Malaysia: Whose freedom of speech, Mahathir?


Malaysia: Whose freedom of speech, Mr. Prime MInister?

Does the prime minister really think it is his administration’s prerogative to grant or deny the freedoms that are associated with democratic life? A news report on Nov 8 quoted him as warning the public against causing trouble in “matters concerning race and religion” through the “abuse” of the freedom of expression “given by the government”.

If the report is accurate, Malaysians have reason to fear the possibility of losing one of the liberties that citizens of a democratic country normally consider to be their inalienable right.

Mahathir sounded like he was speaking as the leader of a Malaysia stuck in the pre-internet and pre-Reformasi era, when it was perhaps normal for the average citizen to think of the government as the dispenser of liberties.

But the advent of the internet, which roughly coincided with the emergence of the Reformasi movement, heralded the rise of democratic consciousness among ordinary educated Malaysians. Government controls over the flow of information were no longer effective, and anger over the perceived injustice to Anwar Ibrahim spread across cyberspace and across racial lines.

Malaysians gradually became accustomed to the idea that the freedom to express themselves and the freedom to avail themselves of information are integral parts of civilised democratic life. Today, they think of such liberties as theirs to own and not to be dispensed to them by the government at its pleasure.

An Iranian scholar writing about the 1979 overthrow of the 2,500-year-old Persian monarchy attributed the fall of the Shah, with all his military might, to the simple idea of distributing tape-recorded speeches of the then-exiled Ayatollah Khomeini.

Indeed, technology has played a crucial part in the rise of civil society in Malaysia. Futurist Alvin Toffler predicted in a 1970 book that dictators would fall with advancements in information technology and the availability of computers in every home.

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Politicians in power, in Malaysia or anywhere else in the democratic world, must live with the reality that they can no longer effectively curtail freedom of speech. And Mahathir should not fret over this as long as his government enacts laws to punish those who threaten bodily harm with their speeches.

Indeed it is only a citizen’s own sense of decency and decorum, as well as his fear of running afoul of laws against the threat of violence, that should limit his outburst.

In the new Malaysia, we must constantly remind the government that freedom of speech is not some commodity for it to give or take away. It is our fundamental right. I may not like someone’s speech because it offends my beliefs, but I do not agree that he should be jailed. I can always counter his argument with my own speech or writing.

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Even now there is a WhatsApp warfare over the possible ratification of ICERD and its alleged impact on so-called Malay rights and privileges. This is one of the signs of a working democracy. In fact, we are now seeing a rise in the number of public forums to educate citizens on current issues. But it is sad that these forums occur only in hotels and clubhouses and not on the campuses of our universities.

In the new Malaysia, any politician in power who threatens to withhold the freedom of speech will be seen as someone who is out of touch with the times. The new Malaysia rejects the cult of the strong man but welcomes a prime minister who knows how to manage the talents of his subordinates and sees civil society as a participant in governance.

It is true that many current members of the federal Cabinet have no experience in governance, but then neither are they experienced in the destruction of public institutions and the desecration of the Federal Constitution. And we should welcome that.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Language, Civilisation, Politics, and Malay Chauvinists


November 1, 2018

Language, Civilisation, Politics, and Malay Chauvinists 

by Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Since 9/11, global scrutiny turned to contentious concepts such as terrorism, mono-polar, bipolar, superpower, economic and cultural imperialism, as well as linguistic colonialism.

It is the latter which is the subject of this commentary because it has stirred harsh, aggressive and sometimes, amusing reactions in the media (local, regional and global), as well as in Malaysia’s recent parliamentary sitting.

A few days ago, Parliament was entertained by the rantings of a particular opposition MP who claimed that English is not an intellectual language. Among the many incoherent sentences that were uttered, he cited examples of ancient civilisations and conquerors, attempting to rationalise that, “English is not an intellectual language that develops the mind and brain”. He also confidently pontificated that “modern economies like Japan, Taiwan and non-English speaking Europeans do not use English in their journey to become developed nations”.

I hope this issue commands the attention of most Malaysians because for a multi-cultural, multi-religious, economically-developing and relatively-peaceful nation, we need to separate the “wheat from the shaft”.

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Linguistic colonialism or imperialism as a concept is a derivative of Edward Said’s conceptualisation of cultural imperialism (in his two famous books Culture and Imperialism, and Orientalism). I doubt, though, that the recent local uproar about the use of English as a medium of instruction of a few subjects in school is based on any knowledge of Edward Said’s work.

Nevertheless, anti-English language crusaders keep creeping out of the woodwork because it seems fashionable. It is glaring that all of these narratives to date have been devoid of historical context. And this makes for extremely wimpy analyses.

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UMNO Intellectuals

Hasan Arifin, BN’s MP for Rompin, is not alone. There are many in Malaysia, among the public, government and elite who feel that English is being “deified”. They also believe that English speakers never created great civilisations. Leaving aside that this notion is erroneous, it also begs the question, “what is a great civilisation?”

In my  understanding, a great civilisation is based on a network of cities (territories) comprising cultures that are defined by the economic, political, military, diplomatic, social and cultural interactions among them.

So, the Roman, Spanish, Arab, French, British and Chinese (with their various dynasties) were great civilisations. How did language then become the signature dish, so to speak, of that civilisation?

Through these empires, languages spread and shifted in dominance. In the past, empires spread their influence through their armies, and after the conquests, so began the social and linguistic assimilation. Between the 3 BC and 3 AD, the Roman Empire was bilingual — Latin and Greek. This was because the Romans knew that Greek was a language of prestige, philosophy and higher education — an “intellectual” language.

Spain succeeded in making over 20 sovereign states today, that speak Spanish, excluding millions of Spanish speakers in immigrant communities in other non-Spanish speaking nations such as the United States, Canada and the Philippines.

Castillian Spanish became the most important language of government and trade. It was the lingua franca of the Spanish empire, a derivative of Latin. Latin was still the “intellectual” language of the Spanish and of the Church.

The Chola Dynasty was one of the longest, most civilised empires in the history of southern India. Tamil and Sanskrit were the official languages.Tamil and Sanskrit are two distinct languages, the former being Dravidian and the latter being an Indo-Aryan language. As we can see, all three great civilisations were bi-lingual.

In 21st century Malaysia, however, we are faced with a backlash of a-historical pundits who reject the ebb and flow of civilisational change, yet advocate for national progress and development.

Let me educate them on the current position of English in the world today. First, it is an intellectual language. The British Empire, between the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II (1588-1952), had about 250 million English language speakers. English achieved unique conditions of development. The large continents of North America, Africa and Asia were colonised with industrialisation and trade in mind.

Global conditions at the time facilitated the transition towards the flourishing of English in previously French and Spanish colonial territories of North America and Africa. Due to abundant natural resources and human capital in these regions, the wheels of commerce and trade helped to “deify” (not my word) the English language. English was “at the right place, at the right time”.

Today, all civilisations are enriched by the ideas, thoughts and knowledge disseminated world wide in English. Of course there are other languages that perform this function, but English is predominant.

Second, people like Hasan Arifin and his supporters cannot distinguish between modernisation, Westernisation and imperialism.

Modernisation is the development and application of current and innovative science in the development process of all sectors of society. Westernisation is a process subsumed under modernisation when specifically-Western notions of what it means to be modern are accepted as universal values of modernisation.

Many aspects of Westernisation should not be accepted as modernisation. Imperialism, on the other hsnsd, is the process of domination of policies and ideas with a specific agenda in mind. In history, imperial powers have imposed power and influence through diplomacy or military force.

I think the current discourses in France and India of a “linguistic imperialism” are far-fetched.  Like Westernisation, there is good and bad imperialism. It is also era-specific.

In the 21st century, military and economic powers like the US, China, Great Britain, Japan, Germany and Russia do not mirror the same imperialistic goals of the World War Two era.

Anintellectual, would realise that the need to master the English language is hardly the imposition of an imperialistic agenda.

The inadequacy of the historical-context approach is dangerous for nation building. A system oiled by pseudo-intellectuals who run the policy-making machinery will be suicidal for our “new” Malaysia.

My advice is to be firmly grounded in historical processes, be up-to-date with current economic and socio-political trends and subdue ethnocentric tendencies which are embarrassing and underdeveloped.

Critics of the English language quote China and Japan as being ignorant of the English language, yet they challenge the US and other great powers economically and militarily. It takes more, however, to become a global hegemon.

Anti-English crusaders in Malaysia believe religiously that China and Japan, despite their incapacity to speak and write in English, have reached a level of global economic hierarchy that threatens US and other major power positions. However, even this notion is skewed.

China, for example is known as “the factory of the world” and “the bridge-builder of the world”. But China’s global hegemonic status is in doubt because it lacks the capacity for economic reform, to minimise economic inefficiencies and it has proven inadequate at reforming the financial sector in order to provide investors with consistently profitable returns (the failure of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port construction is a case in point). Therefore, the issue of language does not figure in the equation.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy


The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy

by Dato Amb. (Rtd.) Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Malaysia’s Novice Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah

Amid growing international outrage over the brutal and gruesome murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (pic above) reiterated that “Malaysia’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia remain strong”, to quote one local report covering Putrajaya’s response to the killing. He was further quoted as saying that, “We are a friendly nation. We look at the big picture.” There was not even a hint of concern.

Many Malaysians, no doubt, found his comments deeply troubling. Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, however, quickly set the record straight: not mincing any words, and dismissing all that “big picture” nonsense, he asserted that Khashoggi’s killing was “an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny” that “cannot be condoned”. He added that it is not something that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government can accept.

Murder most foul

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad addresses the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2018. — Bernama pic

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad @ UNGA, New York

According to Turkish authorities, the murder of Khashoggi was carried out by a professional team of Saudi officials who lay in wait for him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After being overpowered, he was reportedly dismembered while still alive by a forensic specialist (part of the Saudi team) and his remains disposed of.

The official Saudi narrative of the murder has been anything but credible. After insisting for days that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive, the Saudis, faced with mounting evidence of their complicity, now admit that Khashoggi was indeed killed in the consulate. However, they conveniently maintain that it was the work of rogue agents acting without official sanction.

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Observers familiar with the way the Saudi Kingdom operates insist that such an operation could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (also known as MBS), the real power behind the throne. The Prince has, in fact, a history of rash and reckless behaviour.

Whatever it is, Khashoggi’s  brutal murder has shocked the world. Even some of Jeddah’s strongest supporters were disturbed by the sheer barbarity of it all and are demanding a full and transparent investigation. In the meantime, many senior business and political leaders are boycotting the ongoing “Davos in the Desert” conference (a key initiative of MBS) while both the German Chancellor and the Canadian prime minister have called for a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

A Foreign Policy that reflects the new Malaysia

Under such circumstances, the  novice Malaysian Foreign Minister’s reiteration of business as usual with the Saudi government was clearly inappropriate.

More than that, it is an indication that the Foreign Ministry (Wisma Putra) has yet to think through what the new Malaysia stands for and how best to reflect the values and hopes of a free and democratic society premised upon respect for the Rule of Law.

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Wisma Putra

The Prime Minister’s Address and his pledge to ratify all outstanding UN human rights conventions should have been seen as an indication of Malaysia’s new commitment to human rights, among other matters.

It is one thing for the Foreign Ministry to table the Prime Minister’s UNGA Address  in Parliament and declare it to be our policy; it is quite another to give it  well thought expression in the positions we take on international issues.

The limits of Islamic solidarity

Clearly, one of the things that needs to be addressed going forward is the lack of a consistent human rights dimension in our Foreign Policy. Out of a misguided sense of Islamic solidarity, we have, for example, tended to keep silent when Muslim despots target their own people.

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Even now, we remain largely ambivalent to the carnage that Saudi Arabia (with US and UK support) is inflicting on Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 10,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed while millions are on the brink of what the UN warns might be the “largest famine the world has seen for many decades”. What the Saudis are doing to Yemen is nothing short of a crime against humanity; silence is simply not an option anymore.

With MBS now working with the hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv to plot regime change in Tehran, things are about to get a lot worse. Hasn’t the slaughter and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria been enough? Have we learned nothing of the horrendous consequences of regime change? How many more bombed-out cities, how much more death and destruction do we need to see before we demand that the Saudis and their backers in Washington stop this madness?

Before they came to power, many PH leaders expressed outrage against the carnage in Yemen and pressed for the withdrawal of all Malaysian armed forces support personnel from the Saudi-led coalition. There was no talk then about “big picture” diplomacy.

A principled Foreign Policy

With his remarks on the Khashoggi murder, Mahathir has sent a clear message that there are limits to Islamic solidarity, that a principled foreign policy obliges us to speak out against injustice and to actively promote the cause of peace in the world.

The days when we close our eyes to human rights abuses and war-mongering for the sake of political expediency are now over. Wisma Putra, like other ministries, must rise to the challenge of Malaysia Baru and give expression to the values that premise it. The people expect no less.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

On Malaysian Education


 

On Malaysian Education

by Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

There is no need to revamp our higher education system, because there is a system already in place. On paper, at least, the system is spectacular.

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Just look at the facts that we are regularly bombarded with. Five of our 20 public universities have attained research university status. Five have also been given autonomy in administration, human resources, financial and academic management and student intake.

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This move, supposedly is to encourage excellence among our institutions of higher learning. Several initiatives have also been undertaken by the federal government in the past, including the establishment of Malaysian university branch campuses in other countries.

There are lofty plans to create more Malaysian Chairs at universities abroad and to improve the world ranking of Malaysian universities.

Currently, there are seven foreign universities with branch campuses in Malaysia. Part of the system too is that a target has been set of 100 researchers, scientists and engineers (RSE) per 100,000 workforce by 2020.

Also, the previous Malaysia Plan (10MP) had set a goal to improve the quality of academic staff in public universities, by increasing the number of academics with PhD’s. The ambition is to have 75% of academics with PhD’s in public universities.

Last but not least, we are proud of Setara, MyQUEST, MQA and numerous acts and accreditation agencies that allegedly regulate the provision of high quality public and private higher education in Malaysia.

What is all the fuss about our education system then? Why was there an uproar, and subsequently an increasing disappointment among parents and other citizens’ groups with the appointment of Maszlee Malik as our minister of education?

I think many older Malaysians have an intuitive sense about the reasons for the apparent under performance of our education system. However, to date, there has not been a critical and decisive articulation of what has really failed.

It is not the system as much as the mind, the thinking and the lack of an awakening which have failed in nurturing this system.

Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hosted a dialogue with Dr Mahathir Mohamad last month at the Asia Society in New York. Mahathir responded to a question about what needs to be done to improve Malaysia’s education standard and how to inculcate noble values among children in Malaysia. His key answer was to increase the use of English as it is a universal language.

Although I am in full support of this, our education ministry must dig deeper. There has been so much (too much in fact) talk about adopting the Finnish system of education.

Minister Maszlee said Malaysia should focus on a learning system that is technology-centric, with an emphasis on the English language.  Agreed.

What I disagree with, though, is his far-reaching ambition for Malaysian youth to embrace multiple languages.

We cannot be fluent in our mother tongue, let alone English, what more a third or fourth language?

Dr Maszlee did make an intelligent point, however, when he said that we needed to further the “formative years” in a student’s learning cycle by focusing on gathering information, critical thinking and “bringing out the humanity in them”.

These are indeed very noble values that all education policies should embrace. However, in what direction is the Education Ministry steering these goals? Was Maszlee actually conceptualising the need for future intellectuals? After all, Finland is known for it’s lively, rich and independent intellectual tradition.

The Finnish model

Five months since Maszlee’s statement about adopting the Finnish system of education, Malaysians are still in the dark about what that means and where we are heading. So, let me try to fill in the gaps.

Finland welcomes foreign students to study in Finland, in various fields, predominantly in forestry, information technology, green technology and medicine.

Part of the reason Finland is an attractive education hub is because of her low cost of living and the superior quality of Finnish universities in the global academic ranking system.

Also, in November 2017, Finnish Ambassador to Malaysia Petri Puhakka declared that his country was in talks with a few local public universities on possible collaboration “to enhance the education sector”.

Almost a year has passed since those talks, but Malaysian parents and educators have seen no such development in our public schools and institutions of higher education.

Will Maszlee ever articulate the essence of the Finnish system, which I believe to be it’s high regard for the intellectual.

Amidst these unanswered questions is a nagging, festering epidemic. Malaysia lacks a dignified pool of intellectuals in all fields of academia. We may have the PhD’s, the engineers, lawyers, doctors, MBAs and computer scientists, but knowledge of a certain subject or the possession of a degree does not make a person an intellectual.

The English philosopher Herbert Spencer had no academic qualifications but he was one of the leading intellectuals of his time.

What Malaysia needs are people who are not just servants of their own special interests (geopolitics, computer design, engine systems or sustainable development), but are dedicated to a larger responsibility.

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In many of Edward Said’s Reith Lectures, he eloquently defined the intellectual as “an exile and amateur whose role is to speak the truth to power, even at the risk of ostracism or imprisonment”. In Malaysia, it is more the norm to see academics and educators succumb to the lures of title, money, power or specialisation.

The intellectual

An intellectual is a person who engages in critical, honest thinking, research and reflection about society, and proposes solutions for its normative problems. When you gain authority, you become a “public” intellectual.

The object of intellectual activity is always related to the wider context of life and thought, penetrating into fundamental values and commitments. This is when an intellectual can become a game changer in our degenerative education quality.

Public university academics and Malaysian educators, on the whole, consistently encourage their students to study well so they can get better jobs and earnings.

Of course they are also told to “contribute to society”, “be a model citizen”, “help towards economic growth”, “be innovators in science and technology”, etc.

Platitudes, in my opinion. Many graduates will get good jobs eventually and they will earn comfortably. Even if lecturers do not tell them this, the majority of students are in institutions of higher learning because their goal is to enter the work force and contribute to the Malaysian economy.

If an intellectual was lecturing he or she would not be caught up with such platitudes. Here is an example of how an academic with intellectual attributes might conduct a class.

First, their mode of in-class instruction would not be a rehashing of facts and figures from the reading list assigned to students.

Second, only 40-50% of their lectures would involve audio-visual aides, especially for social science subjects. In a two-hour lecture, for instance, it is ludicrous to display 30-60 powerpoint slides (assuming a 2-4 minute display per slide) to lecture about the sociology of corruption.

I have witnessed such practices in an undergraduate lecture on media and mass communication in a Malaysian public university.

Third, audio-visual aides are exactly that—aides to assist in delivering the most important points and the fundamental theme of the lecture.

In a Political Philosophy class, one could have a few slides introducing the fundamental thoughts of Adolf Hitler, for instance, and key dates depicting his youth and early political career.

The lecturer would then proceed to relate the information on those slides with past, current and future trends in global geopolitics.

An intellectual would prefer this method because it highlights a certain level of consciousness and insight into vital problems. Universities in Malaysia must focus on the value of discourse in classrooms.

Lecturer-student interaction in a class of 30 students is still viable and more valuable for the development of the mind. After almost two decades as an academic,I have noticed that the trend of lecturers shying away from debate and discussions in a classroom is increasing.

Fourth, universities should be a breeding ground for the intellectual pursuit, the spirit of inquiry and the reverence of scientific and rational knowledge. If academics do not value this, how can we expect the students to develop such a tradition?

A step towards correcting Malaysia’s education woes would be to nurture the intellectual so we can have insight into the wider context of life.

Academics should instinctively direct their research to be relevant to society within the wider context of Malaysian life.

Academics should raise the standard and image of scholarship by abandoning the idea of publishing in order to get promoted.

An intellectual considers promotion a bonus, the key objective being a solution to the festering problems burdening society, be it racial, religious, political, social or economic problems.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

The 3 Malaysian agenda for Anwar Ibrahim


October 16, 2018

The 3 Malaysian Agenda–Language, Malay Rights and Meritocracy — for A Better Malaysia. Will Anwar Ibrahim do it?

by Koon Yew Yin

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

In all my work and writing during the past 20 years, readers will have noted that my major concern is for Malaysia to become a fully developed nation in all the key aspects of life – economic, socio-cultural, political and educational.

Towards this end I have provided numerous press statements, given umpteen talks and speeches, and written hundreds of articles and a book on how to attain what may be described as my own version of Vision 2020.

It is a vision which I believe is shared by the overwhelming majority of moderate and progressive Malaysians, especially among the younger generation which I am in constant touch with through the scholarship system I have sponsored for the past decade.

Now that Anwar Ibrahim has won the Port Dickson by-election, it is necessary for me to emphasise again on what are the crucial policies and strategies that the heir apparent Prime Minister has to articulate and implement to bring about the realisation of a united and progressive Malaysia Baru.

1. Language policy

Continuing attempts by Malay ultras to downgrade the use of other languages especially English and Mandarin are not only counter-productive but will end with the Malay community being left out of the global economy and world of knowledge, science and technology.

Anwar should realise that his standing among leaders in the region and the world is partly or even mainly because of his ability to communicate in English.

Nobody is disputing the role of Bahasa as the national language. But English is the universal lingua franca par excellence and whoever is Prime Minister of the country needs to make sure that all young Malaysians from an early age master the language to propel us into the club of advanced nations.

Anwar should make sure that the policymakers do not continue to go back and forth on this issue. Further pandering to the Malay language chauvinists will see the Malay community regress rather than progress.

2. Malay rights

Anwar and other Pakatan Harapan Malay politicians must bear in mind that the use of Malay rights – constitutional and extra-constitutional – to enrich the Malays is not only wrong. It will never work. You can never legislate the poor from penury into wealth and prosperity.

Worse is to take away from those who have worked hard and accumulated assets and savings to put into the pockets of those that are seen to be needy.

The ultimate foolishness is to do this on a racial basis as was attempted by the NEP during the past 40 odd years after May 69.

All the analysis by foreign and local scholars’ points to the fact that the NEP and follow up racial policies have been the breeding ground of abuse of power, mismanagement of economy and super corruption, cronyism and patronage. The NEP has been a major contributor to the falling back of our economy and society to its present low level as compared with Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and other countries that were in fact at a lower or similar stage of development in the 1970s.

I am sure that Anwar is fully aware of this. He has in the past when he was in the opposition talked about the need to do away with the NEP and a racially configured national economic policy. Now that he is at the point of becoming the Prime Minister he must not back down from his previous statements and promises on rejecting the NEP for a truly Malaysian agenda. On the contrary, he must act boldly to make the Malaysian agenda a reality

3. Restore meritocracy in all spheres of public sector

During my time in the 50s and 60s as a student and young engineer it could be said that the system of meritocracy was the dominant one in Malaysia. This is the political and economic philosophy which holds that certain things, such as economic goods or power, should be vested in individuals on the basis of talent, effort, and achievement rather than be based on factors such as race or family relationships or political affiliation.

During the past decades of Barisan Nasional rule, the meritocratic system was replaced by one based on race, political affiliation, family relations and know who.

This has resulted in the dumbing down of the civil service as well as resulted in inefficiency and mismanagement of the nation’s resources.

I am confident that if a study was done on the cost to the country as a result of the loss of the system of meritocracy, the figure will run into the trillions of ringgit.

Anwar must restore the system of meritocracy in the civil service so that we are not handicapped in competing with other advanced nations. For a start, I would like to propose two basic steps. These are

a.  University places should be allocated based on examination results and should not be based on race or other forms of quotas.

b.   Entry and promotion in civil Service, the Police and army must similarly be based on educational qualifications and working experience. There must be no political or party interference in the civil service.

Anwar now has the opportunity to lead the nation into a new era of progress, prosperity and unity. To do this he must implement the Malaysian agenda outlined above.

I and other loyal and patriotic moderates in the country will be monitoring him closely to make sure that he lives up to the cry for reform and rejection of the BN racist policies which resulted in Pakatan’s election victory and Anwar’s personal victory in Port Dickson.

Conclusion: I wish to quote the 5 most important sentences by Dr Adrian Rogers who has written 18 on politics and social issues

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation.

5. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

What the 1998 Reformasi taught me


October 4, 2018

What the 1998 Reformasi taught me

This is an article I never thought I’d have to write. Somehow, the strange post-election events have sparked off a stream of socio-political events that are even stranger than the idea of a 93-year-old man once dubbed Public Enemy No. 1 being back in the Prime Minister’s seat.

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The series of harsh statements by students and activists against Anwar Ibrahim, his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and their daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar shocked me more, in some ways, than the commando raid of his house in 1998. I feel compelled as a citizen to recount not just what happened in 1998, but my feelings and positive growth as an individual, a citizen, a Muslim and an academic for the benefit of a new generation of Malaysians.

In 1998, Anwar Ibrahim was unceremoniously sacked by the Prime Minister and UMNO President. The charge was firstly about some guy named Nalla who owned a gun, but then we heard whispers of flings with women, and ultimately the big headlines in Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian and The Star on the alleged sodomy of Azizan the driver, Munawar Anees, his political brother, and Sukma Darmawan, his adopted Indonesian brother.

As I recall, Munawar and Sukma were detained under the ISA while Azizan sang like a canary. A few weeks later, an exhausted Munawar and Sukma were brought to court to confess to the accusation of sodomy. After they were freed, they both retracted their confessions and recounted the torture the Police had inflicted to force the confessions. The Judiciary, Police and academia ignored their retractions and let an innocent man stand trial in a Malaysian kangaroo court.

Can Mahathir make the spirit of <I>reformasi</I> fade away?

Then came the incredible and dangerous drama of balaclava-clad commandos with machine guns storming the house of the former Deputy Prime Minister. Anwar was whisked away without anyone’s knowledge of where he was being held or what condition he was in.  A few days later, he emerged with a bloodied black eye amid news that he had been beaten by the “gangster” Police Chief, Rahim Noor. Anwar’s famous black eye appeared even in foreign media like CNN, Newsweek and Times.

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After that came damage control efforts with the Prime Minister accusing Anwar of inflicting the injury on himself. I will never forget the sneer on his lips as he spoke, describing how Anwar could have given himself the black eye. I will also never forget how a member of his Cabinet, a loud-mouthed woman, demonstrated with a drinking glass how Anwar could have pulled it off. We heard later that Anwar had suffered a severe spinal injury and almost lost his life, left to bleed after the “heroic” efforts of the then-Police Chief who has now been appointed as a peacemaker.

I also need to mention how the court allowed the Chief Public Prosecutor to bungle the dates and change them so many times, even allowing the prosecutor to place the sodomy incidents at an unfinished condo at an unknown date and time. The accused was supposed to have committed the act from one date to another, which amounted to several months in total. No specified day or time. Only many specified days and times. And the “honourable” court allowed that.

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Then came the trial of Anwar, with sordid details and the unforgettable parading of mattresses in and out of the courts. The court allowed this funny but shameful act while the prime minister and his Cabinet watched from the comfort of their homes – in glee, I assume.

No one said anything about how the law and justice was shamed and desecrated. No mufti said anything. No vice-chancellors said anything. No highly paid public servant said anything. The whole nation watched as one man’s honour, dignity and integrity was raped in front of RTM, TV3 and the newsprint.

Finally, Anwar was convicted – not of sodomy, but of “abuse of power” by asking the Police to extract a confession on a planned political assassination. So he was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail. He was imprisoned before the trial, during the trial and after the trial.

Outside the prison, the then-President of UMNO mercilessly bashed Anwar’s legacy, character and contributions at every UMNO convention – no different from the antics of Rahim Noor, punching a blindfolded man whose hands were tied. For this, the UMNO President was considered a Malay hero with a morality second only to the Prophet. The great Malay hero berated his rival, knowing full well that the man in prison had no means of rebuttal. Such was our prime minister then – the great leader.

What did this all mean to me?

In 1998, I was appointed as an Associate Professor at a public university in the south. I was 36. My career was just beginning to take off, with my books, media articles, public talks and television appearances on the issue of Islamic and heritage architecture.

While building up my career, I read every piece of news and attended every ceramah on Anwar and the Reformasi at every chance I got, sometimes dragging my wife and two daughters to wet padangs filled with mud puddles. I bought every CD I could find on speeches by PAS leaders and Ezam, Saifuddin, Azmin and Mat Sabu. I still have the CD of the Deklarasi Permatang Pauh where the Reformasi was born.

The first thing I learned from the first decade of Reformasi was that a prime minister could be powerful enough to let Anwar be taken off like a terrorist without his loved ones knowing where or how he was. It was hard for me to imagine how my wife and daughters would feel if I were in Anwar’s shoes – not knowing where her husband was or whether their father was dead or alive.

I was shocked not only at the sheer amount of power but also at the attitude of our highly paid religious officials, professors, judges and civil servants. Never mind the police, they were acting like the personal army of the prime minister and Umno. Wahhhhhh, I thought, you can simply pick a fellow up in the middle of the night while brandishing an M16 at him, his wife, his children and his unarmed friends, then take him, beat him up and come out telling us that he punched himself in the eye.

Is the prime minister a person elected by the people in trust to uphold law and justice and preserve the dignity of citizens, or is he no better than a godfather or triad boss who can toy with lives at will? I cannot describe the shock to my social, psychological and religious system of life and understanding.

Before 1997, we were the darling of Asia, looking towards a multiracial and multi-faith nation under the hardworking ethos of Mahathir and the civilisational values of Anwar. Before 1997, I thought we had discovered the Malaysian Renaissance as opposed to the Melayu Reminiscence. But in 1998, we became, under the Prime Minister’s colourful leadership, a third-rate nation ruling with guns and murders. That was when I understood that what we had was not democracy, but a modern feudal version of the old Malay raja-ship criticised by Abdullah Munshi for being uncivilised and unIslamic.

If Najib Razak popularised the term “cash is king” in 2016, in 1998 it was “titles and projects are king”. I learned that the higher the status of a person in society paid by taxpayers, the quieter one becomes in accepting what would normally constitute indecency and pure unadulterated corruption of power.

The new generation of Malaysians shouting at the steps of the education ministry and the 30-something-year-old NGO activists must know that Anwar could have easily left the country in the months before the commandos stormed his house. In fact, I think the prime minister and Umno would have loved it if Anwar had followed those of his friends who fled to another country and were safe as houses. But Anwar stayed on and went on a whirlwind ceramah tour until the Prime Minister and UMNO saw the damage and unleashed their “private muscle”: the Police. The Police were supposed to be an institution enforcing what is constitutionally right, but the leadership of the force understood only “titles and projects”. Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi.

If Anwar had left the country, we would not be where we are today, I think. Knowing the gullible Malay society, as long as there was UMNO and a Malay presence in the Cabinet, the universities, the army and the police, things would go on as before.

I am not a professor of political science, but I think Anwar’s unjust incarcerations on two occasions not only brought down a despicable racist party in UMNO Baru (formed by Mahathir after the 1987 tussle with Ku Li), but also put a serious dent in the vast institution of the Judiciary, Police and shameful public universities.

Of course, historians are always quick to point out that one man alone can never take charge of the course of history, but truth be told, history is littered with the ideas and suffering of individuals: one Muhammad, one Gandhi, one Mandela or one Martin Luther King. Today’s activists and students may cry foul upon reading my article and say it is melodramatic or worse, a propaganda piece paid for by the Anwar camp.

But I have been writing for 20 years against the mainstream of Malay and official Islam, which has nearly cost me my career. I have done so because of my sentiments following the first 10 years of Reformasi. That decade was my coming of age as a Muslim, a Malaysian and an academic.

We must know who the rightful leadership of this country should be, and the only clues we have are in our history. Who was the victim, and who was the leader who became corrupted by power? I believe people can change through great suffering. Leaders who have never tasted true suffering can work with anyone and make pacts with any party as long as their personal agendas and egos are satisfied.

The first decade of Reformasi taught me never again to fully trust politicians in power, high or low ranking religious officials proclaiming the morality of Islam while collecting honourifics and projects, vice-chancellors of public universities without conscience, and the police force which has neither the morality nor the integrity to uphold the law.

In choosing a leader, I would prefer one who has gone through great suffering because of his beliefs, not one who switches camps and approaches like riding a wave, as if he were the great emancipator. My choice is governed by what I witnessed in the first decade of Reformasi.

The new generation that woke up and came in at the end of the second decade of Reformasi does not understand its origins. If the new generation does not learn to choose a leader from an appreciation of history, then I think our new-found democratic freedom does not serve an honourable path for our country. It only serves our own selfish and narrow perspectives and a false, egotistic comprehension of truth, justice and integrity.

The childish poem of a Prime Minister titled “Melayu Mudah Lupa” may be true in many senses, but this Melayu has never forgotten and hopefully never will.

Tajuddin Rasdi is a professor of Islamic architecture at UCSI University.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.