No more politicians as envoys, says Wisma Putra


July 10, 2018

COMMENT: Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah should be complimented for this decision.

Our Ambassadors should be chosen on the basis of their outstanding personal qualities, track record in the public and private sector, and professionalism. They should be required to attend a 1 month crash course on Diplomacy and Negotiations and Public Administration before they are posted abroad.  Our representatives represent Malaysia and only the best should be appointed since host countries tend to judge how serious we take our relations with them by the quality of our Ambassadors. (See below)–Din Merican

READ: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/07/10/ex-envoys-back-new-no-politician-policy/

 

Tun Muhammad Ghazali bin Shafie (King Ghaz)

Tun Muhammad Ghazali bin Shafie (King Ghaz)–The Father of Malaysian Diplomacy, Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Advisor to 4 Malaysian Prime Ministers, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was also an ASEAN Pioneer.

 

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Tan Sri Zain Azraai bin Zainal Abidin

Oxford University educated Tan Sri Zain Azraai bin Zainal Abidin was our Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He served as Special Assistant to Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, Secretary-General to the Malaysian Finance Ministry and Chairman, Malaysia Airlines (MAS).

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Tan Sri Zakaria Ali

After receiving training at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1957, Tan Sri  Zakaria  was formally inducted into the Malaysian Foreign Service. His first overseas assignments were in London and New York.  In New York, he initially worked with Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and later with Tun Omar Ong Yoke Lin. He also worked with two legal luminaries there, Dr Radhakrishnan Ramani and Tan Sri P. G. Lim, on issues confronting their young nation. In March 1976, he became Secretary-General of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, a post he held until his retirement in 1984. He served our country in many diplomatic capacities with distinction.

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Tan Sri Zainal Abidin Sulong

Tan Sri Zainal Abidin Sulong, another grandee of our Foreign Service was the greatest “Indonesianist” (and “Aseanist”) in our midst. Zainal Sulong was also a highly respected and resplendent personality. He was Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

No more politicians as envoys, says Foreign Ministry (Wisma Putra)

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Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah says appointments will be made according to existing procedures specified by Wisma Putra.

SHAH ALAM: The Foreign Affairs Ministry has decided that it will no longer appoint politicians as Malaysia’s ambassadors abroad.

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Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said appointments would be made according to existing procedures specified by Wisma Putra.

“For subsequent appointments, we offer to any senior government officials, anyone interested can try and apply for the post. Screening will be done by top officials of the ministry before the names of the candidates for the ambassador’s post are decided by me,” he told reporters after an event at the Karangkraf Complex here yesterday.

He was commenting on the status of several politicians who were appointed as ambassadors by the previous government. He said the issue was resolved amicably before he was appointed as foreign minister.

“I was informed that the case had been resolved without intervention from me. One returned to Malaysia while another will return (to Malaysia) soon.”

The contract for former Malaysian ambassador to Indonesia, Zahrain Mohamed Hashim, was terminated four months ahead of the actual date in October. Malaysian envoy to Vatican City Bernard Dompok meanwhile was reported to have returned to Malaysia following instructions from Wisma Putra.

Malaysia: Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14


July 7, 2018

Malaysia:  Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14

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On May 9, 2018, Malaysians threw the bums out, voting decisively against the Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN), the coalition of broadly right-wing and center parties that had governed Malaysia since independence in 1957. The election poses the question: has Malaysia bucked a global anti-democratic trend?

The conventional wisdom is that a feisty, beleaguered opposition coalition made up of a somewhat motley mix of leftist catch-all, progressive Islamist, and communal parties bested the behemoth BN by force of ideals, pluck, and the charisma of a former “dictator,” as the new prime minister now delights in branding himself. The BN’s decrepitude, born of too many years of untrammeled authority and political inbreeding in a cronyistic, dynastic order, cleared the way for new leaders. All the while, rising costs of living, increasingly stark economic inequality, and spreading awareness that the state- and party-controlled mainstream media were not telling the whole story had left the mass of voters hungry for change.

The Malaysian narrative is one of voters reflecting critically on a well-lubricated patronage machine and rejecting it, at least in part, out of aspirations for democracy, justice, and good governance. But like any good story, this one has a more complex plot line than that, peppered with stratagems, reversals, and ironic turns. What too-pat narratives obscure is the wider context and what we might expect — and voters might seek — to change or maintain.

The Scene As It Stands

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At the helm now, thanks to a weird twist of fates and strategy, is one-time Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, one of the world’s longest-serving heads of government — and also now among the oldest, as he approaches his ninety-third birthday. Although he did voluntarily step down in 2003, after twenty-two years in office, Mahathir has continued to yank at the strings of state since then, and had become increasingly apoplectic at incumbent Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s running the party and government, per Mahathir’s reading, into the ground through rent-seeking verging on plunder.

To hear breathless popular accounts of the “Mahathir factor,” one might assume ethnic Malays — who, together with smaller indigenous groups, collectively termed Bumiputera, comprise slightly more than two-thirds of the population — to be blindly feudalistic, swiveling to heed the call of their once and future master. (Just under one-quarter of Malaysians are of Chinese ethnicity and about 7 percent, Indian.) Mahathir does have his devotees, but to some extent, this common narrative reflects media sensationalism more than reality. Frustration with rank corruption, inequality, and poor governance galvanized many or most opposition supporters, independently of the icon propounding those messages. Nevertheless, Mahathir’s savvy articulation of his coalition’s objectives and BN pathologies, as well as his charisma, helped to tip the scales.

Initially organized as the three-party Alliance, the BN structures itself largely along communal lines. Its core parties represent ethnic Malay, Chinese, and Indian Malaysians, respectively. First among nominal equals — and increasingly dominant over the years — is the United Malays National Organisation, UMNO, Mahathir’s home since its founding in 1946 until he left and launched Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party, PPBM) in 2016.

Essentially ideology-free otherwise by this point, the BN claims support for having delivered development, with something for (almost) everyone. Opposition parties tend to cluster largely in an Islamist camp dominated by the Parti Islam seMalaysia (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS), or else along class lines, from a Socialist Front defunct by the early 1970s; to the social-democratic Democratic Action Party (DAP), rump successor to the People’s Action Party after Singapore’s short-lived merger with Malaysia in the mid-1960s; to the small but embedded Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

To take on the BN required merging these camps. First-past-the-post voting rules, coupled with heavy-handed gerrymandering and constituency malapportionment, often make three-cornered fights difficult for the opposition; pre-election coalitions are a must. That imperative is at the heart of any assessment of how far Malaysian political alternatives have come and where they may be going: Malaysia’s sociopolitical landscape makes for quirky pairings.

Coalitions require glorification of the least common denominator. Starting in the late 1990s, that galvanizing, offensive-to-few message came to be “justice,” centered initially around sacked, then imprisoned former UMNO deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and his purpose-built Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, People’s Justice Party). Now, in the wake of one of the world’s largest money-laundering and graft sagas, that of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign-wealth fund, the message centers around an obvious anti-corruption theme.

The coalition had maintained a non-communal premise since an initial foray as the Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front) in 1999. Now it includes a Malay-communal party: Mahathir’s PPBM, made up mostly of his fellow exiles from UMNO. Having made incremental, inconsistent headway in cementing cooperation and securing seats since the late 1990s, the opposition coalition — reconstituted first as Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact), then as Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) — gained control of several states, and now the federal government.

In the last election, in 2013, Pakatan Rakyat won a slim majority of the popular vote but fell short of winning the federal government. This time, Pakatan Harapan won the government with just shy of a popular-vote majority, given divided support for the BN and the no-longer-in-Pakatan PAS, which remains independently potent in Malaysia’s northeast.

The BN is left in shambles, its remains eroding further by the week. Pakatan Harapan is up and running, but it is not entirely clear yet how far or how fast.

Pakatan Harapan will surely make positive, progressive changes to what has become an ossified, decreasingly legitimate, increasingly illiberal system. Already they have begun investigating ousted prime minister Najib Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor — whose penchant for exorbitantly priced handbags rivals Imelda Marcos’s yen for shoes — and the 1MDB saga, the convoluted, seedy story of how Najib and various others misappropriated an estimated several billion dollars from a state investment fund launched in 2009.

More than that, the new government has spoken plausibly of plans, once parliament convenes in July, to revise or revoke controls on media, association, and speech; to release the political reins on schools and universities; to implement open tender and stronger oversight on government contracts; and more. Heads of statutory boards are starting to roll, and bloated or needless government agencies are coming under scrutiny.

Most cabinet appointments, finalized only in mid June, reflect real expertise rather than political concessions, as under the BN model. The coalition itself is far more equally balanced among its component parties than the BN ever has been — and that those parties do differ in meaningful ways, in their goals or membership, ensures a wider range of alternatives may reach the policy table.

Already the results have reset the stage for states’ rights, too. Leaders of awkwardly incorporated, underdeveloped Sabah and Sarawak, states on the island of Borneo, hundreds of miles across the South China Sea from the peninsular mainland, have broken with the federal BN — not just eviscerating their former coalition, but staking a firm claim to fairer status and reward in the federation.

If Malaysia is to emerge from its increasingly authoritarian past, having this new government emplaced is a good thing. Yet of course, it will not change all things, and it may achieve far less than years of opposition manifestos have pledged in terms of ushering in a more equitable, consultative order.

Two lenses are especially germane in understanding the capacity and limits of reform, given this mix of old and new: economic policy, including the extent of communalism (as codified especially in far-reaching race-based preferential policies); and the tension between a highly personalized (however party-centered) and more issues-based or ideological politics.

Where Paths Lead

First, economics. Survey after survey suggests the key issue for Malaysians, election after election, is the economy, and particularly rising costs of living. However, a thick tangle of affirmative-action policies to favor Bumiputera, dating to British colonial times but strengthened under the 1970s New Economic Policy (NEP) and a series of successor plans, tempers what it means to prioritize household economics.

The UMNO-led BN has held pro-Malay policies to be sacrosanct. Revising the criteria for qualification to be need-based rather than race-based would not dramatically shift the beneficiaries; race and class substantially align, particularly since the benefits of preference have flowed disproportionately to already-wealthy “UMNOputera,” the well-connected ruling-party elite. A better lens on economic voting in Malaysia considers not just financial standing, confidence, and progress since the last election, but which party voters trust to manage the economy.

Here we see an ethnic divide, with Malay voters typically disproportionately trusting UMNO, whatever they think of the party otherwise. The most plausible explanation is that these voters believe the best way to ensure their economic wellbeing is by maintaining preferential policies, on which opposition parties, but never UMNO, have equivocated.

The Malaysian constitution grants Bumiputera special stature in the polity; accumulated norms (backed by potent sedition legislation) translate that standing to irrefutable political dominance and economic privilege. At no time has Pakatan seriously challenged Malay primacy, but they have promised a less communally structured economy.

Pakatan’s embrace of the communally focused PPBM shifts the key. Critical to the coalition’s gains this time, especially in winning over Malay voters, appears to have been the reassurance Mahathir — whose early writings inspired and informed the NEP — and his party offered, that Pakatan would uphold pro-Malay policies. Now in office, the coalition has limited room for maneuver, especially with their main opposition still Malay-based (in UMNO as well as PAS) and only a slim parliamentary majority.

Importantly, since taking office, Mahathir and his government have insisted on their determination to maintain an even keel: to push back against some mega-investment from China, perhaps, and to cancel at least one particularly costly boondoggle — a high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore — but to keep investors confident.

Mahathir is Malaysia’s original mega project mastermind: the “national car” intended to galvanize industrialization in the 1980s (Proton, short for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional, or National Automobile Company, 49.9 percent owned by China’s Geely Holdings as of last year), the Petronas twin towers, an extravagant new capital at Putrajaya: glamorous, expensive grand gestures intended to signal Malaysia’s developmental success. His newly appointed finance minister, the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng, previously the chief minister of prosperous, opposition-held Penang state, likewise caught flak there for his coziness with developers and embrace of ambitiously grand infrastructure and real-estate projects.

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Mahathir’s Council of Eminent Persons (L-R): Robert Kuok, Zeti Aziz, Hassan Marican, Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram and CEP Chair Person Tun Daim Zainuddin

An appointed Council of Eminent Persons, named after the elections to advise on economic policy, includes the renowned, respected, and progressive economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, but also billionaire tycoon Robert Kuok and Mahathir’s erstwhile UMNO bagman Daim Zainuddin — so their advice could pull in any of several directions. (Already, members have come under fire for meddling beyond their mandate.)

These economic impulses and incentives taken in sum, we should assume an at least somewhat more transparent, less cronyistic system, but still with a heavy emphasis on foreign investment–led, large-scale developments (with requirements intact to ensure Malay contractors’ protected share in the bounty), faith in the blessings of neoliberalism, and politically fruitful (commonly dubbed “populist”) wealth-sharing to amplify otherwise-tepid trickle-down effects.

More broadly, both coalitions are neoliberal at their core. Both offered a host of makeshift measures to reduce the pinch of rapid, top-heavy development, ranging from targeted cash-transfer and voucher schemes (for children, students, seniors, newlyweds, the bereaved, housewives, entrepreneurs, and the poor), to subsidized utilities, to reduced road tolls. But neither suggested any fundamental branching from that economic path beyond, for instance, expanded educational opportunities to prepare Malaysians better to embrace the modern economy.

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Indeed, Pakatan essentially shut out the anti-capitalist Parti Sosialis: in allocating seats, the coalition offered the socialist party a meager one constituency in which to contest (in which PSM was the incumbent). When PSM insisted on standing in others, Pakatan revoked even that paltry offer and competed against PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, defeating him. (In pushing on to prove their point, both sides took the very real chance of splitting the vote and delivering the seat to the BN.)

Second, like the government it replaces, Pakatan is highly leader-centered, to the point of obscuring an emphasis on issues or ideology. Its commitment to term limits is a definite improvement (while Mahathir’s old age offers reassurance of his own commitment not to outstay his welcome; the plan is to hand the reins to Anwar within about two years). Yet Malaysian politics has been and remains deeply clientelistic across parties, despite  significant overseas and internal rural–urban labor migration, economic diversification, and sufficient state capacity that party machines should be off the hook for welfare services. A “personal vote” matters even when parties are at their most pulled-together — and even those candidates able to coast on their party’s coattails prioritize “going to the ground” for grassroots constituency service and mingling among the masses.

However much media and pundits exaggerate the extent of his personal responsibility for Pakatan’s win, Mahathir did help to tip the scales, and it remains to be seen what Mahathir the man represents vis-à-vis a reform agenda. More to the point, that the best Pakatan could do in terms of a broadly palatable leader — realizing the imperative in Malaysia of a leader to lead the charge, no matter how deeply unpopular their rival — was the long-retired Mahathir, architect of the system now in place and whom so many within PH once reviled as a despot, could bode poorly for its sustainability and depth of support.

On the other hand, Pakatan has a clear advantage on this score — though less in Mahathir’s PPBM than in its partner parties. Spurred not least by predations during Mahathir’s previous longue durée, Malaysia has developed a vibrant civil society, encompassing not only largely urban, middle class–based advocacy NGOs, but also mass-based Islamist organizations, deeply embedded communal and cultural associations, and more. Many of these groups, from Chinese educationists to Muslim dakwah activists to human-rights campaigners, have a clear political, and often partisan, orientation. That rootedness in civil society gives Pakatan not only a loyal base of volunteers for get-out-the-vote and other efforts, but also reinforces its orientation around issues of better governance, social justice, and civil liberties.

That said, Pakatan’s record of governing at the state level revealed greater ambivalence than many activists had expected about their collaborating with advocacy NGOs in particular. Even many Pakatan legislators who cut their political teeth in those same NGOs came to consider their one-time colleagues too single-issue-oriented or impatient for improbably sweeping change and found the constant pressure irksome.

Promises of reserved seats for civil society activists in appointed local councils, for instance — as a stopgap remedy until Pakatan could restore local-government elections, halted since the 1960s — withered in Pakatan-held Penang and Selangor over the past decade. (Pakatan’s national manifesto does not promise restoration of local-government elections, but pressure is sufficiently high that progress toward that goal seems likely.)

Moreover, women’s organizations in particular have urged all parties to improve the gender balance in representation in public office. While these efforts have yielded aspirations and quotas, no party has come close to meeting them, even for appointed offices with a clearly sufficient female pool from which to draw. So while the close ties between civil society and Pakatan parties bode well for generating sufficient new leaders to sustain real competition, among candidates with skills and experience for leadership roles, recruitment could still fall short in terms of enhancing representativeness and idealism in practice.

And at the end of the day, there is always another election ahead. Pakatan developed under BN rule; it may hesitate to change the rules of a game it has only so newly mastered. Nor can it risk losing its lead. Some Pakatan support is proactive: champions of change, away from the too-long-entrenched BN and toward cleaner, more accountable and responsible governance. Some, though, is reactive: voting against Najib, but without necessarily seeking any dramatic overhaul beyond that purge — hence the appeal of not-too-different PPBM and Mahathir.

To win a second time, Pakatan needs to keep both camps in its corner. Unless electoral rules change (unlikely, although entirely reasonable to consider) or something else goes really awry in Malaysia (always possible), the wider frame of these recent elections suggests observers keep their expectations of systemic change in check.

Malaysia is unlikely to return to the old Mahathirian model, which Najib stretched to its extremes, of an excessively strong executive, rapacious ruling party, and snowflake-sensitive public authorities. On the other hand, quick, dramatic change toward a much more politically competitive or economically progressive order is equally unlikely, given the pull of the status quo. (Nearby Indonesia, having just marked twenty years since the Reformasi that ousted Suharto and his New Order regime, is a sobering Exhibit A.)

What the wider context suggests is something in between: an order that increases the political space for, and responsiveness to, alternative voices and ideas, within and outside parties; that does less to stifle efforts within civil society toward more coordinated, efficacious advocacy; and that encourages — even just by dint of a multipolar electorate and fissiparous coalitions — real competition around principles as well as personalities.

Malaysia has opened the door to fundamental reform, even if new leaders do little more than peek around the corner in these early stages, and even if its citizens opt ultimately to update the décor rather than shift the socioeconomic foundations of the state.

About the Author

Meredith L. Weiss is professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Rejoinder by  Dr.Rais Hussin: Bumiputeraism is not the root issue

http://www.malaysiakini.com

American political scientist Dr. Meredith Weiss has done extensive field research in Malaysia. The country needs more academics like her to cast light on the dynamics of Malaysia. However, the accolades stop there. Her article in Jacobin recently has all the drama and flair of a New Yorker literary piece. Yet, it went off on a tangent. How?

First, Weiss warned that the new electoral landscape is not necessarily new. While she did not warn of the spectre of Mahathirism, which implies a return to authoritarianism, she hinted strongly at the complexity of unravelling the National Economic Policy, which in her view amounted to all the same anyway. Again, how?

Entrenched Malay interests in the political, corporate and other sectors would be too deeply embedded. A single electoral victory from Pakatan Harapan, even one led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, now the seventh prime minister of Malaysia, would not be enough to alter the dramatic and complex landscape.

Second, Weiss averred that any reforms would not be smooth sailing, especially when the tensions between the top members of the coalition look all but impossible to overcome.

Therefore, the significance of May 9, 2018, would fade in due course. The internal solidarity of the elites forged before and on that date would crack. While she didn’t specifically mention the causal or ideological factor that could lead to its fissure or implosion, Weiss implied that their personal animus and histories are enough to warrant deep concern.

Third, Weiss argued that Pakatan Harapan is bound to make progress in light of the insidious practices of UMNO that had set the bar so low, the mere rejection of corruption alone would be Harapan’s defining moment. Just by saying ‘no’ and the latter would enjoy more confidence from the public. Wrong.

In fact, Weiss is wrong on all counts. To begin with, the optic she adopted is one devoid of variant analysis. Even before the events took place, she had already claimed that everything else would either fail or fail to move forward. But then how does Weiss explain the power of the May 9 election?

Voters were given a choice between more billion-dollar handouts and subsidies by the Najib-led BN, or liberation from becoming the object of international ridicule.

While 45 percent of the voters rooted for UMNO, this also marked the Malay behemoth’s dramatic fall from grace. From a high of 88 parliamentary seats in the 2013 election, Umno now only has 52 parliament seats, and the numbers are still dropping as elected UMNO members declare themselves independent.

Corporate and economic reforms are bound to be difficult. Not for the reason of race or race-based preferential policies alone i.e., bumiputeraism, which pervades Weiss’ article, but the massive size of the national debt due to liabilities from government-linked companies.

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Research by Edmund Terence Gomez and his associates show close to 900 such entities have accepted some form of government bailout and are swimming in a sea of red ink. The gravity of the situation begins from the Gordian knot of these companies, not the problems rooted in bumiputeraism.

Finally, why should the egos of the different Harapan personalities matter, when the coalition has merely won the general election once? Unlike how UMNO warlords, who had won in quick succession since 1955, had a sense of self-entitlement and invincibility, Harapan leaders know that if they screw up, the coalition will be booted out regardless of whether Mahathir or Anwar Ibrahim is at the helm. In other words, perform, or be put out to pasture.

Not surprisingly, some MPs had tried to remain in their comfort zones before the election but this backfired for some.

Tan Kee Kwong was not even nominated by his own party. He had to give up his Wangsa Maju seat to another PKR candidate.

Liew Chin Tong, marginally lost his seat in Ayer Hitam in Johor, thus depriving him of the chance to be the transport minister, as his successor Anthony Loke admitted.

Indeed, DAP fielded more Malay candidates under 40 across the board in GE-14, more than even what UMNO could attempt. These and other factors are more important to understand how the new Malaysia came to be rather than how old Malaysia will be resistant to change.

To begin with, sheer defiance of a kleptocratic regime is a given. Members of UMNO like Bung Mokhtar even claimed that the ill-gotten gains of Najib Razak are the assets of UMNO. Najib, meanwhile, insists many were gifts accumulated over his over 36 years in politics. Does he mean the business of being a politician is to be in business? Now that Najib has been arrested, more of the truth will be unveiled.

Anyway, Weiss is welcome to undertake more research on Malaysia. But she should understand that change, in fact, is happening at breakneck speed. There is the Council of Eminent Persons, the Harapan manifesto, and cabinet orders to reform the country within 100 days and over the next five years. Meanwhile, 17,000 political appointees have been terminated, and more are expected to face the same fate.

Even politically appointed Ambassadors of Najib Abdul Razak will not be spared. Heads of government-linked investment companies, such as Abdul Wahid Omar of PNB, have resigned.

Rome was not built in a day. The Harapan government is learning through adaptation to see which elements of the previous policies can be kept, and which policies cannot be phased out immediately, or, suspended, in order to allow a thorough review of various projects with Chinese private construction companies.

If Weiss were in Malaysia at Mahathir’s side, she would be shocked at how the doyen of Malaysian politics is slashing the excesses of the previous government, in order to set things right. It is far too easy to be an armchair critic, and Weiss seems to have made that faux pas to critique from the safe confines of her ivory towers in US.


RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu and heads its policy and strategy bureau.

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

 

NY Times Book Review: Gerald Ford, President Nice Guy


June 28, 2018

NY Times Book Review: Gerald Ford, President Nice Guy

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WHEN THE CENTER HELD
Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency

By Donald Rumsfeld
Illustrated. 331 pp. Free Press. $28.

In September 1974, a month after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace, President Gerald Ford pardoned him. “Jesus, don’t you think it’s kind of early?” asked Ford’s friend Tip O’Neill, the Democratic House majority leader.  “You’re not gonna believe it,” Carl Bernstein exclaimed to his fellow Nixon chaser at The Washington Post, Bob Woodward. “The son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch!” The public was also taken aback. A majority of the nation — 55 percent — believed the pardon was the “wrong thing” to do, versus only 35 percent who felt it was the “right thing.” Ford’s approval ratings, a robust 71 percent when he took office, spiraled down to 40 percent by December. The decision to pardon Nixon may have ensured that Ford would not be elected to his own full term as President in 1976.

“When Ford made his final decision to pardon Nixon, he did it without making any political calculations,” Donald Rumsfeld writes in “When the Center Held,” his sympathetic insider’s memoir of the Ford presidency. Rumsfeld had befriended Ford as a fellow Midwestern congressman in the 1960s and helped him make the transition from vice president when Nixon resigned. “He did not, for example, share his intention with any Republican members of Congress, where he certainly would have been able to find some support. Nor did he take any steps to prepare a media strategy. To the contrary, on learning of Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon the newly appointed White House press secretary, Jerry Horst, promptly submitted his resignation 30 minutes before Ford was scheduled to address the nation.”

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The rumors that Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Al Haig, had brokered a deal with Ford were “wildly inaccurate,” Rumsfeld writes. Ford was acting out of the goodness of his heart, from his basic sense of decency, Rumsfeld argues. “We are not a vengeful people,” the new president told himself, perhaps a little wishfully. One poll showed that a significant majority — 56 percent — believed that Nixon should be prosecuted.

 

Rumsfeld has written a kind of modern-day “Pilgrim’s Progress” about a good and godly man who enters the Slough of Despond (Washington, D.C.), is tried and tempted, but ascends to Celestial City with his virtue intact. That the narrator is a figure who has been likened in some quarters to Beelzebub makes the story more interesting, or at least curious.

Rumsfeld himself was “not sure” what he would have counseled about pardoning Nixon. Ford did not ask his advice. But the new president did ask Rumsfeld to be his chief of staff. Rumsfeld initially balked, saying that Ford’s open-door “spokes of a wheel” management style was a prescription for disorder. “Come on, Rummy,” Ford pleaded. “Say yes.” Rumsfeld did, but he was soon frustrated by his lack of control over the large egos wandering in and out of the Oval Office.

The members of Ford’s cabinet did not get along. The prideful and condescending defense secretary, James Schlesinger, squabbled with the prima donna secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. “Jim’s problem isn’t with you; it’s with me. He thinks I’m a dummy,” Ford told Kissinger with characteristic self-effacement. Kissinger would try to get his way by threatening to quit, as he had under Nixon. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was a bull in a china shop. The bulls at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue were no easier to herd. Congress refused to spend any more money to aid South Vietnam, despite Ford’s appeal to “fundamental decency.”

“Those bastards,” Ford exclaimed when the Senate rejected his appeal in the winter of 1975, as Saigon was collapsing. But that was as angry as he got. “Ford tended to assume most people were like him: essentially open, up front and without guile or cunning,” Rumsfeld writes. The president’s chief of staff was a little puzzled by his boss’s persistent amiability: “I did wonder whether there might be a bit of disadvantage to his characteristic down-home relaxed demeanor.” Rumsfeld noted privately at the time: “He never protects himself from having other people see him in a relaxed situation. Can a great leader let down and still inspire?” Looking back, Rumsfeld concluded, “I may well have underestimated the positive impact of the president’s natural approach.” Indeed, he concludes that Ford’s genial Midwestern decency was just what the country needed in the wake of Nixon’s excesses and the Watergate scandal.

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Still, Rumsfeld himself quit when he was unable to persuade the president to consolidate power in his chief of staff. (Ford was leery of Nixon’s “Berlin Wall” of the White House advisers H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.) Rumsfeld became secretary of defense instead. More in sorrow than in anger, Ford held Rumsfeld (along with the Kremlin leader Leonid Brezhnev) responsible for thwarting a final arms control deal with the Soviet Union that Ford badly hoped for as his legacy.

Ford was so trusting that before the 1976 campaign, he wanted all the potential presidential candidates to meet at Camp David to forge a bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. Instead, Ronald Reagan attacked him for being soft on the Russians with his policy of — that French word — détente. Narrowly surviving at the Republican convention after a bruising campaign, Ford spontaneously invited Reagan to join him at the podium as a show of Republican unity. Reagan promptly upstaged him with a fiery speech that laid the groundwork for his 1980 Reagan Revolution.

It would have been easy enough to cast the earnest, well-meaning Ford as a bit of a chump, but Rumsfeld portrays him as an honorable and brave man. Escaping an assassination attempt by Lynette Alice (Squeaky) Fromme, the president acted as if nothing had happened and, later in the day, had to be persuaded by the Secret Service not to shake hands with all the people waiting for him at the airport.

With the help of his two longtime speechwriters, Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn, Rumsfeld has produced a warm bath of a book. Readers may find it a little odd that Rumsfeld, that terror of bureaucrats in the George W. Bush administration, extols the virtues of Christian turn-the-other-cheek leadership. In his career, Rumsfeld’s true ideology seems to have been power — America’s and his own. Rumsfeld was initially talent-spotted by Nixon, who brought him into his administration to dismantle the war on poverty, but then decided he could not trust Rumsfeld’s political ambition and dispatched him with an ambassadorship to Brussels. As Secretary of Defense during the 2003 Iraq war, Rumsfeld steamrollered Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and the Secretary of state, Colin Powell.

Image result for Colin Powell and Condi Rice

What, besides a desire to warm up his image, moved Rumsfeld to tell the story of Gerald Ford’s beneficent 895 days? Perhaps, as he says in his author’s note, he wanted to show that “the Washington, D.C., of today is not entirely different from that of 1974.” Or, possibly, he has become nostalgic because Washington really was different a half century ago, when the Republican Party still had moderates and you could solve problems over a round of golf. In any case, he offers us a reassuring morality tale of virtue if not immediately rewarded, then ultimately redeemed.

Evan Thomas is the author of “Being Nixon” and a forthcoming biography of Sandra Day O’Connor.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page 12 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: The Nice Guy as President.Reprints | Today’s Paper |

The Diplomatic Big Bang


June 16, 2018

The Diplomatic Big Bang

by Ahmed Charai

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/12515/diplomatic-big-bang

Image result for Diplomacy

Clinton, Albright, Kissinger, Kerry, Baker and Powell–Past Secretaries of State

Diplomacy is changing before our eyes.

“The unspoken objective is to constrain the U.S., and to transfer authority from national governments to international bodies. The specifics of each case differ, but the common theme is diminished American sovereignty, submitting the United States to authorities that ignore, outvote or frustrate its priorities…. By reasserting their sovereignty, the British are in the process of escaping, among other things, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.” — Ambassador John R. Bolton, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2017.

The Singapore summit is indeed historic. First, it is so because just a few weeks ago we were closer to a nuclear war than to even the semblance of a peace process. The way we got here is surprising, because it did not obey the usual rules.Image result for The Singapore Summit at Sentosa

A few days ago, during the G7 summit held in Canada, US President Donald Trump upheld his decisions on tariffs and his positions on the trade deficit. These stances followed his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement and the Iranian “nuclear deal”. It is clear that the new US administration challenged the alliances inherited from the Cold War. President Trump, a businessman, not a politician — one of the reasons he was elected — is asking America’s trading partners just to have “free, fair and reciprocal” agreements. It is probably not all that unusual to feel affronted when asked for money or to regard the person asking for it as mercenary or adversarial. It does not always mean that this feeling is justified.

Pictured: Donald Trump and other heads of state deliberate at the G7 summit on June 9, 2018 in Charlevoix, Canada. (Photo by Jesco Denzel /Bundesregierung via Getty Images)

In short, President Trump’s arguments, which sound like a leitmotif, go back to the economic aspect of things. NATO? Why should it be normal that, in order to defend Europe, the American taxpayer pays the heaviest part. Free trade? Why should America suffer a trade deficit with so many countries? Climate change? The results of the Paris Climate Change conference, COP 21, were apparently not only costly but questionable, and to critics, looked like a list of unenforceable promises that would not have come due until 2030 — if ever.

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A new paradigm is shaping up on the international scene: This is the first time that the US domestic policy is to prevail over its so-called “strategic” role — sometimes possibly to the detriment of allies.

Ambassador John R. Bolton, before he was appointed National Security Advisor, rejected any external constraints or supranational authority — starting with the WTO’s trade dispute body, the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU):

“The unspoken objective is to constrain the U.S., and to transfer authority from national governments to international bodies. The specifics of each case differ, but the common theme is diminished American sovereignty, submitting the United States to authorities that ignore, outvote or frustrate its priorities…. While many European Union governments seem predisposed to relinquish sovereignty, there is scant hint of similar enthusiasm in America…. By reasserting their sovereignty, the British are in the process of escaping, among other things, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.”

Image result for John Bolton at G-7 Summit In Canada

America’s Walras John Bolton–The Trade Wracking Ball

Unfortunately, Europe is the first to suffer from this new reality. But is the European Union able to stage a showdown? Probably not. The populist wave flooding the EU countries is primarily the result of the social impacts of the fiscal policy imposed by Germany. While the US has an unemployment rate effectively past full employment, the rather sluggish growth in Europe produces a near-zero effect on this indicator. With 27 members, and because of the rule of “one country one vote,” as well as a possibly outdated view of how to incentivize growth and finance pensions, Europe has been slowing down even the possibility any development on issues such as immigration or common defense. Europe is shattered, all the more that there does not seem to be any solution on the horizon.

The group called the European Union does not weigh much against the forced march of Donald Trump. The US President only believes in bilateral agreements when it comes to international relations. The use of the principle of ex-territoriality, or diplomatic immunity, has taken the agreement with Iran out of the equation. The big French and German companies have already withdrawn from it.

Diplomacy is changing before our eyes. “The Western camp,” it seems, is becoming nothing more than a specter that does not rest on any on-the-ground reality.

Inevitably, each power will have to adapt, according to its own interests. As Europeans continue to cast their votes, these adjustments may, in turn, feed current divisions even more.

Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He is on the board of directors for the Atlantic Council, an international counselor of the Center for a Strategic and International Studies, and a member of the Advisory Board of The Center for the National Interest in Washington and Advisory Board of Gatestone Institute in New York.

© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Trump–The Demolition Man and an Upscale Archie Bunker


June 12, 2018

Trump–The Demolition Man and an Upscale Archie Bunker

by John Cassidy@www.newyorker.com

Image result for Trump the demolition man

 

Donald Trump hasn’t changed. The many biases and misconceptions that he has about the United States and its place in the world go back as far as 1990, when an interviewer from Playboy asked him about the first thing he would do if he were elected President. “Many things,” Trump replied. “A toughness of attitude would prevail. I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.” A President Trump, he went on, “wouldn’t trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we’re defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing . . . . We’re being laughed at around the world.”

This clearly wasn’t a man who had studied much history, beyond perhaps the volume of Hitler’s speeches that his former wife Ivana once claimed that he kept by his bed. He seemed blissfully unaware of how, after the Second World War, the U.S. used its military and economic power to create an open international economic system in which American multinational companies such as Ford, General Motors, and I.B.M. were guaranteed a growing and prosperous market. And he seemed similarly clueless about the role that multilateral institutions like NATO, the G-7, and the International Monetary Fund played in extending and perpetuating American power.

Image result for Trump the demolition man, The Economist Cover

If Trump’s worldview has any consistency, it is as the ideology of a certain type of parochial, embittered, outer-borough New Yorker, an upscale Archie Bunker. The first great misfortune that befell the U.S. and its allies came in November of 2016, when this small-minded parvenu was elected President. The second came earlier this year, when Trump belatedly realized that he didn’t have to surround himself with wiser and more knowledgeable people who could restrain his impulses. He replaced H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, and Gary Cohn, the head of the National Economic Council, with John Bolton and Larry Kudlow, two wizened conservative talking heads who both know their role, which is to parrot whatever nonsense Trump comes up with on any given day.

On Saturday, Trump once again made a stunning display of his ignorance. Before departing early from the G-7 summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, to fly to Singapore, he issued a preposterous threat to cut off all U.S.-Canadian trade if the Canadians responded to his imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum goods entering the United States by levying similar duties on some American goods entering Canada. At a press conference that Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, held to close the summit, he was inevitably asked whether his government would go ahead with the retaliatory tariffs despite Trump’s barking. “I have made it very clear to the President that it is not something we relish doing, but it is something that we absolutely will do,” Trudeau said. “Because Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.”

In diplomatese, Trudeau’s statement was polite but firm. (He also said that he stood ready to resolve the trade dispute in consultation with Trump.) But when Trump watched, or got wind of, the press conference on Air Force One as he flew to Singapore, he flipped out and fired up his Twitter account, describing Trudeau as, “Very dishonest & weak,” and adding, “Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!” He also said that he had ordered the U.S. representatives on the ground to not endorse the G-7 communique that they had previously agreed on.

Far from trying to talk Trump around, or clear up the mess that the President had created, Bolton and Kudlow made matters worse. On Saturday afternoon, Bolton tweeted out the most talked-about image from the G-7 meeting, in which a seated Trump is being confronted by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Emmanuel Macron, the President of France. “Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today. No more,” he wrote.

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On Sunday, Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trudeau “kind of stabbed us in the back,” and added, “It was a betrayal.” Another Trump aide, Peter Navarro, who is a self-styled trade hawk, told Fox News, “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”

The invocation of Weimaresque rhetoric to describe a trade dispute with America’s closest neighbor was something to behold. But in geopolitical terms, it wasn’t even the most provocative thing that Team Trump did over the weekend. Before, during, and after the G-7 summit, the U.S. President called for Vladimir Putin’s Russia to be allowed to rejoin the group, and sought to downplay the reason that the country got kicked out in the first place—Putin’s decision, in 2014, to invade Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine.

“Something happened a while ago where Russia is no longer in,” Trump said, at a press conference on Saturday. “I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in.” He didn’t dwell on Putin’s aggression further, other than to say that questions about it should be addressed to Barack Obama, who “allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have a much different attitude.”

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Really? At this stage, Trump’s bromance with Putin is so obvious that it has turned into something of a joke. Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium who is now a powerbroker in the European Parliament, tweeted out the viral G-7 photo, and suggested a caption for what Merkel was saying to Trump: “Just tell us what Vladimir has on you. Maybe we can help.” Putin, for his part, said he would welcome a summit meeting with Trump in the Oval Office.

It is possible, of course, that Putin doesn’t have anything on Trump, and that Trump has simply had a lifelong affection for ruthless, authoritarian figures that overwhelms any actual knowledge he may have picked up in the past seventeen months about the benefits of Atlanticism, a liberal trading order, or anything else. Back in that 1990 Playboy interview, in addition to expressing his protectionist beliefs about the economy, he criticized Mikhail Gorbachev for allowing the Soviet Union to break up and praised the leaders of China for putting down the Tiananmen Square demonstrations “with strength.”

This side of Trump—the wannabe strongman—has always been there. But the truly alarming thing is how few restraining influences it now faces. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has maintained a steadfast support for NATO and the Atlantic alliance more generally, appears to be about the only one left. The Vice-President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury are all Trump toadies. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, seems to be a busted flush. The Republican leadership on Capitol Hill is AWOL. And Fox News, which is Trump’s main source of information, is a Trump echo chamber.

And so we go to Sentosa Island, in Singapore, where the North Korean boy autocrat awaits. After Trump’s behavior in the past few days, the world will be watching nervously.

  • John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for newyorker.com.

  • Here’s a who’s who of the people pictured (pic above), and where they stand on the trade row that defined the summit.

    1. Donald Trump, US President

    Mr Trump shocked America’s allies – namely the EU, Mexico and Canada – when he recently announced a 25% tariff on imports of steel and 10% on aluminium from these countries. They are all threatening retaliatory measures and the rift overshadowed the summit, leaving the American president isolated at times. Mr Trump departed before the other leaders, and complained that America was “like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing”.

    He then tore into Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a pair of tweets, calling him “very dishonest and weak” and attacking his “false statements” after Mr Trudeau reasserted his strong opposition to the US tariffs in a news conference.

    2. John Bolton, US National Security Adviser

    It’s been just three months since he was appointed President Trump’s top security adviser but John Bolton has already made an impact. One of the President’s arguments for the tariffs is on “national security grounds” – a view Mr Bolton has stridently backed.

    3. Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Japanese Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs

    Promoted to the post in July 2017, he recently led a Japanese delegation to Pakistan and took part in joint talks between Japan, China and South Korea in Seoul about a proposed free trade agreement.

  • 4. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister

    He has come under increased pressure to join retaliatory measures against America’s tariffs. This puts him in a difficult position – he has tried hard to cultivate a warm relationship with President Trump and the two are said to have met at least 10 times since he was elected to the White House.

    5. Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary

    The MP from Japan’s governing party once worked in the ministry of international trade and industry.

    6. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

    She has been at the forefront of talks to try to resolve differences at the summit, as is clear in this photo. Mrs Merkel apparently floated an idea to set up a mechanism to resolve trade disputes between the US and its allies on Friday. Asked during the summit about her relationship with President Trump, Mrs Merkel said the two leaders did not always agree but could talk to each other: “I can say that I maintain a very open and direct relationship with the American president.”

    7. Emmanuel Macron, French President

    He engaged in a Twitter spat with President Trump over the tariffs hours before the summit – leading some to question whether the blossoming “bromance” between the two was over. Despite this, they were seen to be on good terms, and President Macron’s team said his talks with Trump were “frank and robust”. However, following Mr Trump’s online outburst against Mr Trudeau, the French president issued a statement that “international co-operation cannot be dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks”.

    8. Theresa May, UK Prime Minister

    In a telephone call last week, she told President Trump she found the US tariffs “unjustified and deeply disappointing”. But she also struck a more conciliatory tone at the summit, urging fellow leaders to step back from the brink of a possible trade war.

    9. Larry Kudlow, Director of the US National Economic Council

    Mr Trump’s top economic adviser has defended the new tariffs and said his boss should not be blamed for trade tensions. After the summit, Mr Kudlow told CNN that the president and his team had gone to the summit “in good faith” but that Mr Trudeau had “stabbed us in the back” in his news conference.

 

 

 

Timor Leste is no Failing State but 11th ASEAN Member-in-Waiting


June 8, 2018

Timor Leste is no Failing State but 11th ASEAN Member-in-Waiting

by Bobby Anderson

http://www.newmandala.org/timor-leste-no-failing-state/

Image result for  Mount Kristo Dili, Timor Leste

Dili Waterfront Monument to East Timor’s Independence

After nearly a year of political deadlock following the 2017 parliamentary elections, on 12th May Timor-Leste’s citizens elected a new government, with Xanana Gusmao the likely new Prime Minister. The parliamentary power his Change for Progress Alliance coalition might wield is little different from the power it was prohibited from wielding under the previous government.

After the 2017 polls, the Fretilin party—having bested Xanana’s CNRT by a few fractions of a percentage point—ultimately refused to convene parliament to face a majority Xanana cobbled together from smaller parties, claiming that because Fretilin received the largest number of votes for any single party, it possessed the “majority”. By this logic parliamentarians exercising their authority would be undertaking a coup d’état. It remains to be seen whether this same illogic will emerge again. Xanana, for his part, surely has promises to keep, and we can anticipate new ministries so that coalition partners might be rewarded. In the near term we can anticipate so many overseas “study tour” junkets that they may necessitate a brand new ministry to organise them.

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Kayrala Xanana Gusmao.

This is all grist to the mill for many a Timor-watcher who has consigned the country to an “arc of instability” alongside Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. The picture painted is one of a failed state, according to Foreign Affairs, or a still-failing one, according to a La Trobe University lecturer, with the long-exasperated neighbour Australia at any moment exposed to the fallout of potential collapse in the form of civil conflict or irregular migration.

Except, of course, that it’s not true.

The view from Dili

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Cristo Rei of Dili, Timor Leste/East Timor

After Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002, the United Nations Temporary Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) built Timor-Leste’s institutions of government, but political violence resulted in another peacekeeping mission in 2006. Since 2013, the country has achieved stability through petroleum revenue-funded “reconciliation” between political elites.

Certainly, viewing Timor-Leste through a political economy lens and then extrapolating that view across the multiplicity of sectors and layers that constitute local government and public service delivery makes for dark viewing. In recent years, while conducting field research on service delivery in the country, I heard the dire pronouncements of many a Dili-based NGO or donor representative, or a Timorese health, education, or other line ministry official, and these coalesced around a key assumption: a lack of civil servant capacity in remote and inaccessible hinterlands results in low health, education, and other human development indicator measurements which set the stage for another generation of development assistance. This is usually followed by a melancholy “we are a new country” caveat. Hearing enough of this in Dili, one can be forgiven for assuming that everyone in the countryside is uneducated, hungry and dying. This perception surely underlies Singapore’s objection to Timor-Leste’s membership of ASEAN.

Mount Ramelau (Photo: Bobby Anderson)

But this dark view evaporates as soon as one leaves Dili. Let’s begin with bromides concerning low human resource capacity outside of a few towns. Across Timor-Leste’s rural areas where the majority of Timorese reside, civil servants can be found at their posts and doing their jobs in a challenging environment—one in which little attention is received from the centre.

Decentralisation has in some imperfect manner occurred, with schools functioning autonomously and health services improvising to provide services. These civil servants may often be under-qualified—the teachers may only have high school diplomas—but they are there. Anecdotally, service standards are higher in rural Timor-Leste than in much of remote eastern Indonesia.

“Remote” is also relative in Timor-Leste. Iliomar, often mentioned as one of the most remote areas of the country, can be reached in nine hours from Dili by car, with a nearly uninterrupted 3G phone signal across the entire journey; by no standard of measurement is this remote, especially compared to areas of nearby Indonesian Papua that are up to a week’s walk from a road, with complete network absence. No area of Timor-Leste that I am aware of suffers a lack of services and corresponding ill health, high mortality, low school attendance and student performance due to remoteness. Claiming that geography inhibits service delivery is disingenuous.

State failures, but not a failed state

Timor-Leste’s problems are bureaucratic, not geographic. The biggest obstacle rural civil servants identify is not “remoteness” or “human resource capacity”: it is “Dili”, an often insular centre that lacks understanding of, and experience in, the rural areas where most Timorese live.

The new state’s problems are many, but they are surmountable, and they are concentrated in Dili. They involve ineffective logistics, haphazard supply chains, a lack of facilities standardisation and maintenance, top-down budgeting that takes no account of local conditions, lengthy delays in payments and financial acquittals, and so on. This in turn stems from less-than-competent senior management and politically-driven appointments. While the centre does host committed and effective senior technocrats, they are exceptions.

Centralisation of fiscal policy and procurement is justified by an alleged lack of capacity in the countryside. But the way such matters are handled in the capital would be laughable if it wasn’t so harmful. For example: Government tenders for vehicle maintenance are awarded where all repairs are done in Dili only. Repairs can take over a year, and work can be shoddy: in Lospalos, an ambulance repaired a year after delivery broke down on the drive back. Fuel provision contracts are awarded in such a way that vehicles must drive to Dili to fill up their tanks. To cope with this absurdity, sub-national administrators utilise other budgets to purchase fuel locally. Some ministries have such a bad reputation among potential private service providers with regard to delayed payments that only the worst contractors bid for their tenders. Most damagingly, civil servant salaries can be collected only in municipal capitals. This takes administrative post health, education, and other officials out of their posts for two days to a week every month.

Graffiti targeting an ex-finance minister in Dili (Photo: Bobby Anderson)

Individual civil servants, including those in Dili, strive to distinguish themselves from the Indonesian state structure they replaced. However, they are disempowered from acting independently, and are hobbled by the focus of the bureaucracy on paperwork and “accountability”—such as the requirement of undue amounts of signatures for the release of funds, one of the worst aspects of New Public Management superimposed by UNTAET.

 

Middle managers defer decisions upwards; they receive few rewards for good performance and face fewer consequences for poor performance. A lack of managerial accountability is found throughout: for example, a preventable death from an obstetric emergency will result in no investigation or administrative sanction to the civil servants responsible for a particular shortage or lack of maintenance that led to the death. A junior civil servant may be dismissed for absenteeism, but their manager will not be dismissed for failing to provide the supporting structure that made it impossible for that civil servant to do their job in the first place.

These problems are hardly unique to Timor-Leste. They are found across the developing and developed world. And yet Timor-Leste is described as at risk of collapse, even though it lacks the violence, insurgency, and debilitating corruption of other failed and failing areas: as though it possesses the political equivalent of a genetic predisposition. But contemporary observable conditions in the countryside fly in the face of the dire pronouncements of the centre, mostly backed by old data. Most current human development indicators available from donor and agency sources demonstrate improvements in the last 10 years but even these might be unduly pessimistic.

Invented problems

So why does this image of failure persist? The root cause is that national-level civil servants and development workers speak for a grassroots that they don’t understand. Also to blame is the repetition of biases and application of expired heuristics across decades. In the 1970s, Timorese diaspora opponents of Indonesia’s invasion, and their threadbare foreign supporters, spoke of the tragedy of an invasion of a nation already left behind by hundreds of years of Portuguese neglect, then subjected to horrendous levels of violence and social engineering schemes, dying from neglect or from intention.

Image result for xanana gusmao

 

Much of this message was encapsulated in the imagery of emaciated children in relocation camps, and that image has never left us. It is implanted in the minds of government and NGO staff who easily absorb those images and aid in their recycling. The unthinking continuity of this image supports the unthinking elements of the development industry; it is the reason why many a salary is drawn (including the salaries of underpaid local enumerators who are expected to feed doom up the line to their superiors) and many a study tour and per diem is taken. Local government and NGO workers I’ve spoken to across Timor-Leste offer numerous examples of enumerators filling in household surveys with exactly the results they expect to find.

Another cause is that many government and NGO workers in Timor-Leste have never worked elsewhere. It’s easy to believe conditions in Timor-Leste are the same as Afghanistan or the Congo if one knows absolutely nothing about those failed states.

Some of Timor-Leste’s problems seem to be invented. For example: the small stature of many Timorese is often classified by donors and NGOs as “stunting”, childhood malnutrition which can result in diminutive size, cognitive deficiency, and ill health. Undoubtedly the diminutive stature of many Timorese is caused by childhood malnutrition; some foreign-funded nutrition projects are needed, and welcomed, but all too many of them assumed that the problem is a lack of food, which they then attempted to address through food distribution.

But malnutrition in Timor-Leste is not caused by a lack of food so much as it is caused by a lack of knowledge—of nutrition, of breastfeeding and supplemental feeding, of sanitation and food storage. And also, some people are just shorter than others. The articulation of stunting comes with a laundry list of negative physical and mental outcomes offered as though they are inevitable to all Timorese below a certain height. This is insulting and racist: diminutive stature does not mean that one is stupid, but the small stature of many a Timorese is re-cast as a dire epidemic of mental imbecility and physical frailty —a problem from the worst excesses of the Indonesian occupation, reinvented in order to open a funding line and respond to something that cannot be defeated because it mostly doesn’t exist.

 

Timor-Leste has enough palpable problems; one need not resort to the past or one’s imagination. Youth unemployment is high, economic opportunity is lacking, education is sub-par, maternal and child mortality are high, and malnutrition is prevalent. Violence against women and children is unacceptable at any level, much less the level found in Timor-Leste. The government’s political decisions impede policies to improve the lot of the majority of Timorese in favour of expenditures such as the Oecussi Special Economic Zone, the Tasi Mane petroleum corridor, exorbitant pensions to insurgent veterans and their offspring, and so on. These short-sighted expenditures are often funded by Petroleum Fund draw-downs which impact that fund’s Estimated Sustainable Income levels.

Government employment is an erroneous form of social protection. Even the official status of Portuguese is wasteful, with local civil servants dependent on the translations of Portuguese “advisors”. Most importantly, Timor-Leste has the highest birth rate in Asia: this will degrade all human development progress made in the near term. Family planning underpins nearly all positive outcomes in maternal and child health and family health in general—physical, economic, and so on. It is foundational to gender equality.

Building on what’s there

Despite myriad problems, it is worth repeating: things aren’t so bad. In rural Timor-Leste civil servants are struggling to provide services with little support; children are in school, being taught by teachers who are mostly present; health posts are open and relatively clean, and pharmacies have stocks of some medicines. Civil servants know what their duties are, feel obligated to undertake them, and understand the support they need to execute those duties optimally. They freely offer prescient criticisms and suggest solutions.

The countryside is direly under-developed in terms of infrastructure, but the government has responded through the National Program for Village Development; communities select and action their own infrastructure needs, and the results and impact are impressive. That program—one of the most successful implemented by the state—reveals the capacity that exists in ordinary Timorese. And the bonds of reciprocity found across the multiplicity of Timorese cultures which constitute society become apparent in discussions with everyone from volunteer teachers to ambulance crew members. Yes, conflict and violence exist, but this is still a society made cohesive by shared experience of occupation and resistance: a transcendent sense of membership, even amongst those in conflict with one another, exists.

Timor-Leste’s most pressing issues are as tedious as they are solvable. The imagery of boatloads of stunted Timorese washing ashore in Australia’s Northern Territory as the country burns like a Yule Log so big it can be seen from space is a delusion. Timorese won’t kill one another in large enough numbers to touch off such a crisis. They don’t even have enough boats. Approaching a country from the perspective of its impending demise likely doesn’t lead to good assistance. A new paradigm by which to approach development in Timor-Leste is needed: one that builds upon the solid foundations one can find if only one manages to look and listen beyond the capital. Timor-Leste has a new government, and with it arrives new opportunities.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Readers may also be interested in the Australian National University’s 2018 Timor-Leste Update, which will be held in Canberra on 21/22 June.