying.

There may or may not be political reasons for the change. Japan’s humanities departments, like those in the US, lean heavily to the political left, and Japan’s conservative administration is in the process of reorienting security policy. More darkly, the change might be part of a wider attempt by social conservatives — Abe’s main power bloc — to move the country in a more illiberal direction by stifling dissent and discussion.

But the main takeaway is that Japan’s policy-making process is arbitrary and dysfunctional. According to Takuya Nakaizumi, an economics professor at Kanto Gakuin University, the changes were probably written not by Minister Shimomura himself, but by more junior members of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. If that is true, it means that sweeping policy changes, which will affect the entire economic and social structure of the nation, are being made by junior officials via an unaccountable and opaque process.

Nakaizumi also suggested to me that the changes might have been made by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, without consulting the Ministry of Finance (MOF) or the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). If so, that is even more worrying. METI and MOF understand the need for Japan to build a robust service-sector economy. But if they didn’t sign off on the education debacle, it means that policy that undermines their goals is being made right under their noses.

That would be very bad news for Japan, since it indicates a confused and disorganised policy-making apparatus. The sudden, sweeping nature of the reform, and the fact that it came from the ministries rather than the legislature, also highlights the woeful lack of checks and balances in the Japanese system. It takes large, expensive popular movements to undo the bad policies made by unaccountable officials in back rooms. Such a movement is already coalescing to fight the education policy changes. But even if that effort succeeds, the policy changes will have created great risk, cost and disruption.

Japan needs to keep educating students in the social sciences and humanities. It needs to avoid a doomed attempt to return to a developing-country model of growth. It needs a more robust, less arbitrary, more transparent policy-making regime. Minister Shimomura’s diktat bodes ill for all of these things. — Bloomberg

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Pope Francis: The Man of Faith, Reason, and Temperance at UNGA

September 26, 2015

Pope Francis: The Man of Faith, Reason, and Temperance at UNGA

Pope Francis of The Holy See says:

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.–Pope Francis

Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.

This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in 1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.

The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast- paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.

Pope Francis at the UNPope Francis of the Holy See@UNGA

For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.

Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.

The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.

The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.

At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.

For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.

The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).

Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement.

When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.

Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.

I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).

El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.

The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).

The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.

The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.

Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.

Cambodia: New Challenges Ahead

September 26, 2015

Cambodia: New Challenges Ahead

by  David Van

Both individuals (PM Hun Sen and Mr. Sam Rainsy) should be commended for embracing the Culture of Dialogue and their attempts to build bridge between their feuding parties to bring about more civilized interaction. Nonetheless, several hiccups have occurred as both sides are still learning to adjust to this new culture of refraining from using certain language.–David Van

Hun Sen with Sam Rainsy

Samdech Hun Sen’s Politics of Engagement by Dialogue

Two solid years after Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed in an hours-long speech at the inaugural first Cabinet Meeting to lead a “Reform Mandate” (2013-2018), the momentum has subsided and the balloon has deflated. The New Normal has ceded place to the Old Normal.

Reflecting back to leadership quality and challenges described in books published by two leading authors and global economic strategists Dean Williams and Ronal Heifetz, effective leadership does not come easy for everyone.

Effective leadership is not forcing people to push through change neither imposing change through fear and intimidation but trying to persuade and bring people around a common denominator and way of thinking to provoke change.

Prime Minister Hun Sen seemed to encounter strong undercurrents internally from party veterans who are reluctant to embrace change so critical to ensure a continued grip on power come 2018 General Elections. Reforms initiated by only a handful of ministries produced limited visible effects with the majority of ministries standing idle without any accountability.

Minority Leader Sam Rainsy has had difficulty in ensuring cohesive party discipline with some members recently stoking the dangerous flame of nationalism through provocative statements and unproductive actions about border maps instead of acting more comprehensively as a Shadow Government and proposing concrete alternative policies.

Cambodia_BannerAngkor Wat–A Tourist Magnet

Both individuals should be commended for embracing the Culture of Dialogue and their attempts to build bridge between their feuding parties to bring about more civilized interacton. Nonetheless, several hiccups have occurred as both sides are still learning to adjust to this new culture of refraining from using certain language.

Still, both sides remain stuck in merely politicking with each other while the economy seems stuck in a quagmire of “catching up” strategy while Cambodia’s ranking in Ease of Doing Business by the World Bank remains at the bottom.

Cambodia Vietnam Rwanda
2009 135 92 143
2015 135 78 46

Source: World Bank

The issue of ease of doing business has assumed new relevance with the release earlier this month of the Cambodia Industrial Development Plan by the government, which is designed to develop new high-value added industries, promote small and medium enterprises, increase agricultural production and encourage support industries to support agriculture, tourism and the garment sector. 

The economy remains highly dependent on a narrow base of garment and footwear manufacturing, which rose 11 percent year-on-year according to the Asian Development Bank, down from 14.5 percent a year earlier as global demand has continued to sag. Tourist arrivals, another major income source, also decreased to 4.6 percent from 5.2 percent a year earlier. However, the garment industry faces increased competition arising from the appreciation of the US dollar, and from other low-wage competitors including Myanmar, which is just getting into the game.

While ADB data indicate that domestic demand is holding up, there is a pressing need to diversify the economy away from low-wage sources, which can quickly disappear as soon as multinationals discover a country that pays less to its workers. Can Cambodia think boldly enough to leapfrog?

The societal fabric of Cambodia has strong diversity in many different groupings of people gathering around a same pattern of mindset, biases, beliefs and educational background, including linguistic acquisition through years of overseas education.

Our leaders should tap into this diversity to consolidate various views and experiences as well as intellect to contribute to our society and policy making wider consultation.

As demographic change brought about an ever growing number of young in the electorate only care for better jobs and living standards which only a constantly improving economy can provide, the next electoral battle topic could shift to these simple but crucial bread and butter themes.

David Van is a member of CAMPRONET (a platform of Cambodian Professionals from all backgrounds)