Reflections on Achieving the Global Education Goals


February 15, 2019

Reflections on Achieving the Global Education Goals

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In today’s deeply interconnected world, the benefits of strong and inclusive education systems are far-reaching. A quality education gives people the knowledge they need to recognize the importance of safeguarding the planet’s finite resources, appreciate diversity and resist intolerance, and act as informed global citizens.

https://www.project-syndicate.oryO8cnaCfxvpRj6xZQWIVfABNo8v98hSxJ6_Tzc6M

 

NEW YORK – Throughout my life, I have seen the power of education. I have witnessed how quality education for all can support the creation of dynamic economies and help to sustain peace, prosperity, and stability. I have also observed how education instills in individuals, no matter their circumstances, a strong sense of self, as well as confidence in their place in the world and their future prospects.

We know that each additional year of schooling raises average annual GDP growth by 0.37%, while increasing an individual’s earnings by up to 10%. If every girl worldwide received 12 years of quality education, lifetime earnings for women could double, reaching $30 trillion. And if all girls and boys completed secondary education, an estimated 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty. According to a 2018 World Bank report, universal secondary education could even eliminate child marriage.

In today’s deeply interconnected world, the benefits of strong and inclusive education systems extend even further. Education gives people the knowledge they need to recognize the importance of safeguarding the planet’s finite resources, appreciate diversity and resist intolerance, and act as informed global citizens.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, created in 2000 to guide global development over the subsequent 15 years, gave new impetus to efforts to ensure education for all. From 2000 to 2015, primary-school enrolment in the developing world rose from 83% to 91%, reducing the number of out-of-school primary-school-age children from 100 million to 57 million. Moreover, from 1990 to 2015, the global literacy rate among people aged 15 to 24 increased from 83% to 91%, with the gap between men and women declining substantially.

But much remains to be done. Globally, at least 263 million children were out of school in 2016. This includes half of all children with disabilities in developing countries. Furthermore, half of all children of preschool-age – the most crucial years for their cognitive development – are not enrolled in early-childhood education.

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The situation deteriorates further in conflict zones, where girls are almost two and a half times as likely to be out of school as their peers in stable countries. And this does not cover the estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower-secondary-school age – 58% of that age group – who are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics.

To help close these gaps, the successor to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals, also emphasizes education. SDG4 commits the world to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – essentially to harness the power of education to unlock every person’s potential. Despite the scale of the challenge and the diverse barriers that can restrict and disrupt learning, we know what an effective strategy would entail.

First, to be a true force for change, education itself must be transformed in response to the realities of accelerating globalization, climate change and labor market shifts. While advanced technologies – such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and blockchain – raise new challenges, they may be able to play a role in improving educational outcomes. Digital skills must be part of any curriculum, and new alliances with the tech sector – which can provide valuable insights into these topics – should be actively pursued.

Second, an inclusive and lifelong approach, focused on reaching the most marginalized and vulnerable populations, is essential. As UNICEF’s Innocenti Report Card 15 shows, this does not mean sacrificing high standards. In fact, as the report points out, children of all backgrounds tend to do better when they are in a more socially integrated school environment. Such an inclusive approach will require sharing best practices and investing in what is proven to work. Meanwhile, development partners must provide long-term support that emphasizes capacity-building and institutions, and balances humanitarian, economic, and security imperatives.

For education systems and services to be truly inclusive, however, they must also leave no one behind, such as refugees. UNESCO’s latest Global Monitoring Report estimates that refugees have missed 1.5 billion school days since 2016. While eight of the top ten hosting countries, including several low- and middle-income countries, have shouldered considerable costs despite the strain on education systems to ensure that refugees attend school alongside nationals, most countries either exclude refugees from national education systems or assign them to separate facilities. This entrenches disadvantage and hampers social integration. The two landmark global compacts on migration and refugees adopted by UN member states last December point the way toward addressing this challenge.

Achieving the needed educational transformation will require far more financing than is currently on offer. As it stands, the global annual funding gap for education amounts to nearly $40 billion. Closing this gap will require not just increased domestic financing, but also a renewed commitment from international donors.

Everyone has the right to an education. Upholding this right – and achieving SDG4 – will require well-designed strategies, coupled with a prolonged commitment to implementation and effective cooperation among all relevant stakeholders. The UN and its agencies will continue to support such actions, as we strive to ensure that no one is left behind.

 

 

Orang Asli Development: A New Starting Point Needed


January 17, 2019

 

Orang Asli Development: A New Starting Point Needed. It is time to stop playing  politics with their future.

By Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Image result for orang asli malaysia The neglected and humiliated original Malaysians. Time to stop playing  politics with their future.

In the last few weeks there has been an unusual flurry of press statements drawing attention to the Orang Asli community. They include the announcement of a national conference to be held on January 11 to discuss proactive proposals to resolve the issues faced by the 200,000 Orang Asli in our country.

The conference – which seems to have been aborted – was to have been preceded by a roundtable discussion on January 6 to identify the primary issues faced by the community, including rights to land, infrastructure access, education, the digital gap and youth empowerment.

Image result for orang asli malaysia

Simultaneously, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail during a visit to Cameron Highlands declared that the Government was studying the need to create a comprehensive development plan in line with that of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 107 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples which encourages governments to involve Indigenous People in development projects and provides guidance on the protection of tribal people.

Observers may be forgiven if they have linked these announcements to the coming Cameron Highlands by election. Orang Asli votes comprise over 20% of the estimated 32,000 voters for this parliamentary constituency and are perceived to be a key swing factor in the much watched election taking place on 26 January.

Another Ditched Pakatan Harapan Promise?

Image result for dr wan azizah

For GOD’s sake, Wan Azizah– Get your priorities right

But perhaps the Orang Asli voters and the larger community in the country may want to give the benefit of the doubt to the new government in view of the promises contained in the Pakatan manifesto on the preservation of Orang Asli customary land rights and concern for their welfare and development.

Will this be one key election promise made by Pakatan that can be realized without too much delay and controversy?

After all, examination of the economic and socio-cultural indicators available including infant and child mortality, life expectancy, educational levels, income levels, etc. – and there can no dispute over them in respect to those of this minority community – point to the shameful reality that 60 years after independence, the Orang Asli community – indisputably the first peoples in the Malay Peninsula – remain the poorest, the most marginalized, and the most dispossessed of home, land, means of subsistence, history, language, culture and identity.

Image result for orang asli malaysia

To expedite the process of reintegration of Orang Asli into the mainstream of society, it is imperative that the old template for resolution of the community’s problems be discarded and a new starting point of reference is established to restore the rights and status of our first peoples.

New Starting Point to Correct Past and Present Wrongs

Here are 3 suggestions for the Pakatan government (and for whoever wins the Cameron by election) to consider:

  1. Ratify ILO convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples in place of ILO convention 106 which was introduced more than 60 years ago.  The newer convention 169 which came into force in 1991 but which Malaysia has yet to sign on has been found necessary in view of the worsening developments in the situation of indigenous and tribal peoples in all regions of the world. This has made it appropriate for countries to adopt new international standards and to remove the assimilationist orientation of the earlier convention.

                                   ILO Convention 169

Convention No. 169 represents a consensus on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples within the nation-States where they live and the responsibilities of governments to protect these rights. It is based on respect for the cultures and ways of life of indigenous peoples and recognizes their right to land and natural resources and to define their own priorities for development. The Convention aims at overcoming discriminatory practices affecting these peoples and enabling them to participate in decision-making that affects their lives

2   Resolve the land problems of the Orang Asli communities by recognising their ownership right to customary and ancestral lands and providing them with permanent titles. This can begin with analysis of land office, survey, mapping, forestry and other archival records of British colonial rule as well as the records of the post-colonial government which can establish the boundaries of areas where the Orang Asli have had their traditional settlements and hunting-gathering territories; and which,during the colonial period, were demarcated and regarded as Orang Asli territories.

3.  Honour the Orang Asli by recognizing their rightful place in this country through a national apology or a similar declaration from the highest level of government expressing regret for the historical injustices done to the community; pledging and honoring to right past wrongs committed during the colonial and post-colonial era; and promising action to build a sustainable and meaningful future for the community.

To date national political apologies or official expressions of remorse have taken place in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States of America, Norway and Sweden.  Similar expressions have also been recently made by political leaders in some Latin American countries with indigenous communities.

A declaration to this effect would be a significant first for Malaysia in the ASEAN Community while we would be the second nation after Taiwan in Asia to provide such a political initiative.

This move has been seen by scholars researching the topic of apologies to indigenous peoples in comparative perspective as having the merit of putting things on record and as a prelude to reconciliation and correction of ethical flaws in the state political culture.

More importantly to me, an official expression would demonstrate the nation’s commitment to respecting human rights, and upholding justice, equality and non-discrimination.

 

Bersatu’s inexorable move to becoming a sanitized, immunized and Bersih UMNO Terbaru 3.0


January 3, 2019

Bersatu’s inexorable move to becoming a sanitized, immunized and Bersih UMNO Terbaru 3.0

Opinion  | By P. Gunasegaram

Published:  |  Modified:

  QUESTION TIME | If anything, Bersatu’s recent annual general assembly starkly shows one thing – that it is merely an extension of the old UMNO (Baru,) and will use the model of Malay supremacy,ty and put back in place corruption via patronage politics.

The only way to check that unfortunate retrograde policy is for the other Pakatan Harapan partners, especially those who have three to four times the number of MPs Bersatu has, to exert their combined muscle to rightfully regain more influence in the coalition and restore the original reform agenda pre-GE14.

At the AGM, Bersatu vice-President Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, also a former Election Commission (EC) chairperson, termed pushbacks against delegates’ demands to be given government resources to help the party retain power as “stupid”.

Bad enough that you have the former EC chairperson advocating breaking laws but this same person was shockingly appointed in August last year to head a Putrajaya committee that will make recommendations on electoral law reform in two years time.

This same Abdul Rashid had been heavily criticised by both PKR and DAP, the dominant parties in Harapan, over his tenure from 2000 to 2008 as the EC chairperson. This continues a tendency for Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to appoint tainted,controversial and/or discredited people to important positions.

This includes Daim Zainuddin to head the Council of Eminent Persons; former Inspector-General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor (who brutally assaulted Anwar Ibrahim and gave him a black eye while in Police detention) to negotiate security arrangements with Thailand and former discredited aAtorneys-General to important positions.

Abdul Rashid’s comments at the Bersatu assembly are particularly galling and provocative and advocate extra-judicial measures to keep and extend Bersatu’s hold on power. These are clearly against the law but Abdul Rashid (photo) received a misplaced standing ovation from Bersatu delegates.

“Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out. It is lucky that the Prime Minister gave me a job with a big salary so that I can support my division,” said Abdul Rashid, apparently referring to his appointment to the government’s election reform committee.

“But the others, we don’t need to be arrogant by saying we shouldn’t give them jobs, that we would be taking away the jobs of others, that we should not take this or that. That opinion, to me, irresponsible. In the election, we must win by hook or by crook,” he said.

He added that although he did not like the idea of using government resources, it had to be done.

“All division chiefs should be given activities so that they can have the opportunity to defend their divisions,” he said.

Abdul Rashid also urged the government to restore the parallel village chief system practised by the previous BN government. “And our people must occupy these positions,” he said.

Village chiefs are traditionally appointed by the state government but the previous BN government appointed parallel village chiefs in states not under its control. The Harapan administration has abolished this parallel system.

“All development projects should be channeled to these (parallel) committees and the division chiefs must benefit,” he said as the crowd cheered him on.

Blown to smithereens

It is unthinkable that this man, who clearly advocates moves against current elections laws, heads Putrajaya’s committee on electoral reform. If anything, he will probably advocate changes in the law to allow these offences to take place.

Harapan leaders should forthwith put their foot down and demand that Abdul Rashid be removed as the head of the electoral reform committee as he has clearly shown, by his words at a public gathering, that he is not a fit person to come up with electoral reforms which are up to international standards.

That he had so much support from Bersatu delegates for his views is worrying, with other leaders echoing his sentiments. While Bersatu head Mahathir has said that what Abdul Rashid says is his personal opinion, he should immediately review Abdul Rashid’s position as head of the electoral reform committee.

The original UMNO  was founded in 1946 to champion Malay rights in the lead up to independence. Its founder Onn bin Jaffar left UMNO after the party refused to open membership to non-Malays. Tunku Abdul Rahman took over the helm and became Malaysia’s first Prime Minister.

That UMNO was de-registered in 1987 after the courts declared it illegal. Then prime minister Mahathir formed UMNO Baru or UMNO 2.0 and organised members of UMNO, who supported him to join this UMNO Baru, excluding others who did not. There was a breakaway group called Semangat 46 formed, headed by Mahathir’s then opponent , Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

Mahathir altered the constitution of the original UMNO considerably by making it next to impossible to remove a sitting UMNO Baru President. This resulted in a progressive erosion of government accountability and transparency, eventually leading to 1MDB and its excesses. And UMNOMNO-BN’s first loss in the general election last year.

As droves of MPs start to desert UMNOo Baru, Bersatu may well become Umno 3.0 if it accepts these UMNOo MPs as members. That will irrevocably change the complexion of the coalition and alter the balance of power within Harapan.

Other coalition partners, in particular, PKR and DAP, should clearly resist this and state their irreversible opposition to such moves, simply because all UMNO and BN MPs are tainted because they knew full well of the corruption and theft within 1MDB when they decided to stand for elections.

If all of the UMNO MPs are accepted within the Bersatu fold and become Harapan members effectively and those within Bersatu who call for extrajudicial measures to remain in power are not checked, it is inevitable that Bersatu will become UMNO 3.0 and the strongest party within the Harapan coalition.

With that, the hopes of the majority of Malaysians for a fairer, more equitable country, where everybody is considered Malaysian and where corruption is a thing of the past and accountability and good governance will be practised, will be blown to smithereens.


P GUNASEGARAM says we have to guard our newfound freedom zealously instead of surrendering it back to UMNO goons and gangsters who want a return to the past. 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.

A neo-BN New Year


December 31, 2018 Opinion  |  S Thayaparan

A neo-BN New Year

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/458280

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.” (Little Gidding)

TS Eliot

COMMENT | Another new year is upon us. I know some people feel as if Pakatan Harapan is the new BN. I have pushed this narrative in nearly all my writings. I desperately sound the alarm bells that Harapan is becoming neo BN – but I do not do this out of spite.

I do this because I come from a generation that saw how BN evolved. A generation that witnessed alliance politics morph into something ugly but more importantly, saw how the public supported a corrupt system out of pragmatism or fear or just plain self-interest.

Image result for lim kit siang

I remember when Lim Kit Siang and the opposition were decimated in one election, and how those of us who were rooting for him were shocked that people did not vote for at least the DAP, which offered something else to the politics that were tearing us apart. However, this is the past. Admittedly, things have changed.

These days I see articulate young leaders toe the party line. I see young leaders more interested in maintaining party discipline, egged on by the base who assume that they speak for all Malaysians.

I see a kind of fascistic patina slowly forming around young leaders more interested in inter-party ascendance than inspiring people – young people especially – that things can change if only you worked hard enough for it. Hate to break it to you but playing the political party game works well on social media but it doesn’t inspire people – especially young people – to vote for the change they want.

It is pointless chronicling the whys and hows of the fall of Najib Abdul Razak. When the old maverick claims that Bersatu was needed in the removal of Najib, I think it is more complicated than that. I think he was needed for the removal of Najib.

Image result for political frogs in malaysia

 

UMNO Kataks have morphed into  Neo-Bersatus  

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad always knew how to play the political game better than his comrades in UMNO. If Najib had just listened to him, I doubt we would be having this conversation.Image result for Dr.mahathir the maverick

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However, the removal of Najib is more than just the legacy of the old maverick. It demonstrated that a ruling coalition could fall. I want young people to take note of this. From what I gather, young people are infatuated with the old maverick and while I understand this, I hope the young people who were standing in the sidelines in the 14th general election now understand the future of this country – and more importantly, the power they could wield in determining this future.

Going through my files, I reread an article in the BBC earlier this year about the power young Malaysians have but do not wield. It is an interesting article, not only because it neatly condensed many of the data points that I have put forward concerning the youth vote in this country but it also reminds us that young people have the power to change things.

“If this is genuine lack of interest, it is reflected in one poll by Merdeka Center, an independent Malaysian polling organisation which last year looked at how young people in West Malaysia felt about politics. Merdeka Center found that as many as 70 percent of them do not believe that their vote will bring about tangible changes in the government and don’t think their elected representatives really care about people like them.”

Young voters are the key, even if they do not care. Look, while I think that DAP, PKR, and Amanah are making an effort, I also think that there are many young people in Bersatu who know that things need to change. I mean, look at someone like Wan Saiful Wan Jan. Smart guy, but he has to conform to the politics of Bersatu, which is an early UMNO pastiche.

Honestly, I tried to give Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (photo) the benefit of the doubt but if someone like Wan Saiful had brought the kind of American-inspired conservatism to Bersatu, which is what he did when he was in Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), this would have been a good thing. Bersatu, whether we like it or not, has the best chance to lead the way but if it continues down this path, we are going down the crapper.

Jostling for power, contracts

Change does not take time. Political will stalls for time. We can move forward slowly or you could convince people that you are moving, but walking slowly on the same spot. I keep getting these clips of the old maverick saying that the education policy needs to change. I keep seeing young and old political operatives in Bersatu talking about how the Malays cannot rely on the tongkat and Bersatu needs to lead the way.

I have heard all this before. Maybe you have too. Take education for instance. Firstly, why doesn’t someone give Azly Rahman a job sorting this mess out, but more importantly, if Bersatu and Harapan have the political will to slowly remove the tongkat and change the education system, they would make some good faith gestures.

First, they would recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC). Then they would do away with Malay-only institutions. They would recognise the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) for instance, and not in various political ways, propagate the “do not spook the Malays” meme.

What we are hearing from the supposedly closed-door Bersatu AGM is the same game of federal control, of power, through proxies. This is why people are jostling for power, contracts and positions. Decentralise power, which would allow state-level affirmative action programmes for all races. I bet my last ringgit that more Malays would benefit from these programmes than non-Malays, if that is the fear of Malay and non-Malay political operatives.

This way you could name the new agenda the Best Ultra Malay Initiative – BUMI – and nobody would care if everyone was getting the help they need, regardless of race. But everyone knows what separates Bersatu and the far right of Umno and PAS – polemics not policy.

And while I am bitching about policy, this 1am closing time for nightspots in the Federal Territory is the dumbest and I would say a mendacious policy of the Harapan regime. Interfering in business – the price of KFC too high, really? Is it mendacious when you claim we have a trillion ringgit debt?

There is a whole host of small businesses attached to nightclubs, not to mention the traders who service the after-hours crowd in local fare, that would be affected by this malicious rule.

What Harapan is doing is destroying part of the culture of this country. Big City culture and what they want to do is to turn it into what some parts of this country are. Remember this day, because no matter what some people say about closing hours in the West, what we have here are sub rosa moves by the Islamist to slowly impose hegemony, Harapan style. This is just the beginning.

Who knows what the following year will bring in the permutations of Malay power. Frogs jumping, political opponents having lunch, internecine conflicts among Malay brokers in the major parties.

In this climate, do you blame people for feeling jaded and thinking that nothing changes?

I have two hopes for the new year. The first that young people discover the power they wield. And the second that the people who supported Harapan pressure the government so it does not become another BN.

Have a productive new year, Malaysia, whoever you are.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

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

To Deal With Trump, Look to Voltaire


December 28, 2018

Advice from the Enlightenment: In the face of crude bullying and humorless lies, try wit and a passion for justice.

By Robert Darnton

The honorands at the 2017 Encaenia

Seven individuals were honoured for their outstanding contribution to the arts, science and public life at Oxford University’s annual Encaenia ceremony, which took place on 21st June 2017. 

Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

Dr Robert Darnton is a cultural historian and academic librarian, who researches the history of the book and the culture of 18th-century France. He is an emeritus professor at Harvard University, where he has also worked as director of the Harvard University Library. He is a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur and Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, where he studied for a DPhil as a Rhodes Scholar.

Professor Darnton specializes in the French Enlightenment.

 

We are living through a climate change in politics. Bigotry, bullying, mendacity, vulgarity — everything emitted by the tweets of President Trump and amplified by his followers has damaged the atmosphere of public life. The protective layer of civility, which makes political discourse possible, is disappearing like the ozone around Earth.

Image result for Age of  Trump

How can we restore a healthy climate? There is no easy answer, but some historic figures offer edifying examples. The one I propose may seem unlikely, but he transformed the climate of opinion in his era: Voltaire, the French philosopher who mobilized the power of Enlightenment principles in 18th-century Europe.

O.K., I know that only an academic like myself would come up with such a proposition. Who in the United States has any interest in Voltaire? College students sometimes read his “Candide” as a novella, and audiences have enjoyed it as an operetta by Leonard Bernstein. But the book ends with a refrain that sounds like quietism: “Let us cultivate our garden.”

Actually, I think that last line, which is among the most famous in all literature, should be understood as a call to engagement. “Cultivation” means commitment to culture, to civility, to civilization itself. That is the argument I want to make.

To those encountering him for the first time, Voltaire can look like a historical curiosity. His archaic wig and libertine wit seem to belong to a forgotten corner of the past. Moreover, he can be considered a conservative. He curried favor with the high and mighty, especially Louis XV. He was so deeply committed to the cultural system developed under France’s previous ruler, Louis XIV, that he would fail any test of political correctness today. And Voltaire opposed education for the masses because, he said, someone had to tend the fields.

So, forget the wig. But reconsider the wit. Nothing works better than ridicule in cutting bigots down to size. “I have never made but one prayer to God,” Voltaire wrote, “a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” The first of the two most powerful weapons in his arsenal was laughter: “We must get the laughter on our side,” he instructed his auxiliary troops in the salons of Paris.

Ridicule works outside salons. We in America have Stephen Colbert on television. We had H.L. Mencken in the newspapers and Mark Twain in books. Yet wit can sound elitist, and Voltaire cultivated the elite, especially in his youth, when he celebrated wealth, pleasure and the good things of life. His poem “Le Mondain,” written in 1736, is an apology for worldly luxury — “the superfluous, a very necessary thing,” he wrote, in opposition to Christian asceticism.

That was Voltaire the young libertine. But now, in our contemporary crisis, I propose that we look also to Voltaire the angry old man. It was in his old age, during the 1760s and 1770s, that he wielded his second and most powerful weapon, moral passion.

In 1762 Voltaire learned about a case of judicial murder. The Parlement (high court) of Toulouse had condemned a Protestant merchant, Jean Calas, to be tortured and executed for supposedly killing his son, who supposedly had intended to convert to Catholicism. Not only were the suppositions wrong, but strong evidence pointed to Calas’s innocence.

To Voltaire, the case represented far more than a miscarriage of justice. It epitomized atrocities that had been inflicted on Protestants for two centuries. They had been slaughtered, driven out of the country, forced to convert to Catholicism and deprived of civil rights, including the rights to marry and inherit property within the law. Beyond the persecution of Protestants, Voltaire saw intolerance in general, and beyond intolerance, barbarism.

Voltaire seized his pen. He composed the “Treatise on Tolerance,” one of the greatest defenses of religious liberty and civil rights ever written. He also wrote letters, hundreds of them, to all his contacts in the power elite — ministers, courtiers, salon leaders and fellow philosophers, working from the top down and manipulating the media of his day so skillfully that he created a tidal wave of public opinion, which would ultimately lead to the recognition of rights for Protestants in 1787, nine years after he died.

Voltaire ended many of those letters with a rallying cry, “Écrasez l’infâme” — “Crush the vile thing.” For him, the meaning of “l’infâme” could be extended from intolerance to superstition and injustices of all kinds. The opposing notion of tolerance shaded off into broader values, including civility — the virtue that we need so much today and that Voltaire identified with civilization. Voltaire saw the triumph of civilization over barbarity as the ultimate good inscribed in the historical process. He made the message clear in his most ambitious work, “Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations”— “Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations” — a survey of world history that he first published in 1756 and revised and expanded until his death in 1778.

What more can we aspire to in the age of Trump? The opposition to bigotry and the defense of civil rights once again call for a commitment to the cause of civilization. They require moral passion seasoned with wit.

Cultivate gardens. Écrasez l’infâme.

Image result for Robert Darnton is an emeritus professor at Harvard University.

Robert Darnton is an emeritus professor at Harvard University.

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Fighting Corruption


December 13, 2018

Fighting Corruption

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/curbing-asia-corrupt-governments/

Image result for fighting corruption quotes

Representatives of civil society organizations from nine ASEAN nations have been meeting for the past two days in Bangkok, seeking ways to fast-track implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in what has to seem like an uphill struggle.

All nine countries have completed the first cycle of the convention against corruption, implementation review, covering criminalization and law enforcement and international cooperation, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which is hosting the event. Indonesia and Malaysia have completed the second cycle and Thailand, Vietnam and Laos are at work doing the same.

Unfortunately, the CSOs as the organizations are known are fighting against deeply entrenched corruption. The countries sending reformers to Bangkok are Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Except for Singapore, which has its own problems with authoritarianism, the record might make observers into skeptics.

Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2017 finds little encouragement. “…Our analysis reveals little progress across the region,” according to the report. “In the past six years, only a few countries experienced small, incremental changes indicating signs of improvement.”

Unfortunately, according to Transparency International, “the 2017 index also shows that corruption in many countries is still strong. Often, when individuals dare to challenge the status quo, they suffer the consequences. In some countries across the region, journalists, activists, opposition leaders and even staff of law enforcement or watchdog agencies are threatened, and in the worst cases, even murdered.” The Philippines is among the worse regional offenders, the report says.

“While freedom of expression is under attack across much of the region, civic space is also shrinking severely. Civil society organizations in countries like Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and China are permanently under threat from authorities. In Cambodia, the government recently cracked down on civil society with the introduction of a restrictive law against NGOs. Cambodia is one of the worst-ranked countries in the region according to the CPI.”

Singapore is the highest-ranked East Asian country in the TI index, at 6th despite its propensity towards authoritarian government. (New Zealand and the Nordic countries rank highest as usual.)

Image result for rosmah mansor

From there, it is a long drop, to 62nd place and Malaysia, which is coming off the biggest scandal in the country’s history, with the loss of untold billions of dollars in the 1Malaysia Development fiasco and the arrest of its Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and his wife, Rosicmah Mansor(pic above). Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan coalition, which took power in May, 2018  is now trying to deal with the vestiges of 60 years of cronyism and rent-seeking.

The 1MDB matter has become a veritable textbook case of global money laundering, with US authorities pursuing missing assets across the globe and the current prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, trying to reclaim vast sums for his country.

The net drop is another 29 places to Timor-Leste, ranked 91st. Indonesia and Thailand are tied at 96th, which seems optimistic, since both of them hopelessly corrupt.  Vietnam is ranked 107th, followed by the Philippines at 111th. Myanmar is at 130th, followed by Papua New Guinea and Laos, tied at 135th. Cambodia brings up the rear for the region at 161st of 180 countries.

The gloomy part about those rankings is that not a single country has moved up significantly from rankings in 2012, five years ago.

Thus it is jarring that the representatives of 27 civil society organizations are gathered in Bangkok, “working to support government accountability and transparency in various sectors, such as transparency of the judiciary, access to information, whistle-blowing systems, open data, innovative tools, wildlife and timber trafficking, access to justice, women’s rights or business integrity.”

The event, according to the UN office, “is an opportunity to equip CSOs to be ready to review the ongoing UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanisms in ASEAN countries, support their work on anti-corruption in Southeast-Asia, hold thematic sessions of particular interest to civil society, and mark the International Anti-Corruption Day 2018,” said Mirella Dummar-Frahi, UNODC Civil Society Team. In addition, the discussions of the roundtable aim to inform future activities for civil society work in the region.

According to the World Economic Forum, as part of the ‘Global Competitiveness Report,’ most countries in Asia are ranking in the bottom-half with regards to corruption, according to Julien Garsany, deputy regional representative for the UNODC Regional Office for Southeast-Asia and the Pacific.

This year, Garsany said, “we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), this is the occasion to measure progress in its implementation at the national level, and a lot remains to be done. In the ASEAN region, the only existing regional framework is the UNCAC, which makes it of critical importance to tackle corruption at both national and regional levels.”

Critical areas identified as regional trends in the preliminary findings include conflict of interests, asset declaration systems, public procurement, revolving doors, access to information and beneficial ownership.

“CSOs have an important role to play through investigative journalism, sharing of information, transparency and accountability initiatives,” he said, noting progress made towards the inclusion of liability of legal persons in domestic laws in ASEAN countries, which is a positive trend, and the role civil society can play: “If the civil society pushes civil action against companies known to bribe, that could be very powerful.”