Ethics in Governance: The dethroning of our value system


Ethics in Governance: The dethroning of our value system

by Firoz Abdul Hamid

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“So I have just one wish for you – the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.” 

Richard P. Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1965

faffTrust. Integrity. Honour. Lexicons or Values? The month of November 2018 witnessed many boardroom dramas. Revelations of Facebook in the New York Times spoke of an unbecoming culture of ‘Delay, Deny and Deflect’ allegedly practised by the most senior people in one of the largest corporations ruling this world today: People who we idolise, our children want to emulate, those who frequent talk shows and international business forums. These are people we trust as exemplars for our companies, yet in a public listed company that necessitates high levels of governance, we hear reports of culture that promotes the contrary.

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And then we saw Carlos Ghosn, the Chairman and CEO of Renault who allegedly used company funds for personal purposes. Another case of a public listed company that missed its mark on governance, it would seem. We had German police raiding Deutsche Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt as part of an investigation into whether the lender helped criminals launder money through offshore tax havens when it was not long back HSBC was fined for money laundering offences in Mexico.

These cases and companies are by no stretch of the imagination small feat adventures. These companies are and have been emulative models of case studies for management schools, its leaders receive invites to Davos and we in the ‘developing world’ are made to believe that they are who we should model our market success on.

 

Now – zooming into my own country, Malaysia. It is heart breaking to read day in day out, of late, how the house of cards is crumbling in its own weight in some of our companies with long legacies and national agendas, like Felda Corporation where its entire former board has been sued for losses and bad investment decisions. As if this was not heart wrenching enough this week, we then read Malaysia’s 64 billion ringgit ($21 billion) Muslim pilgrimage saving fund, Tabung Haji (TH), is said to be short of  four billion ringgit of deposits. The story which broke in the Singapore Sunday Times alleges that TH faked its 2016 accounts to justify its dividends. This in the same month we were told the movie-bound 1MDB Auditor General Report was tampered with. Having had several books written after it, made into documentaries and now waiting for its casts to be selected so they can film an all-Hollywood movie with all its trappings for more Malaysians to go watch how we were lied to and how our hard earned monies misused – these escapades are no longer amusing.

Added to this, we are witnessing politicians being hauled up for alleged corruption, the existing government (Pakatan Harapan) being questioned for their said promises in their election manifesto and their intent in honouring the promises. Yes in a glass half full scenario one can argue, we are witnessing transparency and rule of law taking its course. But the bigger question really is – how did we get here 61 years since our independence. Shouldn’t the systems, processes and institutions be solid enough to avert such malfeasances? Shouldn’t we have a civil service and/or leaders of government-linked companies who know that political campaigning is just wrong – yet we had very highly educated leaders, not least highly respected ones who ignored this basic ethics.

So my questions are: How did these people get to these positions? Who selected the company boards and its management teams for these companies? What were the criteria of these selection processes and what are their performance measures – or is it arbitrarily done by a few (in the corridors of power) peoples’ likes/dislikes as was suggested in a recent article in The Star?

Shouldn’t the criteria of selection be made public, for after all they are being paid by the public? Shouldn’t they (i.e. those who selected these leaders – CEOs and boards) too be hauled up for accountability when those they selected or appointed fail the country and its people?

Shouldn’t the criteria of selection be made public, for after all they are being paid by the public? Shouldn’t they (i.e. those who selected these leaders – CEOs and boards) too be hauled up for accountability when those they selected or appointed fail the country and its people?

We have CEOs in this country leading companies on behalf of the government who themselves are struggling with words like vision, mission and governance. They simply cannot understand the concept of business judgement and sustainability. Yet these candidates make the cut. I have sadly come face to face with one too many.

We have CEOs in this country leading companies on behalf of the government who themselves are struggling with words like vision, mission and governance. They simply cannot understand the concept of business judgement and sustainability. Yet these candidates make the cut. I have sadly come face to face with one too many.

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When I interviewed the current Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, in July 2018, he spoke of his total frustration and exasperation in the breakdown of governance in our public sector and government-linked companies. He stressed on the rule of law being the way forward. This sentiment I am certain is shared by many in the country – from housewives to fishermen, from the jobless graduate to a janitor, from an underpaid and overworked teacher to a well-paid executive in a leather office.

Yet my gut keeps nagging the one question – the ones leading these companies and departments in government are no fools. They ARE well educated, they are sent to programmes (after programmes) and courses by their companies and the regulators regularly here and abroad (all paid for I might add) – yet we find these missteps, these blunders and these blood boiling news of blatant failure in public trust.

Who exactly is in charge one can’t help but wonder? Who is checking and monitoring these boards and CEOs and their management teams? In a 2014 debate at the Oxford Union, Christopher Hedges, a journalist and writer, argued that often we really do not know who is covering up for who. The committees know they are being lied to. The whole system is designed to cover up each other and this right to the door of parliamentary committees or its equivalent.

 

A friend of mine in his recent fit of frustration of this barrage of government-linked companies news argued that maybe they (the public sector and government-linked companies) have no sense of accountability because they know these funds are government-guaranteed. At the most they would be suspended or demoted within the public sector (unless clear proof of corruption). He also said that the infamous ‘passing of the buck’ rotates from the board to the CEO, to the audits (internal and external), back to the umpteen committees we have in an organisation as a feel-good factor, never mind our love for taskforces as soon as we hit a wall of problems yet no one is really in charge. No clear accountabilities. No clear indication where the buck stops.

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The well-known historian Arnold J. Toynbee, who famously wrote the nine-volume book A Study of History said that civilizations start to decay when they lose their moral fibre and the cultural elite turns parasitic, exploiting the masses and creating an internal and external proletariat.

He emphasized the importance of spiritual dimension in shaping civilisations. Toynbee studied the rise and fall of 21 civilisations and amongst others concluded civilisations fail when pride and hubris kicks in. Standard. We all know this. But he also speaks of the importance of the creative minority. This is the group of people who are able to challenge the status quo. Able to unfix and fix problems. Most of the time we have people who create a problem and then have no clue how to fix them. We also have those who give solutions to a problem but have no clue how it should then work.

The creative minority, Toynbee argue are those able to decipher what ails the society, and produce solutions that works in  order that society/civilisation moves to its next echelon of dignity – or growth as we call it today. These people are beyond your standard technocrats. They understand human dimension, sociology, culture and, in essence, they build the very fundamentals and the fabric of a strong society. When a society loses this creative minority, and when hubris and arrogance kicks in, the all famous ‘yes man’ syndrome will be its default setting. That’s when you start witnessing the house of cards fall right before your eyes.

The Roman Empire rose because of its greatness in structure and discipline. Its ultimate demise happened when lawlessness crept in, similar to the Ottomans. Hubris ruled and a sense of conceit and arrogance became honourable to embrace. The entire Abrahamic depiction of Pharaoh (the master) and Moses (the slave) plays out in every aspect of society even now in the 21st century. Today we can safely say the story of Pharaoh and Moses is well and truly alive in many parts of our own society, waiting to be destroyed by the parting of the Red Sea. In his recent essay, Terence Fernandez, a Malaysian journalist,  for instance wrote of the culture of sabotage in the public service and how it is affecting the new government operating and this after walking into a post-election (GE14) with such hope for change.

The entire governance system in Malaysian institutions needs to see a deep overhaul and the leadership at the very top has to own this problem and set it right. For if we do not, no amount of measures, programmes, talks, committees, task forces or retreats will save the day. It is a fundamental change of value system and culture necessary -one that takes time — one that isn’t always popular with politicians who by and large work towards the next election, and certainly not a top priority for three-to-five-years contract chief executives whose key performance measure is bottom line.

Malaysia needs to expand and grow its creative minority. We need many more who are able to stand up in the crowd and say: this is wrong and, no, this will not work. We need people who speak truth to power in our public sector and government-linked companies. We really are in desperate need of more people with moral courage in our boardrooms and the corridors of power, people who are able to rationally articulate wrong when it simply is wrong. This does not require an Ivy League degree. It does not require scores of titles. It requires a culture that incentivises moral courage. For this to happen throughout the entire value system, its incentives and remuneration system and culture must change. This has to be led by the CEO of the country (our Prime Minister), not a task force.

In the wake of the brutal Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi’s, murder in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, US President Donald Trump was faced with making a call on his stand on the case and he said (and I paraphrase) – the front and center is American interest and that is jobs and money. When interests are aligned to parameters that change with the next stock market cycle and speculative traits, a company really is doomed to fail. A country on its way to destruction. A civilisation on its journey to ruins.

If we do not exert values, by that, good values, on our core interests to growth, for fear of losing our jobs, titles and status, we are literally opening the doors for our children to bear the burden of our own self-interests. To put it simply if not bluntly, if we do not stand apart with moral courage and are willing to take the bullet for speaking the truth today in highlighting wrongs in our companies and institutions, what we are essentially doing is diverting that bullet for our kids and grandchildren to take, for our sins.

That really is the simple truth. This is why Feynman’s quote above is so poignant for our times.

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Investvine contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

 

 

 

 

Wanted: A new National Narrative


December 4, 2018

Wanted: A new national narrative


 

Forward thinking: When Datuk Onn Jaafar founded Umno over 70 years ago, he relentlessly wrote and cajoled the Malays to work hard, to study hard, to send their daughters to school, to be entrepreneurs, to be brave and confident, to take risks and be their own bosses. — Photo courtesy of National Archives

Forward thinking: When Datuk Onn Jaafar founded Umno over 70 years ago, he relentlessly wrote and cajoled the Malays to work hard, to study hard, to send their daughters to school, to be entrepreneurs, to be brave and confident, to take risks and be their own bosses. — Photo courtesy of National Archives

 

IN my agama school in Johor Baru in the 1960s, I learnt about Iblis (Satan) who refused to bow down with the other angels before the first human (Adam) that God crea­ted. When God asked why, Iblis said, “I am better than him; You created me from fire and you created him from dirt.” For his contempt and his disobedience, God cast Iblis out of heaven.

This parable has remained in my mind as it is this belief in one’s superiority that is the root of cruelty and injustice in the world. To think that one is better, one is greater, one is superior than the other in the name of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, caste, class, leads to all manner of injustice against those who are different from us – for no other reason than the fact that they are different. It is the logic of Satan.

At last Tuesday’s seminar on Islam and Human Rights organised by JJAKIMakim and Suhakam, the de facto Minister for Religion, Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof, made an impassioned plea for Muslims to recognise that human rights are a part of Islamic belief. He sprinkled his speech with verses from the Quran and stories from Prophet Muhammad’s life to illustrate the values of justice, compassion, dignity, freedom of religion, non-discrimination, and anti-racism.

Human rights, he said, constitute “darah daging” (inherent in) Islam. There will never be peace, he warned, if one side insists that its race or its religion is superior as the other side will then retaliate with its own claim of superiority. Two Malay men who had entered the hall in tanjak and keris regalia to display their “superior” Malay identity slinked away in silence after the speech.

Mujahid said he wanted to create a new narrative for a new Malaysia. I believe this is an imperative given the dogged efforts by the supremacists of race and religion to destabilise this new government and derail its change agenda. And I hope Mujahid’s colleagues in the Cabinet and the Pakatan Harapan leadership and membership will share his courage of conviction to do the same. For Malaysia cannot afford to go on being polarised on the basis of race and religion.

Events over the past few weeks reveal the continuing agenda of these desperate demagogues to incite hate and escalate further the sense of siege and fear among certain segments of the Malay community. These mischief makers are priming for violence, with threats of blood being shed and another May 13 being engineered. Such incitement to hatred and violence constitute criminal acts that must not be allowed to go unpunished.

It is obvious that those baying for blood are those who have lost political power and lucrative financial entitlements that they were used to. If they can no longer plunder the country at will as in the past, let’s tear this country asunder so that no one else benefits, seems to be their plan. And they dare proclaim they are doing this in order to protect the Malays and Islam? What an insult. You can fool some Malays some of the time, but you can’t fool all the Malays all of the time.

Enough Malays stood up on May 9 to say enough is enough and voted for change. Let’s get real here. While Pakatan Harapan might have garnered only 30% of the Malay votes, Umno’s share of the Malay votes plummeted by a whopping 15%. There was not just a significant Malay swing, but also a youth swing against Umno and all that it stood for – epitomised by a leader who thought it was all right that RM2.6bil could enter his personal bank account, countenanced by his cabinet and his party leadership.

The challenge before this Pakatan Harapan government is to find effective ways to build more Malay support for its change agenda. Who really pose a threat to the well-being of the Malays? Those who claim to speak in their name and yet plundered the wealth of the nation for personal gain cannot possibly be the champions of those left behind.

The focus of affirmative action must be on those left behind. They have a right to feel aggrieved, not the privileged UMNOputras whose gravy train is wrecked, with no spare parts in sight. Rising inequality and low wages must be addressed immediately so that these demagogues who exploit the vulnerabilities of those left behind have little space to advance their us-versus-them hate narratives.

Datuk Onn Jaafar would be crying in his grave to know that almost 100 years after he relentlessly wrote and cajoled the Malays to work hard, to study hard, to send their daughters to school, to be entrepreneurs, to be brave and confident, to take risks and be their own bosses, the party he founded is today led by those who manufacture endless threats in order to keep the Malays feeling insecure and fearful, instead of building their confidence and their capacity to embrace change.

Onn was obsessed since the 1920s with the backwardness of the Malays, and the need to “betulkan orang Melayu” (get the Malays on the right path). I choke at the sight of our 93-year-old Prime Minister still obsessed with this same mission.

It is a tragedy that 72 years after the founding of UMNO, 61 years of being the dominant party in power, 47 years of affirmative action, these UMNO leaders and Ketuanan Melayu agitators still cannot figure out what they might have done wrong if the Malays still feel insecure and left behind in the country’s development. Obviously, their priority is not to find solutions. Their priority is how to get back into power. Since the rakyat have lost confidence in their leadership, and refuse to buy into their race and religion under threat mantra, they are upping the ante by publicly baying for blood and violence. What a disgrace, what a betrayal.

But how do you get those Malays who feel threatened by every conceivable difference to deal with the realities of the Malaysia and the world they live in today? How does this new government undo the damage of decades of indoctrination and demonisation against the Chinese, the Christians, the DAP, the liberal Muslims, the LGBT community, the Shi’as, the Ahmadiyyahs, and against principles and standards that uphold equality, non-discrimination, human rights, liberalism and pluralism. These were all constructed as bogeymen used to divide the nation in order to build Malay groupthink for their Ketuanan Melayu and authorita­rian brand of Islam to maintain power and privilege.

This pipeline of hate and mistrust must be plugged.The latest Merdeka Centre survey on religious extremism in Southeast Asia shows that narratives matter. Muslims who believe in the diet of conservative beliefs such as a literalist understanding of Islam, the primacy of hudud law, and reviving the Islamic Caliphate are those who feel animosity towards others who are different from them and who hold violent and non-violent religious extremist tendencies. Around 66% of Muslims in Malaysia want non-Sunni sects to be banned, and only 41% support multi-faith education, compared to 73% non-Muslims who believe that students should learn the religious beliefs of all groups. What is also disturbing is the attitude towards Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. Muslim respondents in Malaysia look negatively towards these “outgroups”, when asked to rank their attitudes towards others. Malaysian Muslims also scored the highest in terms of support for Jemaah Islamiyah (18%) and ISIS (5%), compared to Muslims in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

May 9 has given us hope that change is possible. The new Malaysia must build new dominant narratives on a just and compassionate Islam in a Malaysia that is big enough for every one of every hue and colour.

Those in government, in academia, in business, in the media, and in civil society must take the bull by the horn in loudly challenging the hate spewed out by these supremacists who use race and religion to divide the nation for political and personal gain. Rule of law must be upheld and the authorities must take firm action against those who incite racial and religious hatred. The responsibility to steer this nation to embrace diversity and differences belong to all of us.

There is no other choice. We need to reimagine and rebuild this new Malaysia if we want to live together in peace and prosperity in an inclusive country that should be a model to the Global South and to the Muslim world. We were once that country. We will, we must, we can, once again, be that model.

 

Can planet Earth survive Asia’s economic drive?

The Sustainable State is Hong Kong-based environmentalist and author Chandran Nair’s second book, following  Consumptionomics, published in 2011. Both call for urgent recognition of the looming ecological disaster for humanity. The book launch in Hong Kong’s trendy Lan Kwai Fong district on Nov. 13 was billed as a conversation between Nair, and Zoher Abdool Karim, the recently retired TIME Asia editor. Nair’s manifesto dominated. A bemused Zoher was the smiling prop. The audience could have gained more from meaningful interlocution.

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Chandran Nair has been the town crier on environmental disaster for 20 years. He faults industrialization, capitalism, free enterprise and liberal economics, for destroying the ecosystems of rivers, forests, air and water on so vast a scale, that life itself is the price paid by the poorest across the developing world. Malnutrition, starvation, and lack of access to potable water, plagues many societies at subsistence level.

Resource curse

The developed world prospered from early industrialization to capture vast resources via conquest and colonization of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he writes. The poorest societies hold the richest deposits of minerals, fossil fuels and land for plantations of rubber, palm oil, tea and coffee. Pesticides and insecticides from Monsanto and others destroy their soils and ruin their water systems. They have also been too frequently run by kleptocrats.

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What he calls the “externalities” of capitalist trade – environmental degradation, pollution, social dislocation, disease and malnutrition, impact the poorest disproportionately. Therein lies the supreme irony. Nair wants these externalities of economic activity priced and charged directly to corporations. He also wants individual accountability for wasteful consumption computed for carbon footprints and taxed to discourage waste.

Responsible development and consumer habits need to be enforced, if we are to survive our collective unwisdom. How the corporations and individuals would agree to these principles, and the respective methods to calculate the amounts to pay, are undefined. Nair does not expect the culprits to volunteer. By the legal trick of defining corporations as ‘persons,’ companies can argue rights protecting individual citizens, under national Constitutions.

Migration to cities in Europe progressed over an extended period, without too much social disruption. Rural migration to cities in the developing economies is too rapid, within a compressed time-frame. Slum populations struggle without sanitation, proper housing, access to fresh water, electricity, or schooling for children, in too many cities across the developing world. This hollowing-out of rural populations is wasteful.

Rethink development

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A whole new raft of public policies needs to evolve for ecological balance. Development plans to retain rural manpower and incentivize agricultural food security, are absent. Urban dwellers have to pay higher prices for natural produce, instead of buying packaged food in supermarkets. Efficient public transport systems have to be built to prevent city traffic gridlock. Electric vehicles have to replace fossil fuel engines.

Nair’s nightmare is the adoption by developing countries of the Western model for economic growth. India and China will constitute 30 percent of the global 10 billion by 2050. Add Africa, Latin America, and the rest of developing Asia to that, and the consequences of feckless industrialization, along with wasteful urban consumption, are too obvious. Nair advocates a radical overhaul of the development mindset.

Prescriptions from the developed world peddled by the World Bank and the IMF, in Nair’s mind, exceed Planet Earth’s healing capacity. Natural resource depletion and poisoning of the earth, water and air, must be stopped now. Hurricanes and typhoons destroying habitats and flooding societies, are increasing in frequency and ferocity. The consequences are all too real for climate change deniers.

The weight of floating plastic in the oceans will soon exceed that of the global fish stock. This poison has entered our food chain, killing us slowly while choking sea life. Human overpopulation, food cultivation and de-forestation, wipes out wildlife at the rate of 30,000 species per year, according to Harvard biologist E O Wilson. Now our collective irresponsibility will kill the oceans too.

Prioritize social equity

If replicating the Western growth model is madness, what are the alternatives? Nair moves into contentious territory on this. He calls for strong government and a revised development agenda. Rather than Hollywood-movie lifestyles, he suggests inclusive policies for all citizens to ensure clean water, electricity, sanitation, universal education and gainful employment as minimal benchmarks. Modest prosperity benefits all.

Social equity, well-being and protection of nature cannot be achieved without political legitimacy and effective rulership. Governance has been hijacked by Big Biz and sponsor politicians. Lobby groups target lawmakers. PR companies spin fakery for corporations and politicians. The mass media is co-opted through advertising and ownership. All at the expense of gullible citizens, led to believe they have some say every five years.

Strong state works

Nair contrasts the dysfunctions of India with the success of China. He skates on thin ice where individual rights and freedoms can be ignored, for the collective good. He says only a “strong” state has the mass mobilization capacity to marshal people, resources and investment, for sustainable development. To Nair, Hong Kong is a weak state unable to address basic public housing. He jests that a boss imposed by Beijing can fix that.

The European Union is a strong authority able to mandate socially responsible policy across its constituent members. Britain and the US are weak states floundering for effective governance, polarized by divisive populist politics. Nair is less interested in ideologies of the Left or Right, than in the State as effective authority for the common good. He wants the institutions of good governance strengthened at every level.

Oddly, Nair dismisses world governance as the solution. The United Nations, overly compromised by funding dependency and too timid to upset powerful voting blocs, is not his answer. Where then will the needed global course-correction come from? The issues Nair raises are urgent. Are we doomed to self-destruct by default anyway? If he has an answer, Nair has not articulated it in his books, or his public campaigns. Perhaps there might be a third book for that.

Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face


November 27, 2018

Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/453556

QUESTION TIME | If we thought that UMNO-style gangster politics is dead and gone with New Malaysia, we have been very sadly mistaken as the recent issue over the ratification of the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) shows.

Somehow or other, the ratification of this convention has been taken to be a major attack on the special privileges of bumiputeras, including Malays, resulting in a cacophony of protests by UMNO and PAS, which were rather badly handled by the Harapan government.

It is no such thing.  There are enough safeguards and provisions in the IICERD for the special privileges of bumiputeras to continue and there are countries such as the US which ratified the treaty, saying its own constitution provides for those rights, and if there is any problem, then its constitution will stand supreme against ICERD.

Despite what Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said about having to amend the constitution, which would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, to ratify Icerd, most expert legal opinion is that there is no such necessity. In fact, Mahathir had said in September at the UN General Assembly that Malaysia would ratify six UN conventions, which includes Icerd.

The about-turn that Harapan made over Icerd is substantive for one very important reason: it has basically submitted to the blackmail of UMNO and PAS who had threatened not just demonstrations but violence. Demonstration organisers talked openly about creating another May 13 in videos that went viral, raising needless alarm and concern.

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The mute Malaysian Women Libbers

That will only encourage them to come up again and again with gangster-style tactics of violence and bloodbath when every issue of importance is debated. Capitulation to them now over an important issue in Malaysian politics will only make them raise their voices higher and their threats more severe in future.

What was terribly surprising was the silence and muted response by Harapan leaders over an issue which had been twisted and turned by the opposition UMNO and PAS into a highly explosive racial and religious one.

Social redress

There was no attempt to explain that ratifying the ICERD was in no way against bumiputera rights but was aimed at endorsing universal principles against any form of racial discrimination. ICERD specifically excludes special privileges for any community as a means of social redress for as long as that is necessary.

There are some who say that the Federal Constitution sets no limit on special privileges, but even that is not an issue as Icerd can be ratified subject to the primacy of a country’s own constitution as the US did when it ratified Icerd in 1994.

These concerns are addressed and allayed comprehensively in this article by respected constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi who deals with all the major legal and constitutional issues over ratifying ICERD.

 

Here are the concluding remarks of his article: “ Even if ratified by the executive, Icerd cannot displace Article 3 (Islam) (of the constitution), Article 153 (special position of the Malays and natives) and Article 181 (prerogatives of Malay Rulers). This is due to the legal fact that our concept of ‘law’ is defined narrowly in ArticIe 160(2) and does not include international law.

“The constitutional position on the ICERD is, therefore, this: Even if the ICERD is ratified by the executive, it is not law unless incorporated into a parliamentary Act. Even if so legislated, it is subject to the supreme constitution’s Articles 3, 153 and 181. Unless these Articles are amended by a special two-thirds majority and the consent of the Conference of Rulers and the Governors of Sabah and Sarawak, the existing constitutional provisions remain in operation.

“The ICERD is not a law but only a pole star for action. Its ideals cannot invalidate national laws. The agitation against it is contrived for political purposes and perceptive Malaysians must not allow themselves to be exploited by politicians.”

Unfortunately, that is exactly what Harapan has done by capitulating to UMNO-PAS and others threats of violence over Icerd at a demonstration to be organised on Dec 8. Now that demonstration is going to be a celebration of their “success” – how pitiable.

Here is the Prime Minister’s Office’s statement on the matter: “The Pakatan Harapan government will not ratify CERD. “The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, in which lies the social contract agreed to by representatives of all races during the forming of the nation.”

Narrow agenda

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A Janus-faced Malay Politician

“It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not”.–Gunasegaram

That pathetic statement follows upon Mahathir’s volte-face over signing ICERD, saying the untruth that a constitutional amendment is needed to ratify the convention, and taking the easy way out instead of explaining to the Malays, who appear to be the only bumiputra group opposed to the ratification, what the real situation is.

It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not.

And handing a victory on a platter to the gangster politics of UMNO, PAS and others who play up racial, religious and royalty sentiments and threaten violence, not in furtherance of Malay rights, but their own selfish, narrow agenda of capturing Malay votes and support.

It is more than a sorry state of affairs for it might lead to pressure on the entire Harapan reform agenda if a simple ratification of the ICERD can be turned into such a serious non-issue.


P GUNASEGARAM wonders how many more manifesto promises Harapan will break. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

ICERD Controversy Needs More than Politics to Resolve


November 26, 2018

ICERD Controversy Needs More than Politics to Resolve   

 

by Tawfik Ismail and Lim Teck Ghee

Two recent commentaries on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) ratification controversy have argued that it is necessary for the government to make known its position on the issue.

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According to the Sik-Bisik Awang Selamat column of Utusan Malaysia those who oppose ratification have a valid concern in that it will challenge the constitution which affects the special rights of the Malays, the bumiputeras and the Malay rulers. The column noted that the issue will continue to divide the nation as long as the government  drags its feet and does not come out with a clear and definitive decision. The Utusan writers also pointed out that If the politicians cannot take a firm stance on the issue, how can they expect to convince the populace?

 

The second commentary by Dr. Musa Mohd Nordin and Dr. Awaluddin Mohamed Shaharoun makes the point that that UMNO-PAS politicians are using the issue to create instability in their efforts to topple the Pakatan government. They also provide a necessary reminder to the public that PAS president, Hadi Awang, in an Utusan Melayu report dated 15 September 1985, then in his capacity as Terengganu State Commissioner, “pledged to abolish Malay rights if PAS came into power”. More specifically, he added that these include “the removal of Malay Reserve Land, National Economic Policy or other policies which only served the Malay interest. PAS promised that all races would be equitably treated”.

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Anti-ICERD rally is now void of reasoning

Although diametrically opposed in their support of the political parties, both sets of commentators seem to agree in assigning the primary responsibility for resolving the controversy to the political leaders of Pakatan and Barisan.

A politically driven top down authoritarian approach to managing this controversy now has taken place with the announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office that the Pakatan government has decided against ratifying the ICERD.

 

According to the PMO statement, “The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, in which lies the social contract agreed to by representatives of all races during the forming of the nation.”

 

While this clearly hasty and apparently panicky decision may have the effect of dousing the inflamed sentiments and views of some members of the public, it is at best a temporary band-aid or cooling agent.

What has happened is that the ICERD issue and the question of Malaysia’s ratification – for better or for worse – has become and will remain a cause celebre which will continue to generate widespread controversy, fierce campaigning by opposed groups and heated public debate.

 

To ensure that the ICERD ratification issue is not further hijacked by political parties and politicians for their own agenda,  a final government position needs to be made which takes into account the views of all stakeholders and the larger citizenry.

We propose the following process of examination and analysis to take place:

 

  1. The main objections expressed against ratification relate to concerns about how the international treaty will adversely affect the special position of the Malays, the other Bumiputeras, the Malay rulers, the Malay language, etc..

  2. In addition, the latest statement by PMO brings in a related but new issue of the ‘social contract’ agreed to by the various communities at the time of independence which the ICERD ratification apparently will conflict with.

  3. All major stakeholders – apart from political parties – should review the provisions of the ICERD and determine how the country’s act of ratification will exactly impact on each of their positions as well as on the so-called ‘social contract’.

  4. In particular, each major stakeholder identified by critics of the ICERD as having their position or rights or interests adversely affected by the treaty ratification – the Rulers Council, JAKIM and other Islamic bodies, social, cultural, language, academic, and other Bumiputra bodies and organizations should take the opportunity to give priority to this exercise and  communicate their findings and conclusions to the public and the government. In this way, they can either refute or confirm the concerns made by others on their behalf.

 

Silence from non-partisan and non-politically aligned key stakeholders will not serve the nation well.  We are all aware that fear and insecurity are being fanned and manipulated by the anti-ICERD Malay faction and this will not stop soon.

Finally, we note that the best way of responding to those who claim to represent or speak up on behalf of the Malays is to remind them of the wisdom of our past leaders in building the nation.

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One of the most influential leaders of our recent history, Tun Dr. Ismail, has explained that:

“The Special Position of the Malays [is] a handicap given to the Malays with the consent of all the other races who have become citizens of the country so as to enable the Malays to compete on equal footing for equal opportunities in this country. That and that alone is the only aim of the Special Position of the Malays.”  (From Ooi Kee Beng, “The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr. Ismail and his Time”, p. 225).

 

We believe that the ultimate national position on ICERD ratification – whether for or against it – should be derived from historically informed, empirically driven, truth-finding, objective and independent analysis along the lines we have set out. This alone can enable us to break the deadlock over the issue and be acceptable to the great majority of Malaysians who want the country to put this issue behind them and to move on.

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*Tawfik Ismail, eldest son of Tun Dr Ismail, is an alumni of St. John’s, Royal Military College and Oxford University. He represented Sungei Benut as Member or Parliament from 1986 till 1990.

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Dr. Lim Teck Ghee is a public policy analyst and author of the book, Challenging Malaysia’s Status Quo.  He is also co-author of the recent book on the 14th GE, Anatomy of an Electoral Tsunami.

 

 

 

ICERD, New Malaysia and the Politics of Ketuanan Melayu


November 26, 2018

ICERD, New Malaysia and the Politics of Ketuanan Melayu

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2018/11/22/icerd-and-the-end-of-malaysia-baru/

by Dennis Ignatius@www. freemalaysiatoday.com

The more things change, the more they stay the same. – Alphonse Karr

Malaysians must be scratching their heads over how quickly the ICERD has gone from being a symbol of hope to a stark reminder that we have yet to come to grips with the racism that has plagued our nation for so long.

It was only a few weeks ago when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, speaking at the United Nation’s (UN) General Assembly as head of the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, proudly announced to the world that “the new Malaysia will firmly espouse the principles promoted by the UN in our international engagements. These include the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability”.

In this context, and while admitting that it was a sensitive issue, he “pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments (including ICERD) related to the protection of human rights”.

His speech was immediately hailed both at home and abroad as an indication of the new government’s commitment to human rights and democracy.

The Ketuanan Melayu pushback

The reaction of Umno-PAS and other Ketuanan Melayu groups was fast and furious. Insisting, contrary to the facts, that ICERD directly challenged Malay rights, the position of the rulers and even the role of Islam in Malaysia, they demanded that the government abandon plans to ratify ICERD.

Add to that unverified reports of unknown groups distributing Bibles to Malays (even leaving copies in mosques, apparently) and UMNO-PAS had all the ingredients necessary to create the perfect political storm. Having found a lethal mix of race and religion that could galvanise public opinion, divert attention from their own failures and put PH on the defensive, they are now enthusiastically milking it for all its worth. And it’s going to be worth a great deal to them.

Umno president Zahid Hamidi, in the best traditions of his party, starkly warned that the Malays would run amok if ICERD was ratified. PAS leader Hadi Awang, always at his best when it comes to religious demagoguery, insisted that it was “compulsory for Muslims to oppose ICERD” as it would diminish the special position of Islam in the country and weaken the Malays yet further.

Of course, ICERD does no such thing; it is in reality more an aspirational convention rather than a binding treaty. Members are given wide leeway to carve out for themselves exceptions to satisfy their own local laws; dozens of countries have, in fact, done so. Indeed, several local legal experts have confirmed that ratifying ICERD would not violate the constitution. Malay extremists, however, are determined to read into it whatever serves their nefarious agenda.

Anti-ICERD rallies are now being planned across the country with a mammoth one scheduled to take place on December 8. It is telling that the same people who did nothing when billions were being looted from the public purse, when our nation was being literally sold off to a foreign power, are now ready to push the country to the brink of instability over a non-existent threat.

In the meantime, a vicious and racist anti-DAP campaign, perhaps the worst we’ve ever seen thus far, is now underway.

PH in full retreat

Initially, PH luminaries defended the decision to ratify ICERD; it was, after all, mooted by none other than the Prime Minister himself at a very high-profile international event.

Mujahid Yusof Rawa (Minister in Prime Minister’s Department for religious affairs), for example, took Malay rights groups, including PAS, to task for claiming that Malay rights would be abolished if the convention is ratified. He stressed that ICERD “will not have any impact on what’s protected under the Federal Constitution”. PPBM president and Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said essentially the same thing.

However, as right-wing pressure grew, PH’s resolve crumbled and its ministers beat a hasty retreat from ICERD.

Muhyiddin started worrying publicly about whether ICERD would undermine the special position of the Malays. Syed Saddiq, the PPBM Youth chief and youth and sports minister, expressed concern that ICERD could undermine constitutional provisions pertaining to Malay rights. Other ministers with the exception of Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (who continues to valiantly defend ICERD) simply kept their heads down.

PKR President Anwar Ibrahim, always ready to stand decisively on both sides of an issue, said that while ICERD did not conflict with the constitution, there was no hurry to ratify it given other more pressing priorities – as if the government cannot chew gum and walk at the same time. In Parliament, he even joined the chorus of opposition calls for the Foreign Minister to defer ratification.

Of course, all of them were careful not to reference the fact that it was the Prime Minister himself who surprised everyone by raising the issue at the UN. Mahathir himself finally agreed that it would be almost impossible for Malaysia to ratify ICERD because the government lacked the two-thirds majority it needed to amend the constitution. He also added that some aspects of ICERD were not suitable for Malaysia. It was a surreal moment that immediately begged the question of why the prime minister raised the issue at the UN in the first place.

Non-Malay politicians, for their part, justifiably terrified at being cast as the villains in the whole saga, are running for cover. DAP Secretary- General and Finance MMnister Lim Guan Eng said, “We did not raise the issue. It was Waytha (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department) who did.” MCA and Gerakan as usual attacked DAP.

Left holding the bag

Unsurprisingly, Waytha Moorthy, whose portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Department obliged him to steer the ICERD issue forward, has now become the fall guy.

More than 115,000 signatures have also been collected for a petition demanding Waytha’s resignation; he now joins a growing list of PH ministers – Theresa Kok, Kulasegeran, and Gobind Singh – whose resignations are being demanded by Ketuanan Melayu groups for one reason or another.

If Waytha is guilty of anything, it was simply of taking the Prime ,inister’s UN speech at face value and acting upon it, as most responsible ministers would. After all, the foreign minister had tabled the same UN speech in Parliament and received unanimous PH support for making it official policy. Unfortunately for Waytha, when push came to shove, all his Cabinet colleagues (save for the foreign minister) left him holding the bag.

A PH-made fiasco

ICERD has, undoubtedly, dealt a serious political blow to the PH government. Despite its good intentions, the government failed to do its homework, failed to build a clear consensus within its own ranks and failed to agree on a game plan to manage the ratification process once it committed itself to doing so. They came across as a party in disarray, unable to even agree on a common position. Worse still, they did not have the courage of their own convictions to stand their ground against Umno-PAS.

PH’s mishandling of the ICERD issue has now given UMNO-PAS a new lease of life. In a single swoop, Umno-PAS appears to have out-manoeuvred PH and put it on the defensive. ICERD has also allowed Umno-PAS to burnish their credentials as the preeminent defender of all things Malay. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a brilliant (if obnoxious) political gambit by a party that until recently was given up for dead.

More dangerously, it has also allowed UMNO-PAS an opportunity to claw back some of the political power it lost at the ballot box; by threatening to run amuck whenever it feels Ketuanan Melayu is challenged, it will now be able to strongly influence national policies without even being in the Cabinet.

At the end of the day, by exploiting ICERD, UMNO-PAS has now forced PH’s Malay leadership to compete with them on the issue of who can best defend Ketuanan Melayu. Rather than being consigned to the dustbin of history after May 9, Ketuanan Melayu will now become the altar at which all Malay politicians will have to offer obeisance if they wish to hold power.

If PH doesn’t act swiftly and decisively to extricate itself from this mess, it will be the end of Malaysia Baru as we know it.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT