Killing the Mekong, Dam by Dam


November 30, 2016

Killing the Mekong, Dam by Dam

by Tom Fawthrop

Image Credit: Tom Fawthrop

SIPHANDONE, LAOS — Explorers, travelers, and traders have long been enchanted by the magical vistas and extraordinary biodiversity of the Mekong, especially here.

Swirling rapids roar through the surrounding forest to unleash the magnificent Khone Phapheng Falls in southern Laos. The surrounding myriad islands and forested islets, dotted among the tranquil waterways and braided channels of the Mekong, inspire awe and wonder. This is Siphandone (Four Thousand Islands) district of Southern Laos, nestled alongside the Cambodian border.

However, the serenity of Siphandone has recently been rudely disrupted by the dynamite-blasting of rocks, shattering the tranquil reverie of this ecotourism paradise.

Malaysia’s Mega-First and the Don Sahong Dam

The ugly intrusion of earth-moving trucks in this picturesque landscape has accompanied the launching of the Don Sahong dam, a joint venture of Malaysian company Mega-First (MFCB) and the government of Laos, in January 2016. The dam has gone ahead without approval from the Mekong River Commission and in defiance of wide-ranging protests from regional NGOs and downstream countries Cambodia and Vietnam.

In 2012 the bitterly contested first dam on the Lower Mekong, the Xayaburi dam, a $3.8 billion project based on Thai investment and controlled by Bangkok engineering company Ch.Karnchang, began its controversial construction.

According to scientists, both dams pose a major threat to fish migration and food security.

Chhith Sam Ath the Cambodian Director of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told The Diplomat, “The Don Sahong Dam is an ecological time bomb that threatens the food security of 60 million people living in Mekong basin. The dam will have disastrous impacts on the entire river ecosystem all the way to the delta in Vietnam.”

The Lao government plans to build nine dams on the mainstream Mekong, and hundreds more on other rivers and tributaries, claiming that this is the only path to development for one of the region’s poorest countries.

Just across the river from the Don Sahong dam site, on the Cambodian side of the Mekong, ecotourists gather at the Preah Romkel commune. This correspondent witnessed tourists poised with their cameras, trying to catch a glimpse of the three remaining Irrawaddy Dolphins clinging onto their fragile home despite being under daily siege from the dam-builders. This wetlands zone has been a popular destination for ecotourism in both Laos and Cambodia, but WWF warns that damming the Mekong will soon drive all the remaining dolphins to extinction.

The Malaysian dam developers and the Lao Energy Ministry have airily dismissed all the protests, claiming that their fish mitigation engineering – the expansion and widening of two other channels – can fix the problem.

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Irrawaddy or Mekong River Dolphin by Tammy Yee (pic above)

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Source: Google images

The future site of the dam across the Sahong Channel is recognized by fishery experts as the only one out of seven braided channels of the Mekong that is deep enough and wide enough for large fish to migrate, providing effective fish passage around the rapids, rocks, and waterfalls year round. Now the dam construction has diverted all the water from the channel, and it will permanently block this natural fish migration route and passageway.

The Malaysian dam developers and the Lao Energy Ministry have airily dismissed all the protests, claiming that their fish mitigation engineering – the expansion and widening of two other channels – can fix the problem.

The Xayaburi dam also claims that its “fish-friendly turbines,” fish ladders, and locks can protect at least 28 species of fish that have been targeted for special attention by Poyry Energy the Swiss-based company hired to supervise the engineering and fish mitigation.

However the Poyry presentation and research by fish consultants Fishtek shows there are at least 139 fish species that would be blocked from swimming past the dam.

Fish mitigation on these two dams may look impressive in presentation videos, but Dr. Ian Baird, who has published many studies on Mekong fisheries, notes that “this is a high risk experiment, as these sort of mitigation measures have never been attempted before on tropical rivers.”

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The Mekong Crisis: When Ecology and Economy Suffer in Tandem

The mighty Mekong, flowing for 4,630 km through the heart of Southeast Asia, is in deep crisis. The delta in Vietnam is both shrinking and sinking.

The loss of nutrient-rich sediment is wrecking havoc on the delta region. All large dams trap sediment and deprive the downstream areas of vital nutrients. Vietnam is suffering from huge sediment loss, running at 50 percent less than the regular flow. Rampant sand-mining in Cambodia and Vietnam has also aggravated the delta’s acute sediment shortage.

The miraculous but fragile ecosystem that connects the Four Thousand Islands in Laos, Tonle Sap in Cambodia, and the delta in Vietnam is directly threatened by these two dams – the Don Sahong and the Xayaburi (in addition to all the damage done by six Chinese dams upstream from Laos). Now a third dam at Pak Beng has been announced by the Lao government.

A new WWF report has drawn attention to how the dramatic decline in the health of the Mekong is not only an ecological disaster, but also a serious threat to the economy of the region. With a fresh perspective on how ecology and economy are intimately linked together, the report reminds all stakeholders, “Economic growth in the Greater Mekong region depends on the Mekong River, but unsustainable and uncoordinated development is pushing the river system to the brink.”

WWF’s lead coordinator for Water and Energy Security in the Greater Mekong, Marc  Goichot, sees the delta as crucial to Vietnam’s economic future. “It produces 50 percent of the country’s staple food crops and 90 percent of its rice exports. It is one of the most productive and densely populated areas of Vietnam, home to 18 million people. Vietnam cannot lose the delta.”

But right now Vietnam is losing it. The delta is shrinking and unless there is a major policy turnaround on the Mekong, scientists in Can Tho have warned that 27 percent of its GDP, furnished by the delta, could evaporate during the next 20 years.

The strong momentum toward damming the Mekong has been greatly assisted by the widely held perception that dams are a reliable source of energy, producing great economic benefits.

The Mekong River Commission, the World Bank, and USAID have promoted dam-building with this approach, billed as “Sustainable Hydropower.”

The prevailing assumption has been that trade-offs, including negative environmental impacts, are inevitable, but we should not worry too much because improved environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and effective mitigation would provide adequate safeguards to protect ecosystems. It is only recently that researchers have been submitting these assumptions to closer scrutiny.

The credibility of this narrative is increasingly being challenged. Dr. Philip Hirsch a Mekong specialist, concluded after decades of inspecting dams that “some hydro-power impacts can simply not be mitigated – only compensated. And compensation systematically falls short.”

Most fisheries experts in the region familiar with the Sahong and Xayaburi dam projects consider that the mitigation experiment is a risky venture into uncharted waters and cannot be relied on to protect fisheries and the ecosystem.

Whereas the apparent benefits of hydropower can easily be quantified in terms of electricity, the financial losses inflicted by dams have been consistently underestimated or ignored by economists and governments.

The combined fisheries assets for the MRC countries are now valued at $17 billion and vital to the food security of tens of millions.

On the other side of the ledger, energy from 11 scheduled dams may yield economic benefits valued at $33.4 billion according to an international study on hydropower impacts on the Mekong based at Mae Fa Luang University in Chiang Rai.

But set against losses from a denuded river system and huge losses of fisheries, sediment, agricultural produce, and livelihoods, this same study predicts a loss of $66.2 billion, resulting in an overall negative impact of $21.8 billion if all 11 dam projects go ahead.

According to one of the three authors, Dr. Apisom Intralawan, “hydropower benefits have been over-stated in these figures (2015) and based on current economic data we are about to revise them.”

Hirsch confirms that “many studies show that the real costs of hydropower outweigh the benefits but the projects still go ahead.”

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Can The Mekong Survive?

Wetlands ecology specialist  Nguyen Huu Thien, a Vietnamese scientist based in the delta’s capital Can Tho, concluded The sure thing we know, if the delta cannot support its population of 18 million, then people will have to migrate – migrate everywhere. The dams are sowing the seeds of social instability in the region.”

The only way forward, says the Vietnamese Director of Hanoi’s Institute of Economics, Tran Ding Thien, is for Mekong countries to move beyond what he calls “the small-pond mentality.”

That seems unlikely at the moment. In Laos, Daovong Phonekeo, director general of Laos’ Department of Energy Policy and Planning, told Voice of America: “For the development of the Mekong River, we don’t need consensus!”

It is true that the 1995 Mekong Agreement does not provide for any veto on controversial dam projects, but it does enshrine principles of international river cooperation and good water governance that are undermined by the Lao government’s penchant for unilateralism.

Stuart Orr, WWF’s leader for Water Resources Practice, observes that “Water underpins our agricultural systems, our energy production, manufacturing, ecosystems, food security, and our wellbeing as humans. So if economic growth is to continue better river management is called for, that respects the limits of the ecosystem.”

Can the once mighty Mekong alter its currently blighted course of unregulated development, and this alarming rate of depletion of its natural resources?

“One step is that before we build any more dams, new green energy technologies need to be explored,” argues Hirsch. “It would be a tragedy to see the world’s greatest inland fishery destroyed for lack of imagination in applying cost-effective innovative solutions”

There also needs to be a new river-wide consensus that ultimately will have to include China.

Tran decries this small-minded approach, which clings to the “little pond of sovereignty” and cannot grasp the bigger picture of sharing water resources and respecting the whole river.

In this perspective of international scientific cooperation the Mekong should not belong to any one nation. As Tran, speaking at Mekong conference held in Can Tho in April, declared:

“If the Mekong is turned into a series of ponds and reservoirs, it is a loss not only for the region it is a loss for the world. The water that fuels the dams belongs to us all. We need to create an International Mekong Foundation and protect it.”

Tom Fawthrop is a freelance  journalist and film-maker based in Southeast Asia.

Killing the Mekong, Dam by Dam

Fidel Castro: A revolutionary, an icon for the Third World and a ‘genuine friend’ to India


November 29, 2016

Fidel Castro: A revolutionary, an icon for the Third World and a ‘genuine friend’ to India

By Muchkund Dubey

http://www.firstpost.com/world/tribute-to-fidel-castro-a-revolutionary-an-icon-for-the-third-world-and-a-genuine-friend-to-india-3126252.html

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Fidel Castro’s Legacy: “In spite of his continuing struggle for his country’s survival against the crippling measures imposed by the neighbouring imperialist power, what he achieved for Cuba during his lifetime has remained unachieved in the rest of the Third World. He established an educational system in his country of which there is no parallel in any developing country and in a number of developed countries. The quality health system under his leadership, accessible to every Cuban virtually without charges, has no match even in developed countries. He failed in his plan to industrialise Cuba, but that was in large part due to the trade embargo maintained by the United States. For, a small country like Cuba cannot set up viable industries without being a part of the regional and global economic system, which was persistently denied to Cuba”Dubey

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Fidel Castro, the great Cuban revolutionary and the icon of all those who have over the last half a century struggled for national liberation, freedom from colonial and capitalistic exploitation, and the establishment of a just and equitable world order passed away on Friday in Havana at the age of 90.

At the time of his death, he had become outdated just as the instrumentalities that he had chosen for his epic struggle, that is, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Group of 77 (G-77) and Third World, had become anachronistic. He had remained merely a symbol of his strivings and achievements during his life time. He rode like a colossus in the global arena during the best part of the second half of the 20th century.

He was the only leader in the post-Second World War period who was vilified and adored both in a fairly large measure. He was constrained and crippled by a group of countries led by the United States. At the same time, he endeared himself to a much larger group of countries and among vastly wider sections of the world population. Coming from a tiny country, he was better known among the common people the world over and particularly in the Third World, than most of the great leaders of his era.https://dinmerican.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/ba368-moscow2bcuban2bembassy2bpeople2bmourn2bfidel2bcastro.jpg?w=545

Fond Farewell –“Hasta Siempre!”

In spite of his continuing struggle for his country’s survival against the crippling measures imposed by the neighbouring imperialist power, what he achieved for Cuba during his lifetime has remained unachieved in the rest of the Third World. He established an educational system in his country of which there is no parallel in any developing country and in a number of developed countries. The quality health system under his leadership, accessible to every Cuban virtually without charges, has no match even in developed countries. He failed in his plan to industrialise Cuba, but that was in large part due to the trade embargo maintained by the United States. For, a small country like Cuba cannot set up viable industries without being a part of the regional and global economic system, which was persistently denied to Cuba.

Under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba emerged as a great exponent of all that Third World stood for, that is, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, disarmament and development. There is hardly an example in recent history of a nation punching so unimaginably above its weight.

One of the greatest legacies of Fidel was the leadership both at the political and administrative level left behind by him. I have found Cuban politicians and diplomats among the most skilled, astute and far sighted negotiators in the world. They admirably combine their quest of national interest with concern for the world order and rule of international law.

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Given its overwhelming reliance on the Soviet Union for its survival, Cuba’s foreign policy remained tilted during the Fidel era towards the Soviet Union and socialist outlook of the world. However, I found the Cubans under Fidel’s leadership never missing the opportunity of using the narrowest of space available to them for manoeuvre for promoting the wider cause of humanity.

I cannot claim to have personally known Fidel or of having come close to him, but I indeed feel blessed to have been born, lived and pursued my vocation of diplomacy in the world, during the era coinciding with Fidel’s life. I met him twice in the second half of the 1970s at delegation level in closed doors meetings to review and give impetus to our bilateral relations. I found him to be a genuine friend of India, entertaining legitimate expectations of cooperation with our country mainly in the economic field but somewhat disillusioned because of our not being forthcoming in our response and because of our propensity to hold a balance in pursuit of what we perceived to be a policy of genuine non-alignment. Those days, preventing Cuba from tilting the Non-Aligned Movement towards the Soviet direction was regarded as an important part of our diplomacy. At times, we went too far in this direction at the cost of our own enlightened self-interest.

I saw Fidel at the prime of his authority nationally and prestige internationally as the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Summit in Havana in 1979. One of our major concerns at that time was to get the oil producing exporting countries (OPEC) committed to a dual pricing system for oil.

In this endeavour, Cuba extended its full support without, however, rocking the boat. Obviously as a host country, their primary objective was to get a Havana Declaration and Plan of Action unanimously agreed and they eminently succeeded in this even though it involved their walking at the razor’s edge in the negotiations on several fronts.

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At the time when the nuclear arms race had acquired ominous proportions and the threat of a nuclear winter seemed to be at our doorstep, Cuba took the initiative of getting convened in Havana a special Non-Aligned Conference on Disarmament. I had the privilege of steering the negotiations on the document that emerged out of this Conference, which was inaugurated by Fidel. Thanks to the highly positive, balanced and constructive attitude of the Cubans, we came out with one of the best documents on nuclear disarmament ever adopted in a large international forum like NAM.

And finally, I had the privilege of seeing from a distance this giant among the world statesmen when he came to New Delhi to hand over the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement to Indira Gandhi in the NAM Summit in 1982.

I bow my head in gratefulness to all that Fidel has done for Cuba, developing countries and the world.

(The author is a former Ambassador and former Indian Foreign Secretary. Views expressed are personal.)

First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 08:14 IST

 

Free market alternatives


November 27, 2016

Here is something I wrote in The Phnom Penh Post in 1996, which may still be of interest. Of course, Cambodia has come a long way, having achieved average GDP of over 7 per cent p.a. over the last 20 years. It is enjoying peace and security, thanks to the strong leadership of Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen.–Din Merican

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper

Free market alternatives

The Editor,

I read Mr Matthew Grainger’s balanced and interesting report on the recent CDRI International Roundtable on Structural Adjustment Programme in Cambodia (January 26, 1996). I also read Dr Walden Bello’s paper titled “Economic Liberalization in Southeast Asia: Lessons for Cambodia”, and Dr K.P. Kannan’s paper, “Economic Reform, Structural Adjustment and Development: Issues and Implications”.

Dr Bello of Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute in Thailand and Dr Kannan, CDRIs research director, are reminding policy makers in Cambodia that there is an alternative paradigm for Cambodian economic development to the standard IMF/IBRD prescription of market economics.

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The trickle-down theory is attractive in concept, but it has limited relevance in the real world due to market imperfections. Government intervention, as a result, is necessary to ensure equity and development without degradation of the environment.

Growth and equity are two sides of the same coin. For that reason, real GDP growth, in my view, is alone not a good indicator, if we ignore the distributional or equity and environmental aspects of development. One has to look at Thailand and Malaysia to realize that this obsession with GDP growth rates among policy makers results in serious socio-economic imbalances with long-term political consequences.

Malaysia’s realization of this problem is now incorporated in its Second Outline Perspective Plan 1991-2000. Even as of yesterday (Feb 13), Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim was reported to have said that in the next Malaysia Plan, our seventh, the social and related aspects of development will receive greater attention. After nearly 40 years of economic management, Malaysia’s decision to evaluate its strategies and adopt new approaches to achieve more balanced development supports Dr. Bello’s call “to articulate an alternative future” and “to ponder carefully the consequences of fast track capitalism…”

We must remind ourselves what development is all about. Here I would quote Dr Kannan:

“In terms of development, the ultimate objective is that of human development and reducing inequities as between people and regions.”

I am, of course, reminded of great development economists of the sixties like Sir Arthur Lewis, Gunnar Myrdal, Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Nurkse and my mentors in economics, Clifton Wharton Jr., and Ungku Abdul Aziz (Malaysia), who studied the processes of development and underdevelopment with a socio-cultural perspective.

Development is about bringing about systematic change, and providing meaning to the lives of people so that they have opportunities to progress as far as their abilities can take them. It is about ensuring that scarce resources are used responsibly so that succeeding generations can build on the efforts and achievements of their forebears.

It is about institutions, culture and people. It does not exist in a vacuum, certainly not in econometric models, computer simulations, scenario planning systems or in the air-conditioned offices of the World Bank, IMF and the ADB. Most of all, development is about responsibility and accountability for all stakeholders, not a power game.

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Because it is a grassroots process and culture bound, development must be driven by nationals, in the case of Cambodia by Cambodians, with a shared vision, not by experts who have no stake and who do not have to live with the consequences of their prescriptions. This is not to discount the contributions made by the international community, donor countries and multilateral agencies. But it does emphasize that the granting of technical and financial assistance does not confer on the provider the right to impose their own values, preferences and way of life, or to dictate what is best for the beneficiary.

Cambodian leaders know what they want for their country. They have a clear vision of their country’s future as reflected in their National Programme (NPRD) and this is more than what can be said about some countries in the Third World. They have a strategic purpose which is to create a fair, just and peaceful society and, through strong sustainable economic growth, to raise the living standards for all Cambodians.

Cambodia is committed to a democratic system of government with a Constitutional Monarchy, and free market economic system with the private sector as the engine of growth and government in the role of strategist and manager-mentor.

Cambodia is adopting a state-directed economic growth strategy. This approach accepts the price mechanism, and the market in general, as an efficient allocator of resources. It also taps the dynamism of the private sector, but recognizes that government activism is essential in the area of national strategy in a competitive and interdependent world and to tame the excesses of the profit motive and ensure that economic growth is sustainable, balanced and equitable in the long term.

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Their development will be on the back of agriculture which is today the step child of most economies in East Asia. It may not be the “sexy thing” to do, but Cambodia is making its first wise move. Modern agriculture backed by advances in bio-technology, efficient water resource management systems, and strong marketing and distribution networks is a profitable undertaking.

Since the private sector is going to be given a prominent role in the development of the Kingdom, the World Bank and other multilateral agencies should finance a master plan study on small and medium scale industries and businesses and recommend policies and strategies for developing this sector. In many countries in East Asia, this sector is the driver of economic activity with the greatest potential for growth.

It is more refreshing to talk about development than other issues, usually negative ones, about Cambodia. The country has done well since the formation of the Royal Government. The tasks and challenges ahead are daunting. Cambodia needs the understanding and the patient support and cooperation of friends. Credit when it is due should be given. Criticisms, on the other hand, should be constructive.

For democracy to survive in Cambodia, economic development is essential. I have not known of any situation in the world where democracy exists side by side with abject poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and social inequities.

I stand, therefore, to be educated by anyone who has had the privilege of seeing democracy in a symbiotic relationship with the aforementioned phenomena.

I hope your readers – especially those in the IMF, World Bank, ADB and UNDP here in Phnom Penh – will respond with their comments on my letter. If that happens, my purpose in writing this letter as a sort of rejoinder to the Cambodian development debate is well served.

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Din Merican 2016

– Din Merican, Phnom Penh. (Din Merican is an economist with an MBA degree from the United States, who worked for more than 30 years in the Central Bank in Malaysia and in the private banking industry. This letter represents his personal views.)

The World Bank: Right Part of the Time and Wrong On Occasion on Malaysia


October 18, 2016

The World Bank: Right Part of the Time and Wrong On Occasion on Malaysia

by Dr Lim Teck Ghee

The World Bank’s occasional economic reports on Malaysia can generally be relied upon to offer sound analysis on the country’s economic development that is different from those emanating from our national sources. They provide a more critical perspective on entrenched policies or proposed new ones by stake players who should be independent and should not be beholden to the Malaysian government or any interest or lobby group.

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Two recent reports should be of interest to our policy makers. The first which came out in June this year affirmed the importance of leveraging on trade agreements and partnerships for the nation’s continuing economic prosperity.

The Economic Monitor report noted that

  • Malaysia is one of the most open economies in the world, with a trade to GDP ratio of 148% (from 2010 to 2014) compared to 58% in developing countries in East Asia and Pacific.
  • About 40% of jobs in Malaysia are linked with export activities.

Most Malaysians are aware of the importance of trade. But we have also seen the rise of uninformed and often xenophobic sentiments targeting the Trans-Pacific Partnership when it was being negotiated by the government. The Bank’s opinion on this and other similar agreements needs to be reflected upon.

In essence the Bank argues that implementation of new regional trade agreements can help Malaysia carry out key economic reforms and accelerate the country’s transition to high-income status. It notes that the new generation of regional trade agreements – including the Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership, Trans-Pacific Partnership and European Union Free Trade Agreement – will shape trade and investment over the next decade.

It also calls for commitment to these agreements which goes beyond tariff reduction This is because not only will they have a significant impact on attracting investment, and further open up market access for the country’s exports of goods and services; they can also be used to push for deeper reform in competition policy, services trade and support to SMEs that would otherwise be difficult to initiate.

The Bank rightly warns that the transition will not be easy and proactive measures will be needed to ensure wider benefits under the new regional trade agreements.

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Notwithstanding the problems and difficulties, it is important for our policy and decision makers to get the Bank’s message and stay the course of this road of reform if we want our economy to grow and become more resilient.

Reducing Vulnerabilities the Wrong Way

The latest Bank report – a newly released East Asia and Pacific Economic Update entitled “Reducing Vulnerabilities” – focuses on current global economic uncertainties; the risks that come from external developments as well as touches in its country chapter on Malaysia on our own home grown financial crisis arising from 1MDB which “could impact investors’ sentiments and divert the Government’s focus from needed reform, while an unanticipated sharp adjustment among households to a higher cost of living or a more pronounced softening in labour market conditions could also affect private consumption”.

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To alleviate the impact on the bottom 40% population, the Bank is recommending targeted measures “to support the most vulnerable households”. This, in its view, could include the introduction of “unemployment benefits [which] could help to improve matching in the labour market and provide support as the labour market softens” (https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/25088/9781464809910.pdf; p.128).

Bank guidance on this issue is clearly off the mark if not plain wrong. Firstly, the nation’s finances are in no position to support a social welfare system providing benefits to the section of the population that is registered as unemployed or do not currently have a job. For now and the foreseeable future, the nation needs to exercise financial prudence and discipline in spending. In fact, the Bank itself has noted in the same report that recent increases in the minimum wage and public sector salaries would be difficult to sustain as the necessary fiscal consolidation continues.

Any social welfare or social protection system that is being proposed needs to be sustainable, financially viable and well targeted. In Malaysia it is especially important to ensure that the new proposed system does not become a political football and/or is open to wide scale fraud and abuse. Both negative possibilities are very likely given the present state of politics and governance in the nation.

A stronger and more rigorous defence of the proposal for the introduction of unemployment benefits by the World Bank with empirical data proving its case is necessary if it wants this policy recommendation to be taken seriously. For now, the advocates of this policy in the Bank may be comforted by the fact that a de facto unemployment benefits system already exists in Malaysia through the use of the civil service to employ hundreds of thousands of otherwise unemployed and unemployable school leavers, graduates and others primarily from the  Bumiputra community.  Poor Indians have been left out leaving them marginalized from the mainstream.

Such a system has been ongoing for at least the last 20 years and makes Malaysia a role model for countries in this field of racially targeted labour market intervention.

 

Listen to the Brilliant Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore


September 19, 2016

Listen to the Brilliant Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore

I admire and respect Singapore’s  Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam for his intellect, eloquence  and  leadership. He is a living example of what a meritocratic society can produce, irrespective one’s race, colour, religion  and political bent. It is a culture of integrity and competence that makes Singapore what it is today. Malaysia pales by comparison.

DPM Tharman’s official resume (below) is impressive.–Din Merican

The Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore

Home

DPM Tharman has served as Deputy Prime Minister in the Singapore Cabinet since May 2011. He was also appointed Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies on 1 Octöber 2015. He is in addition Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Singapore’s central bank and financial regulator.

He has spent his career in public service, in roles mainly around economic policy and education. He served as Minister for Finance for eight years, over 2007- 2015. He was Minister for Education for five years, over 2003-2008. He spent much of his earlier professional life at the MAS, where he was the Managing Director before entering politics in 2001.

Among his current responsibilities, he leads the Skills Future initiative, which seeks to build the skills of the future among Singaporeans, and empower them to learn at every stage of life.

He was appointed by his international peers as Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), the key policy forum of the IMF, for an extended period of four years from 2011, and was its first Asian chair. He is also a member of the Group of Thirty, an independent global council of leading economic and financial policy-makers and academics.

He chairs the International Academic Advisory Panel that advises the Government on strategies for the university sector. In addition, he chairs the International Advisory Council of the Singapore Economic Development Board.

Besides his responsibilities in Government, he chairs the Board of Trustees of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), which seeks to uplift educational performance and aspirations in the Indian Singaporean community. He also chairs the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute.

He was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2001 in Jurong GRC, and has been reelected three times since. He was elected to the Central Executive Committee of the People’s Action Party in 2002, and was appointed 2nd Assistant Secretary-General in 2011.

He did his schooling in Singapore, before studying at the London School of Economics and Cambridge University for undergraduate and masters degrees in Economics. He later obtained a masters in Public Administration at Harvard University, where he was named a Lucius N Littauer Fellow.

He is an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Economics. He was also made the fifth Honorary Fellow of the Economic Society of Singapore, in  2010.

Married to Jane Yumiko Ittogi, a lawyer by background and now actively engaged in community work and the non-profit arts sector. They have a daughter and three sons.

Copyright @ The Government of Singapore. All rights reserved.

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?


August 23, 2016

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?

by Dr. KJ John

http://www.malaysiakini.com

In the Seven (7) Habits series, Stephen Covey’s central thesis is that we must grow or develop habits for growth and development in meaningful and significant ways. He argues that all human or organic systems must first grow from total dependence (and appreciate all its full meanings) to independence or human freedoms, and then, finally and fully appreciate interdependence with others of like-heart and mind. This is also the Hearts and Mind agenda of our NGO.

Full understanding and appreciation of real and true meaning of interdependence must belong to every one of the stakeholders and partners in a shared and common enterprise. It must become a shared vision for posterity; and never to be compromised.

Whether it is the UN or the EU, or even federated states like the US or Malaysia, or our simple OHMSI Sdn Bhd; interdependence properly understood and stewarded defines real and true meanings of the so-called freedom we ‘pretend to enjoy’, it then becomes real ‘merdeka’.

Covey’s 7-Habits

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergise
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw”

– Stephen R Covey, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Malaysia-Land of Beauty

I will try to evaluate our Malaysia project, not simply from a historical perspective, but more importantly from a worldview perspective and see what Covey might be saying to us. Such a perspective puts a very high premium on human values for growth within the ethics and culture of lived life; in seeking to move organic systems from the full dependence towards voluntary and volitional inter-dependence.

The Malaysia project

Malaysia came into existence on September 16, 2016. But, that fact is not clearly taught in history. Not many of us today can change that false reality interpreted today. Before that date we had four independent states called Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and the North Borneo States of Sarawak and Sabah; each with their own unique story about the movement from dependence towards independence and now interdependence.

Rightly or wrongly, for reasons of their own, in August 1965 Singapore chose to leave Malaysia by mutual agreement and consent between the leaderships of Malaysia and the island state. I am not sure if and whether Sarawak and Sabah or the United Kingdom had any direct say in this matter.

Therefore, after a short marriage of two years, Singapore exercised their ‘move from total dependence from the United Kingdom towards independence from the new Malaysia’. They wanted to learn and grow the experience and freedom with true independence.

Sarawak and Sabah may have had views about such a move by Singapore, but I do not know those facts, but they too surely want to experience movement from full dependence towards true independence. And their growth experiences will be surely very different.

Sarawak and Sabah’s self-governance experience

Have the Sarawak and Sabah governments and their political leadership learned true independence and interdependence from their many years as a one-third partner of Malaysia; even as the Malaysia Agreement gave them some clear and separate jurisdictions?

Many of these legal rights and privileges were captured within the revised Federal Constitution of Malaysia and including recognition of their 18 and 20 point submissions. Was there ever consensus on those two documents by the political leadership of Malaysia?

But why therefore, after more than 50 years within Malaysia, do they now put their foot down about Petronas’ governance and staff recruitment strength and raise issues about employment permits? As a public policy person, I am simply wondering loudly.

What have they really learnt about independence, or interdependence, or is it still merely dependence, if anything at all? Or, do these jurisdictional governance regimes feel like, we the Malayans, have thoroughly abused them altogether?

Learning from Covey

In my Pet Theory R, relationships are an important and elemental R. Therefore, building and growing our knowledge about ‘nurturing and growing mature relationships’ using the Covey’s three-step process and applying them to his seven habits for Sarawak and Sabah relationships with Malayans may be instructional:

  • Malaya was proactive in nurturing a relationship with Sarawak and Sabah; Brunei however did not respond in the same way. Why? We still grew Malaysia. Did we ask Indonesia at all?
  • Our end in mind was always National Unity and regional stability; and more recently, we have added words like integration and integrity. I call that agenda: integration with integrity.
  • What is our First Things First? Is it Malaysia, ‘Melayusia’, or ketuanan bumiputra for now or centre versus periphery in governance of lived life and stewardship of resources; including all human beings especially citizens?
  • Do we think win-win every time we have bilateral issues in our relationships concerns? Or, can we really begin to think win-win-win to endure stewardship as the third win for the sake of all human beings?
  • Do we seek to understand before we seek to be understood? I did not understand Sarawakians until I met the Kelabits earlier and now, after I spent 10 days in Baram Valley. Maximus Ongkili, Beth Baikan and Bernard Dompok taught me to learn to understand Kadazans.
  • Have we really learnt to synergise? Why then is the Malaysian Public Service still more than 80 percent made up of peninsular Malays (non-Malays are less than 10 percent I believe)? This issue is reflective of the Petronas case story. Synergy would allow for creating new values; not simply depreciating existing values.
  • Finally, from my experience on the ground, and meeting so many smart and equally ambitious Orang Ulu Sarawak and Kadazans; these questions are my Covey test for all of Malayans to sharpen our saw or ‘tools of execution and evaluation’ so that we can see and learn the real meaning of Malaysian interdependence and not allow it to become a foolhardy project.

KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.