Public Policy in the 21st Century

July 17, 2016

Public Policy in the 21st Century

Our Public Administrators must abandon old mental maps and deal with the realities of our globalised, technology and internet driven and fast paced world. Even Najib’s Blue Ocean strategy is out of date. We must learn to deal with open systems. Times are unpredictable and uncertainty is the norm. Innovate or become out of date. We need to do things better, faster and cheaper with new capacity to detect and anticipate emergent issues. Listen to this lecture and start thinking differently by creating inventive solutions with an innovative mind set.

Build national resilience through partnership with society and non-government organisations. It is our shared responsibility to make our country better. Our administrators must recognise that there are many ways of producing solutions to our problems. The best way is to be humble by recognising Government cannot deal with these complex challenges without the cooperation of all stakeholders.–Din Merican


Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations

New York

June 28, 2016

Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Over 40 years ago, a British economist, E.F. Schumacher, published a collection of essays on the theme of “small is beautiful” which argued that the modern growth-obsessed economy is unsustainable.

Anticipating the present global warming and environmental crisis in our land and oceans, he noted that natural resources should be treated as capital, since they are not renewable and subject to depletion. He further argued that nature’s ability to fight and resist pollution is limited as well – a warning which has still not sunk deeply enough into the corridors of power all over the world.

Besides his somber – and now proven to be correct – message on environmentalism, he made the case for sustainable development and against inappropriate technology transfer to developing countries which, in his view, would not resolve the underlying problems of unsustainable economies.

Schumacher was also amongst the earliest economists to question the appropriateness of using gross national product and other pure economic indicators to measure human well-being.

What has been referred to as “his dense mixture of philosophy, economics and politics” struck an immediate chord with Western readers, especially during the era of the 70s and the advent of the first global energy crisis. In 1995, the Times Literary Supplement ranked the slim volume of his work as among the 100 most influential books published since World War II.

Since then his influence appears to have waned. New critiques of conventional economic thinking have emerged; and Schumacher’s concern for the “philosophy of materialism” to be replaced or subsumed to ideals such as justice and harmony, and his counter-cultural ideas on the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful as laid out in his Buddhist economics, have been taken up by less credible “gurus” with new vocabulary omitting his ideas and name.

Today, however, some of the concerns which “small is beautiful” raised in 1973 just before the push for European Union began to take place, are echoing in the popular sentiments and issues raised by the “Leave” voters in the Brexit referendum.

Why Britain is Leaving EU

The historic upset defeat of the “Remain” camp and successful revolt against the EU has been explained and interpreted in many ways.

In a lead article, the day after the referendum result, the BBC listed 8 reasons why Leave won the UK referendum on the EU. These reasons included the backfiring of Brexit economic warnings; bungled leadership of the Prime Minster, David Cameron; Labour’s disconnect with voters; the inter-generational divide with older voters preferring to leave; the ascendency of immigration and national and cultural identity issues in the minds of lower income voters; perceived economic benefits; and finally, the influence of Euroskeptic leaders and critics such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson during the referendum campaign.

While all the reasons advanced played a role in the final voting count to tilt the balance towards those opting for an uncharted and potentially precarious future, in one sense it represented a rejection of what local Britishers see as a much too big, too powerful and out-of-touch technocratic Frankenstein’s monster – as described in a United Kingdom Independence Party’s internet newsletter on the eve of the referendum – which has made life not only difficult but has also profoundly alienated the common citizen (

In the immigration issue especially which assumed center stage in the Brexit debate, many Britons resent the EU migrants who legally move to jobs in Britain, are seen as taking jobs away from locals and are alleged to abuse the country’s benefits and welfare system.

And this is by no means just a view found in Britain. Other nations in the EU face similarly disenchanted citizens fed up with the “big is good; bigger is better” philosophy in economic and political systems that Schumacher warned against, and which the enlarged grouping of European nations seemed to signify.

Ordinary people and communities seem to be looking for solutions which call for more local autonomy and for moves away from centralized control towards greater decentralization and a return to local and national economies in which they have greater influence, however naive or impractical it may appear to the political and business elites that run our world today.

The same soul searching in the rest of Europe has already produced populist politicians and a growing number of Euroskeptics. They will seek their own referendums on EU membership and if successful will produce a breakup of the present union; and the need as French Prime Minister  Manuel Valls puts it “to invent another Europe.”

Can Malaysia Learn

In Malaysia the Brexit referendum result has produced the predictable dollars and cents focused analysis of what it means to the nation’s trade and investment flows as well as to the property, education and other sectors whose links with the UK are based on its inclusion in the EU. This is a limiting and inadequate focus which misses the larger lessons to be learned.

In our part of the world, especially in Sabah and Sarawak which opted to join Malaya and Singapore in the formation of Malaysia in 1963, a sense of alienation towards the federalized centralized political entity, run from Kuala Lumpur and beholden to UMNO’s agenda, has been brewing for some time.

In August 2014, a coalition of NGOs, politicians and activists from Sarawak and Sabah drew up a petition addressed to the United Nations (UN) secretary-general to re-open the issue of self-determination for the two East Malaysian states. The petition believed to be signed by some 100 representatives was also copied to the UN Special Committee of 24 (C-24) and the UN Human Rights Committee (

These local autonomy and even separatist tendencies and forces are not going to go away. At some point – unless real reforms are put in place to provide for greater autonomy and to protect the freedoms and sense of local identity that the local communities from the two states feel they have lost – we will have our own version of Brexit demanded more forcefully.


The Building Blocks of Learning

June 15, 2016

The Building Blocks of Learning

Malaysia: A Bipolar Nation

June 9, 2016

COMMENT: I received a warning for the second time from  the Media Unit, Malaysian Multimedia Corporation (MMMC) instructing me to remove my posting of Kassim Ahmad’s article.


Kassim Ahmad is a controversial public intellectual whose bold and forthright take on Islam is deemed unacceptable and yet agreeable to some people like me. I complied with the MMMC directive as I respect the law, although I think their action reflects what Dr. Azly Rahman what says in his article  (below) about our mentality.

A  nation (and people) that cannot accept views which challenge orthodoxy and is unable to embrace diversity is a nation in irreversible decline. Dr. Azly is correct when he says in his eloquent opinion piece (I repeat opinion and assume that we are all entitled to our opinions)  and I quote:

“…we are constantly at war with ourselves and that the goal of each political party is to destroy one another and for each leader to aim for the jugular – to rule the country.

As citizens we are not allowed speak up against evil-doings…We are asked to shut up or else be locked up if we dare speak of the fate of our hard-earned savings. Bipolar a nation we have become, paranoia our leaders are plagued with…

We are not allowed to do all these although as citizens – besides going out to vote – we are accorded the rights to participate in nation-building through making suggestions on how to maintain check and balances in a society supposedly progressive and democratic.”–Dr Azly Rahman

Be of good cheer. Time waits for no one. It is the great leveler and equalizer. History teaches us this reality, if we care and are humble enough to learn. So let us  use not waste it, when others are using it to deal with serious global issues of war and peace, and development and enlightenment. Being petty bureaucrats is not the way to be productive and useful to our country and humanity.–Din Merican

Malaysia: A Bipolar Nation

by Dr. Azly Rahman*

Columbia University’s Dr. Azly Rahman

Stoning to death. More lashes to the Friday caning. Syaria Law eventually for non-Muslims. Leave Malaysia if you don’t like how things are run. That puzzling and trumpeting Bangsa Johor rhetoric – as if nobody can explain what the concept of ‘nation/natio’ is. Sabah and Sarawak wish to leave the federation.

Criticise the county and you’re not allowed to go for your overseas holidays. Who owns Gold Star and why the deep secret? Syaria-compliant this and that. A possible boxing match with Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in Kuala Kangsar. Humans eating ‘dedak’ or chicken feed. Is Hang Tuah a real person? Is the Taming Sari we have now a fake dagger?

These are some of the topics dominating the discourse of our nation. Can we do better than this? Don’t we care about the intellectual future of our children? Don’t we want them to emulate good ethics from us and the adults they see in power? Don’t we have such moral and critical thinking obligation to them, leaving behind good lessons in their national lives?

That much we owe them, so that they could carry on rejuvenating society without emulating the political and psychological ills of today’s leaders.

I feel that Malaysia’s youth of the next generation are missing out on good and productive discourse plaguing the national debate on things. Malaysians have becoming more global, progressive, intelligent, innovative, and articulate – at least from my analysis of the stories of successes I have been reading.

We might be shamed in the cyberspace and international media with the massive and complex money-laundering scandal implicating our leaders and members of their families, but we are also reading stories of ‘global Malaysians’ – in the arts, business, and sociopreneurship – doing well inside and outside of Malaysia. They are proud calling themselves Malaysians.

But I feel that the discourse dominating the country is one plagued with the filth of retrogressive-ness our youth need not be subjected to.

From the Islamists wishing to push the completeness of the Islamic penal code, the hudud, to the ongoing fights between the members of the opposition and ruling coalitions, to the increasing paranoia over race and religion produced by the political leaders, the daily news of cases of corruption, robbery in broad daylight, the ongoing public arguments between the Johor Royal household with select UMNO politicians – showing who can be more arrogant that the other – the malaise in our education system, and a host of other issues plaguing us, I feel that we are not moving in the right direction and taking advantage of the richness and talented-ness of our diverse population.

In other words, we are constantly at war with ourselves and that the goal of each political party is to destroy one another and for each leader to aim for the jugular – to rule the country.

As citizens we are not allowed speak up against evil-doings, such as the massive losses arising from the 1MDB fiasco although it is the right of each citizen to know what can happen to their life savings such as those in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), the Haj Fund, and the fund allocated for the servicemen and women (Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera).

Bipolar a nation we have become

We are asked to shut up or else be locked up if we dare speak of the fate of our hard-earned savings. Bipolar a nation we have become, paranoia our leaders are plagued with.

What a pathological state of democracy we are living in. What a shame for a country supposedly a ‘fully-developed industrialised society’ with first-class infrastructure and rhetoric of hypermodernity.

Today the dominant theme is (again) the hudud; of the Hadi-hudud proposal. I am sure by now Malaysians understand what the demands are and how UMNO is helping to fast-track the proposal. Although items concerning the Islamic penal code are minimal, they do point to the inching of our country to the illusionary and ‘non-existent’ concept of an Islamic state.

What a pathological state of democracy we are living in. What a shame for a country supposedly a ‘fully-developed industrialised society’ with first-class infrastructure and rhetoric of hypermodernity.

Today the dominant theme is (again) the hudud; of the Hadi-hudud proposal. I am sure by now Malaysians understand what the demands are and how UMNO is helping to fast-track the proposal. Although items concerning the Islamic penal code are minimal, they do point to the inching of our country to the illusionary and ‘non-existent’ concept of an Islamic state.

Although punishments such as stoning to death and amputation are left out, they might be tabled again eventually when the UMNO-PAS coalition on the ‘survival of the Malays’ and the ‘defence of Islam against its enemies in Malaysia’ becomes louder battle cries, especially for the Islamists wishing to turn Malaysia into a Taliban nation.

Today, the insistence is that the Syaria Law and hudud is only for Muslims, tomorrow it will be for all Malaysians, as political logic would dictate. Analysts on the scenario and the futurism of the implementation of Syaria law and the hudud have written about the complexity of the issue and how it can never be a suitable law in a country that prides itself in the superiority of man-made law as such as the Malaysian constitution.

The thought of stoning to death and amputation itself makes one wonder of the barbarism to be represented as a punishment supposedly ordained by a merciful, loving, and compassionate god -– God of the Religion of Peace. God who forgives more than one who gets angry all the time. Perhaps not many Islamic scholars in Malaysia have even inquired into the ancient cultural origins of such punishments; for example of the Pagan (Greek) and early Judaic origin of stoning which was then borrowed by Islam.

Today, stoning to death can be considered barbaric and inhumane and opposed to the United Nations convention on torture. Why subject a wrongdoer to a slow death? Would that be a philosophical question of today as the Hadi-hudud PAS-UMNO proposal progresses?

These developments in Malaysia that are colouring the discourse on hypermodernity continue to take away our consciousness – especially of the youth – of more exciting things to work on: environmental issues, sustainability, newer technologies of peace, green technologies, newer jobs, newer hopes for world peace, appreciation of the arts, humanities and philosophies in school, good labour practices, respect and understanding one another cross-culturally, virtual reality, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and even new ways of crafting Malaysian politics so that the rich will not get richer and filthier and the poor taken care of well and re-humanised.

But we are not there yet. We seem to love letting the discourse on Medieval and Dark Age practices dominate us. We need to move beyond these. How do we do this?

Let us share as many ways. As a people let us not stone ourselves to death. As smart and peace-loving Malaysians, let us not amputate our intelligence; the gift of the intellect to be used for ethical and social purposes. Is not religion, from the Greek ‘religio’ about making peaceful connections and not about amputations or being spiritually empty after being stoned to death metaphorically?

*Dr. Azly Rahman holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He will be pursuing his fifth Masters in Fine Arts, specialising in Fiction and Poetry Writing.

Jakarta Governor points the way for London Mayor Sadiq Khan

June 2, 2016

Jakarta  Governor points the way for London Mayor Sadiq Khan

by Kishore Mahbubani*


The election of Sadiq Khan, a practising Muslim, as Mayor of London was rightly celebrated across the world. It confirmed that openness and tolerance, hallmarks of western civilisation, are alive and well. More surprising, perhaps, is that this spirit can be found in parts of the Islamic world, too.

Indonesia is the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Its capital city, Jakarta, is run by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian popularly known as “Ahok”. This is highly significant. Why? As recently as 1998, Jakarta saw anti-Chinese riots in which more than a thousand people were killed. Mr Purnama and his family had to defend themselves with sticks, Molotov cocktails and machetes.

After 17 months as Governor of Jakarta, Mr Purnama remains immensely popular. He has made some bold changes: closing down trendy but disruptive nightclubs, cleaning up red-light districts, evicting people from slums (while providing them with better housing) and dredging clogged-up canals.

He has also demonstrated his willingness to make difficult policy choices, such as discontinuing a long-stalled monorail project in favour of a more cost-effective and efficient light rail system. Even more significantly, an underground railway, which had been held up by bureaucracy for more than 25 years, is going ahead.

Mr Purnama also believes in transparency. The entire budget of the city of Jakarta is online. Citizens can scrutinise all spending. Even his mobile phone number is public, meaning that he receives a large number of text messages, many of which he responds to personally. The city’s inhabitants feel that their lives are improving.


The City of Jakarta skyline

This is why the attacks on him by hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, also known as Front Pembela Islam, are not working. In theory, appeals to religious loyalties by such groups should work against Mr Purnama. In practice, however, they have failed — suggesting that in Jakarta, as in London, a corner has been turned. The big question is why.

One reason could be greater access to information. A little-known fact about Indonesia is that its social media penetration rates are among the highest in the world. There are more than 80m users of social networks in the country. In the new climate of transparency, there is increasing evidence for Mr Purnama’s claim that conditions in Jakarta are improving.

How to succeed politically? Be prepared to die. I am ready to die. Tweet this quote

Corruption is also declining in what was a notoriously corrupt city. Video clips of Mr Purnama berating officials of the city’s transport administration have gone viral. Despite the traditional Javanese preference for avoiding confrontation, he has adopted a brash, in-your-face style that has clearly angered many. He has acquired enemies.

When I met him earlier this year, I asked him for his views on how to succeed politically. He replied: “Be prepared to die. I am ready to die”.

His courage is obvious. And for a Chinese Christian in a largely Muslim society to have displayed such courage could have been politically suicidal. Instead, it has proved to be a vote-getter. A grass roots campaign to put him on the ballot as an independent candidate to run again as governor in 2017 has drawn wide support from the city’s predominantly Islamic population. He has received more than enough nominations.

Mr Purnama’s success in Jakarta is not just a local phenomenon. It demonstrates that we are moving into a new world in which people make more informed and rational decisions on the basis of greater access to information. The citizens of Jakarta are aware how backwards their city had become, even in relation to its Asian peers. So when a Chinese Christian promises that he will study best urban practices from Singapore and Taipei and bring them to Jakarta, they support him.

This is why I believe that we are witnessing globally a fusion of civilisations, not a clash of civilisations. Societies around the world are beginning to learn best urban practice from others.

The brash Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta is popular among the Islamic population of Jakarta because he says to them, in effect: “You can see on your phones how the rest of the world has moved ahead. Follow me, and I will bring the world’s best practices to Jakarta.”

In theory, an Islamic population ought to have been reluctant to follow a Christian leader. In practice, they are embracing him. This is as significant as the election of Mr Khan.

Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani is Dean and Professor in the practice of public policy in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy NUS, Singapore.

To post or not to post – by all means post

May 31, 2016

To post or not to post – by all means post

 by Fanny Bucheli

In today’s virtual world, we are fast and forthcoming with our opinions about pretty much everything we read by liking, sharing, commenting or offending friends and strangers alike.

Shakespeare’s dejected Prince Hamlet utters the most famous of all soliloquies – to be or not to be -while complaining about his unjust and painful life. In an updated version, Hamlet 2.0 would have to contemplate his virtual life, the one he posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and measure its worth by the number of clicks, likes and retweets he gets.

Imagine 21st century Hamlet, 2.0 for short, navigating the treacherous realm of his new social but virtual kingdom. His FB-“friends” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to be attending parties, to which 2.0 has somehow not been invited. His mother Queen Gertrude looks toned and tanned on the Snapchats of her and King Claudius’ state visits abroad. His one true friend Horatio posts a harsh reply to Hamlet’s invitation to attend his upcoming duel with Laertes, brother to his girlfriend Ophelia. Hamlet blocks his friend’s posts over this disagreement. Gertrude gets involved, retweets the invite and ‘likes’ it. Claudius is outraged and promptly unfriends his wife.

Prince 2.0, in a bid to avenge his mother’s honour, stabs the king with his own, poisoned, ‘unfriend’ button. Both he and Laertes, busy with all this commotion, neglect to like each other’s pre-duel status updates, which in turn, earns them a stabbing with the poisoned button of virtual death. In his last tweet, Hamlet 2.0 proclaims, “the rest is silence”, and dies. And Horatio? He publishes his first ebook, “Chronicles of a virtual death” on Instagram.

Today, we look upon the story lines of the great classical tragedies à la Hamlet, Macbeth and Dr Faustus with a mildly benevolent eye and find them hugely exaggerated. We might have to revisit their features though, and compare them to our modern, net-driven narrative with a more critical appreciation.

Veteran users of the first hour will remember a time when Facebook kept us informed about the simple facts of life; our friends were up, had breakfast, or lunch, and ventured into the neighbourhood shopping mall. And we didn’t care; or we were just happy to know that someone had a good day.

Boy, how times – and posts – have changed! In today’s virtual world, we are all fast and forthcoming with our opinions about pretty much everything we read. We like, we share, we comment and we offend, on friends’ and strangers’ walls alike. But how do we offend, or even worse, get offended, so easily?

Shakespeare knew that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as he has Hamlet explain to Rosencrantz. In philosophical terms this means that nothing is real, except in the mind of each individual, and therefore the same statement can and will be perceived differently by different individuals.

We post our relative truth on social media for the world to see, a sort of passive-aggressive exhibitionism, and open up a plethora of avenues for unwanted argument, while all we ask for is a “like”, a sign of consent. Translating playground etiquette to grownup social networks has created a virtual world of sissies, where we are to approve, agree and acknowledge everything others say.

We eliminate the ability to be critical, the right to criticise; we create intellectual ‘safe spaces’. Back when we only posted the enlightening fact of eating breakfast, such safe spaces served us just fine. But today, as activists and news channels compete for views and clicks and entire presidential campaigns are fought on social media, safe spaces are dead spaces; they hinder intellectual progress.

Instead of shielding behind the walls of our padded virtual world of mutual and undifferentiated acceptance, we should embrace the opportunity to cross – again virtual – swords with friends and with the world at large and learn how to properly use, respectfully express and intelligently accept a critically thought out argument.

Hamlet killed his critics with a sword and Macbeth stabbed them with a dagger. Today, we use a thumbs-up or the lack of one. To post or not to post? By all means, post, and be part of a new kind of classical tale, but don’t let it turn into a tragedy.

Fanny Bucheli is an FMT columnist.