The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation


April 4, 2016

The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation

by Shrey Srivastava

If one could epitomise the phrase “could have been” in one simple image, it would indubitably be the image of Detroit. The unyielding forces of time have taken a once great city and denigrated it to the status of one of not only one of America’s most economically destitute, but also one of its most dangerous regions. Nowadays, Detroit carries many of the hallmarks of the lesser developed countries of the world, especially with roughly 47% of the population being described as “functionally illiterate” by The National Institute for Literacy, a rate only 13.8% higher than that of Afghanistan. Despite this, Detroit still carries as much, if not more potential as it did in the 20th century, and is simply crying out for some economic solutions to its varied and diverse range of problems. Much of Detroit’s high crime rate can, in truth, be narrowed down to a high unemployment rate, leading to a lack of jobs for people to occupy themselves with, so even this ailment, is, at its core, financial. What this means is that there is still hope for this long-suffering city, as long as the relevant American policymakers act in a fashion that is both effective and sustainable; alas, it is clear to see that this has not happened thus far. Nevertheless, what I endeavour to achieve with this article is to perhaps shed some light on how Detroit can again become the bustling, cosmopolitan hub that it once was, through, primarily, the introduction of a special economic zone.

Special economic zones, which seem like a highly unusual step for a developed country such as the USA, may in fact be a simple and effective solution to revitalise the city of Detroit. The step of making the city a special economic, or more specifically, an industrial zone could potentially be the catalyst for a holistic revitalisation of the Detroit economy. In a nutshell, an industrial zone is a zone specifically made out for industrial development, where tax cuts and tax holidays, among other financial incentives, would incentivise corporations to set up operations in Michigan’s largest city.

Detroit’s unemployment rate was a whopping 29% during the worst that we saw of the 2008 recession, meaning that more than 1 in 4 people were unemployed at the time. Despite having reduced somewhat due to, among other causes, a steady outflow of people from the city, unemployment rates are still grossly high, and if Detroit wants to reverse its fall from grace, this is one of its first facets that need changing. The only way to do this, in truth, is by somehow persuading businesses to come to this dilapidated zone of urban decay, and invest in the revitalisation of the area. Now, feasibly, the only way in which this can happen is by supplying them with the aforementioned financial incentives to encourage them to locate in Detroit, supplying jobs for a great proportion of the population. This is the intuitive first step to Detroit’s regeneration.

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Functional illiteracy, as alluded to above, is also a major proverbial roadblock to the future success of Detroit. The solution to this is almost as obvious as its problems itself; to invest more in education. Despite politicians’ repeated assertions stating the importance of education, they themselves seem not to believe in what they say, the evidence of which lies in Detroit’s astonishingly abysmal literacy rates. Regardless, education is quite frankly one of the most important facets of any developed region, so for Detroit’s schools to be in the state they are in (as repeatedly shown by the mass media) is frankly shocking. Needless to say, this can only be solved through an increase in education spending in the city, which would give a better education to many residents of the city, thus giving them more transferable skills with which to work and earn money. In addition to this, education has a vital role to play in keeping school-aged adolescents off the streets, thus reducing crime rates, and making the city overall more attractive for people to relocate to. With the low house prices across the whole of Detroit nowadays, it could prove a popular location for many individuals desiring a lower cost of living, if only there was a basic level of security and educational services in the area. By spending more on education, many of Detroit’s fundamental problems could perhaps be ameliorated or even eradicated altogether.

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To make sure that Detroit does not fall prey to the same evils which caused its dilapidation decades ago, they need to learn from their various mistakes. The biggest of these was to rely far too much on the car industry, which turned into its Achilles heel when Ford Motors, among other corporations, left the city. Diversification is the key here to financial prosperity, as Detroit needs to ensure that when one industry perhaps fails in the city, there are many others to continue to back up the city financially. This was exactly the problem with the city before; they did not have a backup plan for when demand for automobiles lessened. The conversion of Detroit into an industrial zone and a renewed focus on education will only be sustainable if the city manages to provide wide-ranging sources of income; otherwise, they will simply consign themselves to the same fate as before. In addition, without diversification, a great deal of brain drain would occur, with talented residents leaving the city due to lack of opportunity in their chosen field of expertise. As such, it is crucially important for Detroit to spread its roots far, not deep, if they want to ensure their continued financial prosperity. Of course, in addition to the 3 economic reforms outlined here, much social reform needs to take place in the city before we can truly say that it has been regenerated, but these financial steps provide the building blocks to restore Detroit, again, into a great pillar of the USA.

 

 

Listen to Tshering Tobgay, Enlightened Prime Minister of Bhutan


 

March 26, 2016

Listen to Tshering Tobgay, Enlightened Prime Minister of Bhutan at TED

We in Malaysia can learn a thing or two from a landlocked nation like Bhutan about good governance and global citizenship. We have a corrupt leadership and a mismanaged economy, whereas Bhutan has a democracy which  was imposed upon its people  by its revered King and a government which cares for its citizens, manages its affairs in an exemplary manner, and protects the environment. Pristine Bhutan is not just a carbon neutral nation; it is a carbon negative one.

Let us protect our environment, fight climate change and, as  the Prime Minister of Bhutan, H.E. Tshering Tobgay said, let us do it together.–Din Merican

Message to Malaysian Civil Servants–Stand Up and be Counted


February 27, 2016

Message to Malaysian Civil ServantsStand Up and be Counted

by Pola Singh

 Malaysian Civil Servants–Pak Turuts and  Pak Hunggoks

FOR some unexplained reason, civil servants are reluctant to be seen with the rakyat in championing certain causes; no matter how worthy they are. Something is preventing them from showing their support.

Take for instance preserving and protecting the remaining green lungs in KL city; Bukit Kiara (BK) located in the heart of the city is a good example.

At the national level, the Cabinet in 2007 agreed to gazette 189 hectares to turn it into a public park. But things moved at a snail’s pace with parcels of land being given out to the well-connected through the years.

We now learn that the Government will finally gazette Bukit Kiara next year and not surprisingly only 159ha will be gazetted. The rakyat is also not sure whether this hectarage figure will remain intact when it comes to crunch time.

So in order to send a strong message to the powers that be to uphold their promise to gazette Bukit Kiara speedily, Friends of Bukit Kiara (FoBK) has so far organised three “Save Bukit Kiara” walks. Although a sizeable crowd turns up, there are hardly any civil servants participating in such an event. Why? If they don’t seem to be interested, why are the heads of departments not encouraging their officers and staff to support such worthy causes especially when they are in line with their own policies and what they expound.

For instance agencies such as the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and ministries such as the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry have formulated clear green and environmental policies while City Hall (DBKL) and Jabatan Landskap Negara have developed the KL Master Plan to implement.

When announcing the sound policies, promises are made and assurances given that they will actively engage the key stakeholders to ensure the successful implementation of the policies.

But when such opportunities arise they are nowhere to be seen. It appears as if they are disinterested to push forward their policy agenda.

Now it looks like that only the NGOs and public support such causes while the policy formulators who should be actively involved at the ground level appear indifferent.

Why are the civil servants so reluctant to turun padang but instead seem content watching from a distance? After all it is their cause that the rakyat is supporting. By right they should be turning up in full force as well as helping in organising such events.

Is it fear? Are they afraid for reasons best known to them, to be seen mingling with personalities from NGOs? Or could they think that they might incur the wrath of certain well-connected people? Or is it simply a case of plain apathy?

Whatever it is, the mind-set has to change. Heads of departments should encourage their officers and staff to take part in such meaningful events as well as intermingle with like-minded rakyat. More importantly these departments and agencies must walk the talk.

On an individual personal basis and as a concerned citizen, aren’t they prepared to play their part to protect and preserve the green lungs so that their children, grandchildren and future generations can enjoy what they are currently enjoying.

http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2016/02/26/stop-being-indifferent/

President Obama Delivers Remarks at the U.S.- ASEAN SUMMIT in California


February 17, 2016

President Obama Delivers Remarks at the U.S.- ASEAN SUMMIT in California| 02-16-2016

Remarks by President Obama at Opening Session of the U.S.-ASEAN Summit

Sunnylands Center
The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands
Rancho Mirage, California

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoon, everyone.  It is my privilege to welcome you to this landmark gathering — the first U.S.-ASEAN Summit hosted by the United States.  This reflects my personal commitment, and the national commitment of the United States, to a strong and enduring partnership with your 10 nations individually and to Southeast Asia as one region, as one community — ASEAN.

I want to thank my co-chair, President Choummaly of Laos; Secretary General Minh; and leaders from all 10 ASEAN nations for being here.

As everyone knows, I first came to know the people and the beauty and the strength of Southeast Asia as a boy when I lived in Indonesia for several years with my mother.  As President, I’ve had the opportunity to visit most of your countries.  You and the people of ASEAN have always shown me extraordinary hospitality, and I hope we can reciprocate with the warmth today and tomorrow — which is why I did not hold this summit in Washington.  It is cold there.  It’s snowing.  So, welcome to beautiful, warm Sunnylands.  (Laughter.)

As President, I’ve insisted that even as the United States confronts urgent threats around the world, our foreign policy also has to seize on new opportunities.  And few regions present more opportunity to the 21st century than the Asia Pacific.  That’s why, early in my presidency, I decided that the United States, as a Pacific nation, would rebalance our foreign policy and play a larger and long-term role in the Asia Pacific.  And this has included engagement with Southeast Asia and ASEAN, which is central to the region’s peace and prosperity, and to our shared goal of building a regional order where all nations play by the same rules.

As part of our deeper engagement, I’m proud to be the first U.S. President to meet with leaders of all 10 ASEAN countries.  This summit marks our seventh meeting.  At your invitation, the United States joined the East Asia Summit, and together we’ve made it the region’s leading forum for addressing political and security challenges.  I’ve made now seven visits to the ASEAN region — more than any previous American President.  At our last meeting in Kuala Lumpur, we forged a new Strategic Partnership.  And our sustained engagement is delivering concrete results that benefit all of us — momentum that we can build on here at this summit.

Together, we can continue to increase the trade and economic partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for our people.  Since I took office, we’ve boosted trade between the United States and ASEAN by 55 percent.  The region is now our fourth largest goods trading partner, including U.S. exports that support more than 500,000 American jobs.  U.S companies have been the largest source of foreign investment in ASEAN — one of the many reasons that the region’s GDP has surged in recent years, lifting people from poverty into the middle class.

I want to take this opportunity to again congratulate my fellow leaders on the formation of the ASEAN Community, which is another important step toward integrating your economies.  Here at this summit, we can build on this progress and do more to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation so that growth and development is sustainable and inclusive and benefits all people.

Together, we can also continue to increase our security cooperation to meet shared challenges.  In recent years, the United States has increased our maritime security assistance to our allies and partners in the region, improving our mutual capabilities to protect lawful commerce and to respond to humanitarian crisis.  Here at this summit, we can advance our shared vision of a regional order where international rules and norms, including freedom of navigation, are upheld and where disputes are resolved through peaceful, legal means.

Together, we can continue to support the aspirations and dignity of our citizens.  The historic election in Myanmar and the transition now underway gives hope for a nation that is inclusive, united, peaceful and democratic.  In joining the TPP, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have committed to high labor and environmental standards.

I’m very proud that our Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative is helping to empower young men and women who are shaping the region every day.  As you know, I’ve held a number of town hall meetings with these remarkable young people.  And their idealism, their courage, their willingness to work for the future that they believe in should all give us hope.  As leaders, we have to answer their aspirations.  And here at the summit, we can reaffirm that strong, prosperous and inclusive societies require good governance, rule of law, accountable institutions, vibrant civil societies, and upholding human rights.

Finally, together, we can continue to do more around the world to meet transnational challenges that no one nation can meet alone.  As we were reminded again by the attack in Jakarta last month, the scourge of terrorism demands that we stay vigilant, share more information and work cooperatively to protect our people.  Just as our nations worked together to achieve a strong climate change agreement in Paris, now we need to implement that agreement and step up investment in clean, affordable energy, including for developing countries.

So, economic growth that is inclusive, creating opportunity for all; mutual security and the peaceful resolution of disputes; human dignity, including respect for human rights and development that is sustainable — that is our vision.  That’s what brings us here together today.

I want to thank all of my fellow leaders for being here and for your commitment to a strong U.S.-ASEAN partnership.  And given the extraordinary progress that we’ve achieved together these past seven years, I’m confident that we can continue our momentum at this summit.

With that, I want to invite President Choummaly to say a few words as well.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/15/remarks-president-obama-opening-session-us-asean-summit

Indonesia : Freeport Mine Scandal


January 11, 2016

Indonesia : Freeport Mine Scandal–A Case of Ideology, Rent Seeking and Foreign Capital

by Gustidha Budiartie and Eve Warburton

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2015/12/22/indonesias-freeport-saga/

Competing factions of politico-business elites are fighting a war over a lucrative mine contract and President Jokowi is caught in the middle.

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The Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament, Setya Novanto, stepped down from his post last week (December 15, 2015).The powerful Golkar party operator was on trial in the Parliamentary Ethics Committee for allegedly meeting with American copper and gold mining company Freeport McMoran to arrange a private business deal. Setya beat the Committee to the punch, stepping down before it could formally request his resignation.

The scandal is a dramatic twist in what have been long and fraught negotiations between the government and Freeport over the company’s contract extension. Those within government and parliament who oppose the extension do so on nationalist grounds, arguing that the American miner should no longer exploit and benefit from Indonesia’s natural riches. Those who support an extension argue that neither state-owned nor private Indonesian companies have the capital or expertise to run such an operation.

But the Setya affair demonstrates there is another dimension to this conflict. The Freeport contract is the site of a factional war between different politico-business networks, and President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo appears to be caught in the middle.

The scandal

In mid-November,2015, Indonesia’s media erupted over the publication of a transcript of a meeting in which Setya, and shady oil-man, Riza Chalid, met with the President Director of Freeport Indonesia.

In the recording, the pair offers to expedite the company’s contract extension in return for shares in an electrification project that will service the Freeport mine. They named the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Luhut Panjaitan, as a key enabler. Luhut (pic with Jokowi below) is an old business partner and close confidant of Jokowi.

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What made this proposition particularly scandalous was that Setya and Riza presented themselves as gatekeepers of the Presidential Palace, with special access to and influence over Jokowi. At one point in the transcript, Riza even suggested that President Jokowi would “fall” should he attempt to prevent the contract extension.

The covert recording was made by President Director of Freeport Indonesia, Maroef Syamsuddin, who happens to be former Deputy Director of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN). Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources, Sudirman Said, went public with the transcript and reported Setya to the Parliamentary Ethics Committee.

The Minister is on the war path, determined to assert control over the contract negotiations and isolate other players like Luhut, Setya and Riza. While Jokowi has often been equivocal in his support for Sudirman Said, Vice President Jusuf Kalla has backed Sudirman from the start, and called for Setya’s resignation.

The controversial contract

The Freeport contract is far more significant than a typical mining contract. The American company has run the most profitable gold and copper mine in the world out of Indonesia’s Papua province since 1967. As it readies for an 18 billion dollar underground expansion of the mine, the company is seeking an early extension of its contract, which expires in 2021.

Negotiations with the government have dragged on for years. In part, this is because the mining company has a troubled history in Indonesia. Its Grasberg mine is situated in one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces, where a low-level separatist conflict has simmered for decades. Freeport has been accused of human and labour rights abuses, and has a checkered environmental record.

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Many Indonesians also feel Freeport has not approached the contract negotiations in good faith. The company has threatened to take Indonesia to international arbitration for not honouring the terms of their original contract.At the same time, Freeport itself has avoided fulfilling some parts of that contract. For example, the company has only divested 9.36 per cent of its shares, when the contract mandates that 39 per cent should have been divested to local parties by this stage.

For all of these reasons, Freeport is controversial and unpopular with the public. Media and politicians often frame the contract negotiations as a test of Indonesian sovereignty. So extending the contract is politically sensitive, and the government must be seen to be getting the best possible deal.

Brokering a deal

Minister Sudirman Said recently indicated that the government would extend the contract in return for significant concessions from the company – everything from increased royalties and local content to a commitment to building refining facilities.

Sudirman has long argued that Indonesia needs this investment, and that local players have neither the financial capacity nor expertise to take over the mine. The problem is that providing the company an extension now requires changing a government regulation that mandates mining contracts may only be extended two years prior to expiry – in this case 2019.

Some insiders suggest that Said is a “Kalla man”, and that his approach to the Freeport contract is, in fact, part of a larger plan to facilitate the advance of Kalla’s private interests, including in the businesses that service the Freeport mine.

But such claims remain unsubstantiated, and to most observers Said represents the closest thing to a reformist that the Ministry has seen in years. Even if the Vice President does have his sights set on service contracts, there are many within the Indonesian mining industry and the Ministry for Energy and Mineral Resources (MoEMR) who argue the extension is necessary.

Either way, Said’s position on this matter, and his combative style, brings him into regular conflict with other powerful members of the executive – particularly Luhut Panjaitan, a political ally and business partner of Jokowi.

Luhut makes both a legal and ideological argument against extending the Freeport contract. First, he says, the regulations should not be changed for the benefit of a foreign company. Second, the state should acquire the mine once the contract expires, he argues, and only then invite Freeport to participate in a joint operating agreement with state owned company, Aneka Tambang.

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Luhut’s position is a popular one with the public and some members of the executive and parliament. Rizal Ramli, one of Jokowi’s coordinating ministers, makes similar arguments against an early extension of the contract. This approach resonates with the broader, more assertive nationalist mood that has characterised political discourse in recent years, particularly when it comes to resource sectors.

Opportunists like Setya leverage the nationalist mood for their own private benefit. In fact, the transcript makes Luhut’s nationalism appear disingenuous, too. Setya and Riza implicate him in their attempted deal, though Luhut denies any involvement.

Like many within Indonesia’s politico-business class, Luhut has interests in the mining sector. In fact, he’s spoken openly about meeting with Freeport back in 2012 to discuss acquiring company shares.

The fallout?

The Indonesian public was understandably incensed by the transcript. A flurry of memes and videos supporting Sudirman and disparaging Setya did the rounds on Twitter and Facebook.

The popular current affairs show, Mata Najwa, dedicated several programs to the case, and attacked Ethics Committee members for their own ethical transgressions. Various petitions circulated via social media, calling for Setya’s resignation; some called for the Ethics Committee and even the entire parliament to be replaced.

The investigation by the Ethics Committee reeked of political manipulation. Golkar quickly stacked the Committee with party members loyal to Setya, and their treatment of Minister Said revealed blatant bias.

Given the hearing’s politicisation, many observers were surprised that the majority found Setya had indeed committed a serious ethical violation. Mounting public pressure probably contributed to Setya’s resignation.But it appears that Setya loyalists in the Commission were merely pushing for a second hearing, in order to stall a decision. In the end, Setya offered to step down on condition that the case against him is brought to an end, and that he be made Golkar’s caucus chairman.

Not only did Setya escape serious punishment, he was given a strategic role in Parliament.He is a key political broker, skilled at extracting and distributing rent, and is clearly indispensible to Golkar and party chairman Aburizal Bakrie. It was always going to be hard to punish Setya for his transgression.

Luhut and Setya are primarily responsible for organising parliamentary support for the government’s policies and its budget. Opposition parties have been relatively quiescent since Jokowi came to power, and most political analysts put this down to wheeling and dealing – and probably the distribution of largesse – between Luhut, the former House of Representatives speaker and the leaders of opposition parties.

So even though Jokowi was reportedly furious at the content of Setya’s meeting, the President was in a difficult position politically. Striking at Setya might snare Luhut, and could threaten the deal-making that has helped his government to function.

Ideology, rent seeking and foreign capital

Observers frequently scratch their heads, wondering why the Indonesian government appears so bellicose with regard to foreign companies, particularly Freeport, when at the same time government leaders reiterate that the country badly needs investment. The assumption is often that state officials are myopic, naïve and corrupt in their approach to the business community. But this proposition is unsatisfying.

The reality is that the structure of the Indonesian economy necessitates foreign investment, but structural features of Indonesian politics often inhibit it.While some within the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the political elite would prefer to extend the contract (with significant concessions from Freeport of course), they face widespread and assertive nationalist sentiment, and a political system that is built around extraction.

As more and more foreign resource contracts approach expiration, the question of who should control and profit from Indonesia’s resource sectors becomes increasingly contentious. Popular nationalist narratives of indigenous ownership dovetail neatly with the goals of an aggressive politico-business elite that sees lucrative resource projects as ripe for the picking.

And politics is expensive. As the system currently operates, political parties need business types like Jusuf Kalla, Setya Novanto, Aburizal Bakrie and Luhut Panjaitan to fund campaigns and purchase political deals. These politico-business elites expect to be repaid with preferential access to lucrative resource contracts, and Freeport is the gold prize.

Jokowi made a strong public statement against Setya’s actions, and made it clear he expected Setya to resign. But Jokowi is a political outsider, and lacks influence in Jakarta’s elite political networks. The President’s weak position means that rent-seeking competition around the Freeport contract is creating deep fissures within the executive.

In the coming weeks, this current scandal will fade from the front pages. Setya will survive, and Riza will remain abroad for as long as it takes to broker a deal for his protection. Luhut’s relationship with Jokowi will probably weather the recent storm as well. Freeport’s contract negotiations will almost certainly be pushed back to 2019.

But the case remains significant. Setya was forced to resign as Speaker, and politicians may be a little more cautious next time they sit down to extort rents from a foreign company. And Indonesia’s public was able to witness, in fascinating and nauseating detail, the mechanics of rent seeking at the highest level.

Some may begin to interrogate the nationalist pomp of their leaders. Leaving Indonesia’s copper and gold in the hands of an American company might be hard to swallow, but is passing it to the political oligarchs any better?

Gustidha Budiartie is a Jakarta-based journalist. Eve Warburton is a PhD candidate at the Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, the Australian National University. 

ASEAN Civil Society welcomes the Launch of ASEAN Community with reservations


November 23, 2015

ASEAN Civil Society welcomes the Launch of ASEAN Community with reservations

For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment.While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment  for the ASEAN peoples.

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The ASEAN Civil  Society congratulates the ASEAN leaders for the launching of the new ASEAN Community. This community, our community, is what we have been looking forward to for a long time.

The 27th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits 2015 has officially signed the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the establishment of the ASEAN Community and the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

Further, we have also witnessed the signing of the ASEAN Convention against Human Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Actip).

For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment. While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment for the ASEAN peoples.

Asean Economic Community 2016

In his opening address on November 21, 2015, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, as 2015 chair of ASEAN, declared that Asean had stressed “community and consensus building, over the excesses of individualism and the seeking of selfish objectives”.

He added in his statement that the adoption of the ASEAN Community marked the culmination of decades of effort to integrate, cohere and to forge ahead together.

However, a dichotomy exists between the integration touted by ASEAN officials and the socially minded integration sought by civil society.

“What does this really mean for the peoples of ASEAN?” asked Jerald Joseph of Pusat Komas, chair of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2015.

“Regional integration might be the goal but could it be instead selective integration, which has the potential of widening the development gaps? We recognise that this region has huge disparities in political, economic and social development and bargaining powers in the region.”

“Thus ensuring measures are in place to ensure fair representation of diverse interests of the peoples in ASEAN rather than certain dominant nations and interests of certain groups, especially the businesses and the multi-national corporations must be made a priority,” he said.

The ASEAN Community 2015 cannot focus only on integration policies which clearly provide economic and development gains without also removing its reluctance to commit to addressing issues which are deemed to infringe on national sovereignty such as internal conflict, territorial disputes, environmental degradation, treatment of minorities and human rights violations which have negative trans-boundary impacts and consequences.

Today we also witnessed the signing of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025, Forging Ahead Together, which incorporates the ASEAN Community Vision. The rhetoric around the vision claims that it will be a “bold, visionary, progressive and forward-looking document to reflect the aspirations of the next generation of ASEAN nationals”.

“A review of the document adopted falls short of the above aspirations,” said Joseph. “Despite the ambitious claim, it continues to retain mediocre ASEAN commitment.An example is the commitment to eradicating corruption which seem to focus more on ‘establishing support’, ‘developing programmes’ and ‘strengthening cooperation’, rather than actual commitment on policy and institutional changes. This is typical of ASEAN adopting the lowest common denominator as the threshold for action.”

This new vision gave the possibility of a new approach. Unfortunately it is again a missed opportunity.

The human rights agenda of ASEAN in its Vision 2025 yet again focuses too much on the promotional aspect without a solid protection framework inserted.

Civil society’s call for the mainstreaming human rights in the ASEAN Community 2015 process and in the ASEAN Vision 2015 has again been ignored or given peripheral attention.

“Commitment to human rights is again rather fragmented and established in silos in the 3 pillars’ blueprints,” said Wathshlah Naidu of Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia, who led the drafting of the ACSC/APF 2015 statement and outcome document.

“It has not holistically addressed how Asean plans to respond to and share resources in addressing emerging issues and issues exacerbated by regional integration such as migration, asylum seekers and refugees and heightened extremism and terrorism.

“Purely addressing these regional concerns as security issues without a grounding in human rights principles and standards creates the path for continued human rights violations.”

Naidu added that “gender equality and the diversity of peoples of ASEAN are also not reflected comprehensively in the Vision.

“Eliminating all forms of discrimination and human rights violations is fundamental towards achieving regional integration that is rooted in achieving equality of all ASEAN countries and its peoples.”

Another key concern raised by civil society is the lack of meaningful and substantive participation, inclusion and representation of all peoples of ASEAN in the drafting process of the ASEAN Vision 2025.

“As civil society, we demand that ASEAN stop co-opting its peoples through its rhetoric on ‘people-centred’ or ‘people-oriented’ mantras without genuinely making the commitment and institutionalising a process where all interests of its diverse peoples are included in its policy documents and agreements through meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders,” said Soe Min Than of Think Center Singapore, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.

“ASEAN can only demonstrate its commitment to community building and implementation of the ASEAN Community agenda and the ASEAN Vision 2025 by ensuring engagement of all stakeholders through multifaceted dialogue, feedback and effective participation in determining and shaping the aspiration and future of the region and its peoples.”

As ASEAN moves on with its summit with various dialogue partners, ASEAN civil society again reiterates its concerns and recommendations made over the last 10 years of engagement and calls on ASEAN to escalate its responses to the interventions by the civil society.

“We look forward to strengthened solidarity, understanding and coordinated actions among ASEAN and civil society as key stakeholder for a truly ‘people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN Community’,” said Pen Somony of the Cambodian Volunteers for Society, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com