The New Yorker: Kofi Annan’s Unaccountable Legacy


August 20, 2018

The New Yorker: Kofi Annan’s Unaccountable Legacy

During his ten years as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan was often spoken of as a figure of preternatural calm. He appeared, even to those who worked most closely with him, to be a man devoid of anger, who would never take things personally—a quality reflected in his habit of speaking, when matters of consequence were at stake, in the royal “we.” Annan’s ability to project this unflappable persona—the honest broker between conflicting interests—was generally cited as his great strength. In other, much more profound ways, however, this aloofness was his defining weakness.

Prior to becoming Secretary-General, in 1997, Annan served as the head of the U.N.’s peacekeeping department, and in that capacity presided over the ignominious failures of the U.N. missions in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. Yet, right up until his death, on Saturday, in Switzerland, he steadfastly refused to acknowledge any meaningful sense of personal or institutional responsibility for these debacles, even as he spoke tirelessly of the world’s desperate need for more responsible leadership—“cool heads and sober judgment,” as he put it in an interview with the BBC, in April, in one of his final public appearances, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

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Kofi Annan and his wife Nane Lagergren

Annan’s image of cool was, of course, just that: an image. There is no mistaking the prickly personal pique, for instance, in a cable he sent in 1995, on the eve of the first anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, to another U.N. official. The tone of defensive derision is established in the first sentence: “Every now and then some journalist or human rights advocate remarks, usually on the media, that either they themselves or someone else had warned UNAMIR”—the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda—“of the impending genocide.” Annan then wrote, “We do not recall any specific reports from Kigali to this effect.” A review of the peacekeeping files, he wrote, had turned up only four cables from Kigali in the months preceding the genocide that mentioned “ethnic tensions as being possibly related—or not related—to specific incidents of violence.”

But, in reality, one of the four cables Annan listed consisted of an alarmingly specific report of preparations for the genocide, sent by his force commander in Kigali, the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, in January of 1994. Dallaire had heard from a trusted informant on the payroll of Rwanda’s ruling party, who described plans to “provoke a civil war,” and to kill Belgian peacekeepers in order to scuttle the U.N. mission. The informant himself said he was involved in drawing up lists of Tutsis in Kigali, and Dallaire wrote, “He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in twenty minutes his personnel could kill up to a thousand Tutsis.” Dallaire asked for permission to act on this information by raiding and seizing illegal arms caches. Annan’s office replied at once, in a cable under his name, and signed by his deputy, telling Dallaire not to act but, rather, to follow diplomatic protocol and share his information with Rwanda’s President—the head of the party that Dallaire wanted to act against. Three months later, in April of 1994, everything that Dallaire described in his warning took place, and in the course of a hundred days around a million Tutsis were massacred.

 

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In May of 1998, when I published a report on Dallaire’s fax and Annan’s response, Annan—who had since been promoted to Secretary-General—dismissed reporters’ questions on the exchange, saying, “This is an old story which is being rehashed.” And he said, “I have no regrets.” The following year, when a U.N.-commissioned investigation described Annan’s failure to share the information in Dallaire’s fax with the Security Council as “incomprehensible,” he remained studiously cool and impersonal. “All of us must bitterly regret that we did not do more to prevent it,” he said. “On behalf of the United Nations, I acknowledge this failure and express my deep remorse.”

Annan was the first Secretary-General ever to come from a lifelong career in the U.N. bureaucracy. In a Profile I wrote of him, in 2003, during the run-up to the Iraq War, I described how that background had shaped his instincts and reflexes:

Annan’s habit of speaking in the name of the U.N. when he is criticized, and of casting the collective burden of the organization’s failures on the shoulders of the world at large, stands in stark contrast to his willingness to take credit when there’s praise to be had. It is a deeply ingrained reflex among U.N. officials to blame the member states for the organization’s failures, just as the member states blame the U.N. for theirs. Invariably, there are well-founded grievances on both sides of this seesaw of complaint, but they cannot properly be judged by the same standards.

As Secretary-General, Annan sought to assert the U.N.’s authority as the ultimate arbiter of legitimacy and legality in international affairs. The paradox of that authority, however, is that it is entirely derived from the sovereign powers over which it is meant to hold sway. Annan’s insistence that the U.N. could not be blamed for its failures, but that it should get credit in the event of success, failed to resolve that paradox.

As Secretary-General, he resisted the temptation to make any more of the false promises of protection that the U.N. had repeatedly betrayed on his watch at peacekeeping, and for this he was hailed as a reformer. But his attempt to recast the U.N.’s role as an international legal authority meant limiting its legitimacy to nothing more, nor less, than the Security Council’s seal of approval. And the contradictions of this legalistic position came to a head in the run-up to the Iraq War. When the United States made its case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein on the basis of Saddam’s refusal to comply with past Security Council resolutions, Annan was caught in a bind, helping to steer the Security Council into granting legitimacy to a war that he and most of the U.N.’s member states considered illegitimate.

 

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Annan was the last U.N. Secretary-General to figure, in news headlines and public consciousness, as a central figure in the major international conflicts of his time. That he was weak was a function, chiefly, of his office, but it was also a function of his curious mixture of grandiosity and unaccountability. He fancied himself a great leader, but he was constitutionally incapable of accepting the burdens that great leadership entails. In his final press conference as Secretary-General, he spoke bitterly, even mockingly, of being asked to carry the weight of his office. “There is a tendency in certain places to blame the Secretary-General for everything, for Rwanda, for Srebrenica, for Darfur,” he said. “But should we not also blame the Secretary-General for Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the tsunami, earthquakes? Perhaps the Secretary-General should be blamed for all of those things. We can have fun with that, if you want.” This past April, when he sat for his interview with the BBC, Annan was pressed one last time to acknowledge that some of his actions and inactions on the world stage had had consequences. He was as dismissive as ever. Of Bosnia, he said, “It’s always easy to find a scapegoat.” Of Rwanda, he said, “We were helpless.” May he rest in peace.

  • Philip Gourevitch has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker since 1995, and a staff writer since 1997

https://www.newyorker.com

Malaysia: Time for radical thinkers in our varsities


August 18, 2018

Opinion

Malaysia: Time for radical thinkers in our varsities

Dr.Azly Rahman
 

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”

– Plato

 COMMENT | I once taught Thinking Skills, Foreign Policy, and Ethics. My approach towards teaching thinking was about increasing the capacity of the mind to explore newer perspectives, make critical judgement, and envision a scenario of a society of peace and justice, based on the principles of multiculturalism.

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Maybe it is Biro Tata Negara (?)

I value such an experience and have grown with it. We need to create and nurture a culture of thinking in a world that is increasingly hostile to radical and ethical ideas.

What could be even more important now as we enter a new phase of Malaysian intellectual evolution, at a time when we hear stories of vice-chancellors are enemies of the people’s mind and are being removed?

In my teaching, the approach combines universal ethical values, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, and futuristics. I think there is value in such an approach.

If we can radicalise student thinking, teach them to stand for their rights, give them choices in thinking, have them articulate great ideas in their own words, we can make them better graduates.

We can train them to become good ethical revolutioners who will remove oppressive and corrupt leaders and redesign a society that will continue to rejuvenate itself. We can teach them to continue to demand the resignation of corrupt leaders – or even have an entire cabinet resign.

We can also teach them to punish polluters, especially corporations that dump poison into our rivers or release deadly smoke into our environment. We can create socially-conscious futurists out of our children.

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Futurists conjure scenarios of societies they want to have – build from the ruins of one that has crumbled out of the need for greed and economic speed.

Radical futurists create newer social order reconstructed out of the ruins of the ones ruled by leaders addicted to raw power; power employed to rape the environment and humanity these leaders are entrusted to “govern”.

But first, we must have the teachers and lecturers prepare for all these as well. We have many bright, young, academics eager to explore newer perspectives on politics, economic, and cultural aspects of our world. Can they do these in a cognitively-controlled environment? How do we help them?

Critical thinking is not about ‘criticising’

It seems that there is a deeper meaning to “critical thinking” than just “criticising” something or anything.

It is a process of the personal evolution of metacognition (beyond cognition itself); to understand one’s own thinking process and to govern it with the tools one acquires through interacting with the environment and processing information that will become meaningful through the complex neural connections made in the brain.

There has to be a good repertoire of knowledge in one’s consciousness in order to understand the “dialectical and dialogical” aspect of thinking.

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Our education system must encourage this development through the love of reading – the exploration of good and great books taught by teachers who love books and have the passion to challenge students to think and think.

Thinking must be encouraged; students must live their daily lives in classrooms without fear of being punished or ridiculed for thinking critically and creatively.

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Our classrooms must encourage dialogues and debates even if the subject matter is sensitive, difficult, painful, and intellectually challenging. We must have good teachers to groom students to become brave thinkers and communicators of ideas.

These professors themselves must embody the virtues of radical thinking and become beacons of hope for newer thinkers, much like what Socrates was to the Athenians in fifth century BC.

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Thinkers of the Axial Age–Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

Radical thinkers must be celebrated and honoured, not imprisoned and shamed. Only a shameless government doing shameful acts would jail good, ethical, socially-conscious thinkers who speak truth to power.

If in our universities, thinking means thinking about what the state dictates and students are being punished for speaking out on issues that concern their role as future inheritors of their society, we have a got a national problem. How do we make our universities even free from the dictates of the new regime?

Higher order thinking

The essence of higher order thinking skills is the “Why” question and the “What if” and “Why not this”. These questions help our students to critique dominant paradigm and allow them to conjure newer perspectives, much like what radical social futurists would do.

What is the culture of critical thinking in our Malaysian classrooms these days? Is it enabling the culture of thinking or retarding it?

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The Defender of the Trumpian Age–Where was this Italian American educated?

Critical thinking is also not about running in the streets screaming for this or that change; it is a process of intellectual embodiment and the democratisation of one’s personal understanding of the intellectual basis of change.

For too long we have seen our students doing that, yet the nature of protests could be traced to what politicians wanted or use the students to advance this or that politician’s desire for total power.

Thinking is a process subjective and individually unique in nature, first and foremost. The great American feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “If I cannot dance to it, it is not my revolution.” Such is a reminder of thinking as an existential act.

Today it must not be about blindly supporting the dying regime of Najibism nor the re-surfacing of Mahathirism. It has to be an act of deconstructing both and unshackling the prison-house of one’s thinking.

It is a process of constructing a “republic of virtue” in which each citizen is a philosopher-ruler in her own right. Each individual, perhaps like the notion held by the Buddhist, is “aware” of the surrounding, mastering her own environment, aware of cause and effects of beingness, to identify oppressive signs and symbols that govern her and others, to destroy structures that are shacking, to essentially be able to look at her life like a crystal ball.

Is this idea of creating world-wise radical intellectual and movers and shakers possible in our Malaysian educational system?

This is the greatest challenge of this century, for our nation especially. If we wish to remove, the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which has in it the ‘Pledge of loyalty to the state’, and remove all acts that are anathema to a healthy thinking culture, we must rethink how we think.

We owe a good education system to our children – a system that will encourage children to systematically revolt against systems, especially against those which still want to divide and rule based on race and religion. Especially against yet another regime that might also use the tools of colonialism and apartheid, even against its own people, retarding the grown of a progressive generation.

We are not yet free. We might still be moving from one totalitarian system to another. Hegemony in transition, as the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci would say.

I think, therefore I exist (cogito, ergo, sum) Rene Descartes said. I’d say we think, therefore we revolt – we must work towards that.


 

Dr. AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.

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

A Hundred Days of Prevarication


August 15, 2018

A Hundred Days of Prevarication

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

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The GE-14 election defeat of the BN which had ruled the country since 1957 was testimony to the determination of the Malaysian people and civil society who had opposed BN rule for decades. Sixty-one years of BN domination had included 22 years with Prime Minister Mahathir at the helm. The Malaysian people chose to cast their votes for the PH coalition because PH had promised in their GE14 manifesto to implement wide ranging reforms that made them seem radically different from the governance experienced under the BN.

In the first 100 days of the new PH government, we find that their report card scores around 20% based on their own promises alone. The flip flopping over the abolition of BTN and National Service shows the importance of civil society to voice our opposition to such bitterly toxic and noxious institutions in the country. Nor do their promises consider the more urgent comprehensive list of reforms that civil society has long argued is of higher priority. On top of all that, we have witnessed a disturbing trend of autocratic decision making and policies symptomatic of the old Mahathir 1.0 era.

Sacrifices at the altar of the trillion-ringgit debt mountain

The convenient opt out clause for the new government is to pile much of the blame on the previous administration including the accusation of them of having run up a debt of RM1 trillion, or 80% of our GDP and apparently stealing RM19 billion of GST refunds. That blame frame then provides the new government with an emotional basis for gaining sympathy by starting a ‘Tabung Harapan’ and appealing for donations. While the way in which this fund will be used remains unclear, it is probably the only fund in the world set up with the apparent aim of trying to plug a country’s debt hole. It is telling that while a little boy has contributed his piggy bank to the fund, the two richest men in the country who happen to sit in the “Council of Eminent Advisors” have not made a comparable sacrifice to the fund.

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As for the actual size of the national debt, there is dispute between economists depending on whether we include government guarantees and lease payments under public-private partnerships. The size of Malaysia’s government debt in international statistics for 2017 is actually 64% of GDP, compared to China’s 65%, Singapore’s 110%, US’ 108% and Japan’s 236%. Clearly, what is at stake is the country’s economic fundamentals, which the new Finance Minister assures us are still strong. It also depends on how the debt is financed since relying on overseas borrowing can carry higher risks. It also depends on the country’s prospects for economic growth. Japan has one of the largest public sector debts in the world but it also has a large pool of domestic savings on which to draw.

Nonetheless, this mythical “trillion-ringgit debt mountain” has become an altar on which promises made by PH in the GE14 manifesto are sacrificed – local government elections, new approved Chinese schools, minimum wage, abolishing highway tolls and postponing PTPTN loans. This is definitely not acceptable as an excuse for putting off these urgent election promises since PH had assured us that they could manage the economy once they had ousted BN.

But then the much-trumpeted review of all mega projects so as to reprioritise and reduce the debt mountain is not consistent with the approval of the Penang Transport Master Plan nor with the recently announced Proton 2.0 project by the PM. The Infrastructure Development Minister Peter Anthony has also announced that a dam costing RM2 billion will be built at Kampung Bisuang in Papar when Parti Warisan Sabah had promised to scrap the Kaiduan Dam project.

Back to privatising national assets and Proton 2.0

So far, the new PH government has not spelled out their fundamental difference in economic policy from the old BN regime. What we have heard so far is the alarming news of the return of the old discredited Mahathirist policies, namely, privatisation of our national assets in the name of Bumiputeraism and the revival of the national car, Proton 2.0.

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The PM has said that the sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah will be privatised for the benefit of Bumiputeras. Malaysians need to be reminded that during the financial crisis of 1997/98, it was Khazanah that had stepped in to take over the assets of the failed companies owned by the Bumiputra crony capitalists in Renong, MAS and TRI. After taking over the assets, Khazanah revamped these GLCs with professional managers and better rules of governance. Khazanah currently owns 51% of PLUS Expressways, with the EPF owning the other 49%. By end 2017, the net worth of companies under Khazanah was RM125.6bil. Thus, Khazanah is successfully achieving its purpose of creating a sovereign wealth fund for the benefit of ALL Malaysians. Its expressed purpose never has been to be privatised to Bumiputera crony capitalists.

Mahathir’s privatization drive during his first term (1981-2003) was a boon for private crony capital, especially those linked to UMNO. Malaysian tax payers were the losers since these erstwhile profitable public utilities were sold for a song to the private capitalists and we became captive to UMNO-linked monopolies, such as the North-South Highway operator. Furthermore, these failed crony capitalists had to be bailed out with our money during the financial crisis of 1997/98.

During these 100 days, the Prime Minister has also announced the revival of yet another national car, or Proton 2.0. After the fiasco of Proton 1.0 and the huge cost to Malaysian taxpayers, our public transport system and Malaysian consumers, it is unbelievable that such a failed enterprise could be supported by a PH leadership full of former critics of the first Proton project. Another national car project will surely fail with further losses to the national coffers and we will have to underwrite the losses. The PH government won’t have 1MDB to blame for that anymore. We should further note that one of Mahathir’s former crony capitalists, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, owns a majority 50.1% in Proton Holdings through DRB-Hicom. This hare-brained idea to start another national car project reminds me of what somebody said about politicians: “Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnels…”

Back to Mahathirist autocracy

It is truly alarming that no Cabinet member nor “eminent person” in the CEF has voiced any objections to Mahathir’s proposed plans to privatise Khazanah and to start another national car. They will have to bear collective responsibility for the consequences in the event of its failure. We are witnessing the same “silence of the lambs” culture for which the DAP used to criticise the BN leaders under Mahathir 1.0 with the new ministers saying “We’ll leave it to the prime minister” and “I’ll discuss this with the prime minister to let him decide”, ad nauseum.

The PH manifesto prohibits the PM from also taking over the Finance portfolio but Dr Mahathir has in the 100 days taken over the choicest companies, namely Khazanah, PNB & Petronas under his PMO. It is the return to the old Mahathirist autocracy. Was the Cabinet consulted in the decision to start Proton 2, privatise Khazanah, Malaysia Incorporated and the revival of the failed F1 circuit?

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The appointment of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali to the board of Khazanah Nasional Berhad also goes against the PH manifesto promise of keeping politicians out of publicly-funded investments since it leads to poor accountability. Only by insisting on boards being comprised of professionals and on rigorous parliamentary checks and balances for bodies such as Khazanah can we ensure a high level of transparency and accountability. Mahathir’s response to this criticism was the old feudal justification: “I started Khazanah so why can’t I be in it?” In other words, “Stuff your high ideals and democratic principles!”

We will have to wait for Lim Guan Eng’s memoirs in the future to see how he responded to Mahathir leaving him out of Khazanah. Did the PM even discuss this with him? After all, Khazanah is still under MoF Inc. If the finance minister is left out of the Khazanah board, how will he be privy to what the Khazanah board is doing? No doubt Mahathir knew that having given the DAP Secretary-General the Finance Minister post, he could get away with anything…

Consistency in the war on kleptocracy

The new PH government had pledged to wipe out kleptocracy and this promise was key to the victory at GE14. They have disappointed the people of Malaysia and especially Sarawakians who have seen the wealth of their state sucked dry by the rapacious greed of the kleptocrats there. The PH government has not yet acted to make the former Chief Minister Taib Mahmud declare all his assets and those of his spouse and family’s. The PH Government has shown us that where there is a political will in getting to the root of the 1MDB scandal, there is a way to get rid Malaysia of corruption and crony capitalism. However, by letting off his long-time ally in Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, arguably the richest man in Malaysia, the Prime Minister makes his campaign against the former PM Najib look like a personal vendetta. The Prime Minister has also failed to lead by example and declare his assets and those of his spouse and children’s.

Conflict of interest having corporate heads in Councils

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The Constitutional status of the appointed ‘Council of Eminent Persons’ has already been called into question especially when the Chairman of the Council, Daim Zainuddin is in a position in which he is able to call up judges and even represent the Government in negotiating with the Chinese Government over their investments in Malaysia. Now it has been reported that the Perak government has established the State Economic Advisory Council (SEAC) with corporate heads of MK Land Bhd, KL Kepong Bhd and Gamuda Bhd as “eminent advisors”.

There is gross conflict of interest with such arrangements when these corporate leaders still have interests in the local and international corporate scene. It is well known that Daim Zainuddin has corporate and banking interests all over the world. His business interests extend beyond banking to other key sectors of the country’s economy such as plantations, manufacturing, retailing, property development and construction.

Delaying urgent reforms is unacceptable

Using the excuse of the government debt to delay local government elections which have been suspended in our country since 1965 is not acceptable. It is a simple matter of abolishing a provision under the Local Government Act 1976 and reviving the Local Government Election Act in order to introduce local government elections. If the PH government is prepared to see billions going down the drain with the revived Proton 2.0 project, don’t tell us there is no money for running local council elections please.

It is equally absurd to tell Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary School graduates that their UEC certificate can only be recognised in five years’ time. The UEC certificate went unrecognised by the BN for 61 years even though it has internationally proven its efficacy with thousands of graduates since 1975. This is a serious breach of promise in the PH GE14 manifesto since more than 80 per cent of Chinese voters voted for PH because of this promised reform. The only steadfast decision made by the Education Minister so far is the decision that students will have to wear black shoes instead of white ones.

Many lawyers have pointed out that the repeal or review of our laws that violate basic human rights can be expeditiously accomplished within the first 100 days of the new PH government. These include abolishing laws that allow detention without trial, namely, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) 2015.

It is alarming to hear the Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong say recently that the PH government is now reconsidering its initial pledge to abolish several contentious laws including, the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act (Poca) 1959, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, Printing Presses and Publications (PPPA) Act 1984 and the National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016. This is totally unethical backtracking on the PH GE14 manifesto.

The death penalty is a violation of human rights and must be abolished. Meanwhile, there ought to have been an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition and commuting the sentences of all persons currently on death row. The implementation of the Independent Police Complaints & Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and other recommendations of the Royal Police Commission in 2005 is long overdue to ensure transparency and accountability by the police and other enforcement agencies such as the MACC.

During the 100 days under the PH government, we have witnessed the Sedition Act and the CMA still being used against activists and prevarication on the issue of child marriages. We have also seen the rule of law being flouted when a Minister in the PM’s Department can order the removal of portraits of LGBTQ Malaysians from an exhibition in Penang. Just as alarming is the statement by another Minister that cyanide used by gold miners in Bukit Koman is perfectly safe and non-hazardous to people or the environment.

Reneging on manifesto promises

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From the failure by the PH government to fulfil their election promises in the 100 days, it is clear that the GE14 manifesto was drafted in a slipshod manner in order to secure populist votes. These include the promises to abolish toll from the highways within the stipulated time promised; no firm position regarding the PTPTN loan repayments; wavering on the promise to pay a 20 per cent instead of 5 per cent royalty to oil producing states based on revenue from gross production; the deduction of a percentage from a husband’s EPF contributions to go into the accounts of his wife, etc. PH has so far implemented less than half of their election promises. Will the PM apologise for reneging on these election promises?

Real reforms we expect in “new” Malaysia

Within the first year of the PH administration, Malaysians expect serious transformational reforms that will reconstitute truly democratic institutions and improve the lives of the 99 per cent and especially the B40 Malaysians. Of the highest priority, we expect urgent initiatives to implement the 8 key reforms including:

1. An end to race-based parties and policies especially replacing race-based policies with needs-based measures that truly benefit the lower-income and marginalized sectors and basing recruitment and promotion in the civil and armed services strictly on merit;

2. Re-instatement of our democratic institutions including bringing back elected local councils and enacting a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act at federal and state levels;

3. Zero tolerance for corruption and political leaders who have been charged with corruption must step down while their case is pending in the courts;

4. A progressive economic policy that will renationalize privatised assets, especially land, water, energy, which belong to the Malaysian people instead of local and foreign capitalists, opening up GLCs to democratic control of the people and directing them to implement good labour and environmental policies;

5. Redistribute wealth fairly through progressive taxation on the high-income earners, their wealth and property and effective tax laws to ensure there are no tax loopholes for the super-rich;

6. A far-sighted and fair education policy with equal opportunities for all without any racial discrimination with regard to enrolment into all schools including tertiary educational institutions;

7. Defend workers’ rights and interests especially their right to unionise and a progressive guaranteed living wage for all workers, including foreign workers;

8. People-centred and caring social policies including an effective low-cost public housing programme for rental or ownership throughout the country for the poor and marginalized communities;

9. Prioritise Orang Asal rights and livelihood by recognizing their rights over the land they have been occupying for centuries, prohibiting logging in Orang Asal land and ensuring all Orang Asal villages have adequate social facilities and services;

10. Sustainable development & environmental protection by allowing all local people to be consulted before any development projects and all permanent forest and wildlife reserves are gazetted.

The lesson of the first 100 days of the PH administration teaches us that, as always, civil society must be ever vigilant to push for these reforms because the government of the day will drag its feet and renege on these election promises when they have the opportunity.

 

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Dr Kua Kia Soong hits out at PH ‘flip-flops’ ahead of 100-day milestone


August 15, 2018

Dr Kua Kia Soong hits out at PH ‘flip-flops’ ahead of 100-day milestone

Suaram Adviser Kua Kia Soong also says Putrajaya appears more interested in playing the blame game than getting down to business.

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Dr Kua Kia Soong, prominent activist,former Isa detainee, and prolific analyst, today accused the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government of flip-flopping on a number of issues, just days before the administration led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad marks its first 100 days in power.

Giving the example of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), Kua Kia Soong asked why it would take five years to recognise it when PH had stated in its manifesto that it was ready to accept it. He said other issues included the oil royalty promised to East Malaysia and the abolition of highway tolls.

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In July, Mahathir announced in Parliament that Putrajaya would honour its promise to provide 20% royalty to petroleum-producing states. But he later clarified the statement, saying the 20% payment would be based on profit instead of royalty.

The Suaram Adviser said it was also unacceptable that local elections could only be held after three years. “Delaying reforms in unacceptable. A really important reform we want to see concerns the redistribution of wealth,” he added.

Dr. Kua was speaking at Suaram’s presentation of its report card for PH’s first 100 days in government.He said following the election, Putrajaya seemed more interested in playing the blame game than getting down to business.

“We read news of the missing goods and services tax (GST) money, yet there has been no movement. Have the Police or Attorney-General acted on it? We should be told what happened to the money within a week,” he said.

He also took issue with Tabung Harapan Malaysia, a fund established to help settle the country’s RM1 trillion debt, saying he could not accept “sob stories” related to the initiative.

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“It’s about the management of the economy to plug the leaks, not the piggy banks of little boys,” he said, referring to the story of a youth who donated his savings to the fund.

As for the government’s war on kleptocracy, Kua asked why authorities had yet to zoom in on former Sarawak chief minister Taib Mahmud, who was accused of corruption in the past.

“And why haven’t Mahathir and his children declared their assets?”

No to Academic Normalization of Trump


August 6, 2018

No to Academic Normalization of Trump

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Those who have served the current US president are necessarily tainted by the experience. While they should not be barred from speaking at universities, they should be accorded none of the trappings of institutional esteem such as fellowships, named lectures, and keynote speeches.

 

CAMBRIDGE – The University of Virginia recently faced a storm of protest after its Miller Center of Public Affairs appointed President Donald Trump’s former Director of Legislative Affairs, Marc Short, to a one-year position as Senior Fellow. Two faculty members severed ties with the center, and a petition to reverse the decision has gathered nearly 4,000 signatures. A similar protest erupted at my home institution last year, when Corey Lewandowski, a one-time campaign manager for Trump, was appointed a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

“Universities should uphold both free inquiry and the values of liberal democracy. The first calls for unhindered exchange and interaction with Trumpist views. The second requires that the engagement be carefully calibrated, with not even a semblance of honor or recognition bestowed on those serving an administration that so grossly violates liberal democratic norms.”–Dani Rodrik

The Trump administration confronts universities with a serious dilemma. On one hand, universities must be open to diverse viewpoints, including those that conflict with mainstream opinion or may seem threatening to specific groups. Students and faculty who share Trump’s viewpoint should be free to speak without censorship. Universities must remain fora for free inquiry and debate. Moreover, schools and institutes of public affairs must offer student and faculty opportunities to engage with the policymakers of the day.

On the other hand, there is the danger of normalizing and legitimizing what can only be described as an odious presidency. Trump violates on a daily basis the norms on which liberal democracy rests. He undermines freedom of the media and independence of the judiciary, upholds racism and sectarianism, and promotes prejudice. He blithely utters one falsehood after another.

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Those who serve with him are necessarily tainted by the experience. Trump’s close associates and political appointees are his enablers – regardless of their personal merits and how much they try to disassociate themselves from Trump’s utterances. Qualities like “intelligence,” “effectiveness,” “integrity,” and “collegiality” – words used by Miller Center Director William J. Antholis to justify Short’s appointment – have little to commend them when they are deployed to advance an illiberal political agenda.

The stain extends beyond political operatives and covers economic policymakers as well. Trump’s cabinet members and high-level appointees share collective responsibility for propping up a shameful presidency. They deserve opprobrium not merely because they hold cranky views on, say, the trade deficit or economic relations with China, but also, and more importantly, because their continued service makes them fully complicit in Trump’s behavior.

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Academic institutions must therefore tread a narrow path. They cannot turn their backs on Trump and his entourage, nor ignore their views. Otherwise, they would be stifling debate. This would run counter to what universities stand for. As a pragmatic matter, it would also backfire, by giving the Trump camp another opportunity to demonize the “liberal elite.”

But clear rules of engagement are necessary. The most important principle to uphold is the distinction between hearing someone and honoring someone. Trump’s immediate circle and senior appointees should be welcome for discussion and debate. They should be treated in a civil manner when they show up. But they should not be accorded the degree of respect or deference that their seniority and government positions would normally merit. We do not, after all, have a normal administration that can be served honorably.

This means no honorific titles (fellow, senior fellow), no named lectures, no keynote speeches headlining conferences or events. While individual faculty members and student groups should be free to invite Trump appointees to speak on campus, as a rule such invitations should not be issued by senior university officers. And lectures and presentations should always provide an opportunity for vigorous questioning and debate.

Without two-way interaction, there is no learning or understanding; there is only preaching. Administration officials who simply want to make a statement and escape searching interrogation should not be welcome.

Students and faculty who sympathize with Trump may perceive such practices as discriminatory. But there is no conflict between encouraging free speech and exchange of views, which these rules are meant to support, and the university making its own values clear.

Like other organizations, universities have the right to determine their practices in accordance with their values. These practices may diverge from what specific subgroups within them would like to see, either because there are contending values or because there are differences on the practicalities of how to realize them.

For example, some students may believe that requirements for a certain course of study are too stringent or that examinations are a waste of time. Universities allow free debate about such matters. But they reserve the right to set the rules on concentration requirements and exams. In doing so, they send an important signal to the rest of society about their teaching philosophy and pedagogical values. Allowing full debate of Trumpism while refusing to honor it would be no different.

Universities should uphold both free inquiry and the values of liberal democracy. The first calls for unhindered exchange and interaction with Trumpist views. The second requires that the engagement be carefully calibrated, with not even a semblance of honor or recognition bestowed on those serving an administration that so grossly violates liberal democratic norms.

Dani Rodrik is Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science, and, most recently, Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy.

Dr.Bakri Musa’s Advice to Education Minister Maszlee


August 7, 2018

Dr.Bakri Musa’s Advice to Education Minister Maszlee Malik : Be More An Executive, Less A Professor

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan Hill, California

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New Education Minister Maszlee Malik should be more an executive and less a professor. He leads an organization with a budget in excess of RM280B and a staff of over half a million to lead. That ministry, like all others, is not known for its crispness.

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Forget about grand plans and overarching policies. All would be for naught if your staff and organization cannot execute them, or if they are consumed with such trivia as campus newspaper subscriptions and pupils’ shoe color. If Maszlee is still obsessed with policies, delegate a committee to work on them.

Maszlee should first focus on shaping up that flabby organization. Enlist someone with a solid MBA or credible business experience to help him be an effective and efficient executive. There is a universe of difference in being a professor and an executive. Likewise, business meetings are unlike academic seminars. You want results and decisions, not endless intellectual musings and more research.

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Dr. Maszlee Malik–Malaysia’s New Education Minister

Maszlee should assess the capabilities and weaknesses of his staff . Forget about wacanas, town hall meetings, or press conferences. To his credit, he has already made many personal visits for first-hand assessments.

The challenges facing Malaysian education are as overwhelming as they are obvious, the consequence of long neglect, incompetent leadership, and political meddling. The difficulty is not in identifying them but to pick three or four of the more pressing ones and tackle those.

Maszlee has articulated some of those–greater university autonomy, making our students at least bilingual, enhancing English and STEM, as well as fixing our dilapidated schools. Those four would occupy and challenge him for some time. There is little need and would serve little purpose to go beyond as with recognizing UEC, sending a team to Finland, or issuing edicts on students’ shoe color.

Maszlee’s first and continuing public task, as with all the other ministers, is to “walk the talk.” He cannot profess to champion university autonomy and then order the dismantling of campus gates and make the campuses have speakers’ corners! The universities should do those things on their own initiative. By issuing that directive Maszlee missed out on a splendid opportunity to assess his Vice-Chancellors’ (VCs) responsiveness to the rising expectation for greater openness.

Maszlee should elicit from them their three or four most immediate challenges and ask how he as minister could help. They, not him, know best (or should) as they are closest to the problems. If they cannot articulate them or are more concerned with a welcoming ceremony for him, fire them.

Firing university leaders should be done only if they are found wanting or fail to gain the confidence of the greater campus community, and not because they were appointed by the previous administration. Doing so would only perpetuate the blight of political interference that is the bane of local institutions.

Likewise with stressing the importance of English. Maszlee would best demonstrate that not through endless speeches but with an executive decision to make MUET mandatory for universities and teachers’ colleges. Likewise if he were to give extra allowances and preferential choice for quarters to teachers of English (as well as STEM). He could also direct schools to increase their hours of instruction in English and have another subject be taught in that language.

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Former MITI Minister Rafidah Aziz–An Excellent Dare to Do  and dynamic executive

 

Another would be to have his staff communicate in English and make its proficiency a requirement for promotions and entry into the permanent establishment. Emulate what Rafidah Aziz did at MITI. She was an “excellent dare to do” dynamic executive.

Make 12 years of schooling the norm. Bring back Form VI and reduce it to one year and start it in January together with the rest of the school. Make the transition from Form V to VI as seamless as going from Form IV to V. That would bring order to the current chaos for school-leavers.

For those academically inclined, the current seven-month hiatus following Form V is a colossal waste of time and precious loss of learning opportunity. The rich enroll their children in private colleges. Most Malays idle their time away. Much attrition of good study habits occurs. Beyond that, idle time is the devil’s workshop.

Get rid of matrikulasi and universities’ foundation courses. Both are a waste of scarce and expensive resources. Universities should focus on undergraduate, graduate, and professional education, not high school work.

As for fixing schools, Maszlee has demonstrated the dire need for that by his many photo-ops showing him sitting at pupils’ broken desks. At the macro level the best solution would be to prevail upon Treasury to have MOE’s tenders be open to competitive bidding. That would achieve more with less.

At the micro level, the Minister would achieve even more and much faster while at the same time streamline the process if he were to give the money directly to the headmasters. Let them prioritize the repairs and choose the local contractors. If you entrust them with the nation’s most precious assets–the brains of our young–then you could also trust them with a few million ringgit.

Back to the teachers, Maszlee should not get bogged down with administrative trivia as with requests for their transfers and maternity leave. Let your human resources people deal with those. Stay out of it by letting the teachers deal with the schools directly.

Execute these well and Maszlee would earn the heartfelt gratitude of millions of Malaysians, quite apart from making a significant contribution to the betterment of the nation. Get off the public lectern and buckle down at your desk.

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Note: I have explored these and other ideas in greater depth in my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia (2003,  ISBN 983 2535 06-9 (Malaysian edition), 0-595-26590-1 (US Edition).