MALAYSIA: Mr. Prime Minister, At 93, you have made history. So, it is time to rise above politics. Be a Statesman


February 17,2019

MALAYSIA: Mr. Prime Minister, At 93, you have made history. So, it is time to rise above politics. Be a Statesman

Opinion  |by  Francis Paul Siah

 

COMMENT | At least, two English dailies have carried editorials on the ills plaguing Pakatan Harapan in recent days. This is not surprising at all. It is a given that all is not well in the nine-month-old Harapan government.

Some of my fellow Malaysiakini columnists have also waded into the issue and with good reasons too. I can agree with some of their pointers.

The parties at the centre of the storm are none other than Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his fledging Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).

I am also guilty of criticising Mahathir over the past month. There were two issues I took exception to. The first was his decision to bar Israeli athletes from entering the country which ended their participation in the World Para-Swimming Championships originally scheduled to be held in Kuching this coming July.

The second was Bersatu’s intention to set up a chapter in Sabah, reneging on its pact before GE14 with Parti Warisan to not do so.

Yes, I am really disappointed with Tun Mahathir on these two fronts and I stand in total disagreement with him on these issues.

If public feedback on the social media can be taken as a yardstick, there is one which I would feedback to our Prime Minister, to inform him sincerely that his decision to bar the Israeli swimmers has triggered an international outcry. That decision has given Mahathir and Malaysia a bad Image.

My posting entitled ‘Sorry, Dr M, you don’t speak for Sarawak this time’ in the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) blog attracted a total of 31,755 unique visitors in a single day last January 28.

That was the highest number of visitors to our little NGO blog over the past eight months. Visitors were not only Malaysians but came from the US, Australia, other Asian nations, the UK and other European countries.

This is honest feedback to our Prime Minister. Many do not understand his strong anti-Semitic stand nor his inability to separate race,religion, politics from sports.

To speak from the heart, I feel bad for having to critique our Prime Minister at times and actually feel sorry for him. It’s not nice to speak unkindly of a man his age, no matter his wrongs, and especially so when I’m much younger than him. Guess we are only fallible humans.

This week, I sent this message to my WhatsApp list of friends: “I have been criticising Dr M in recent days so much so that I feel malu having to keep on hammering the grand old man. I am thinking of penning another piece to be titled ‘If I were Dr Mahathir today at 94 …’. Tell me what would you do if you were in his shoes at 94 today?”

Here are some of their responses. Let them be feedback to our Prime Minister for what they are worth.

Be a statesman

  • Tun Mahathir should forget politics. He is not seeking re-election. Concentrate on running the country and turn the economy around. At 94, time is not on his side. So, better hurry. When he is gone, nobody will remember him or his legacy. But the country must be in good hands. Be a statesman, not a politician. Act on a bold vision that the nation will rise to eschew narrow racial politics.
  • Malaysia will be in trouble if Mahathir harbours these three myths:
  • 1. I set the direction, my son will carry on; 2 The Malays are incorrigible ; but I must save them at whatever cost; and  3. Islam  and Muslims/Malays mustremain dominant in Malaysia forever.
  • First of all, I sympathise with Mahathir that he is running a Harapan government that is weak and saddled with a huge debt from the previous regime.
  • These cannot be resolved in three years. Meantime, the people, rural folk, in particular, are suffering from the high cost of living. Unemployment is a serious threat from belt-tightening. During the three years of rough journey to reform the sociopolitical imbroglio, whoever is the PM has to persuade the people to swallow their bitter medicine that will do good later. So you need to wish that Dr M is blessed with good health to continue what he set out to do for the sake of the nation.
  • Mahathir has to concede that Malaysia is in a dire state of decline in living standards. He has to move quickly to arrest that. This is a monumental challenge for any leader and it is incumbent upon Mahathir, as the Pprime minister, to do the job.
  • Put Najib behind bars first. Then bring in the rule of law […] if I were him.
  • Tun Mahathir is an extraordinary man. Not many will live up to 94. If I were him, I would take a break and relax.. I bet he is not aware there is a more beautiful and wholesome life out there, away from power and politics.
  • You should be awarded the “Nobel P***k Prize” for badgering Dr Mahathir. I like him. He is doing his best for the country. Please accord him more respect.

No more pussyfooting

So what is my own take “if I were Dr Mahathir today”? The first thing I would do is to stay far, far away from politics, resign as Bersatu chairperson and allow Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz Mahathir to run the show.

I would not worry about my son’s ascension on the political hierarchy. I should know that the Mahathir name alone would carry my next few generations very well and ensure a bright future for them.

I would also stop meeting former UMNO lawmakers, including those from PAS. I would avoid them like the plague. I should know that when they want to meet me, they expect something. There is nothing such “parasites” could bring to the table to help Harapan improve anything in the country.

I would reshuffle my cabinet. The under-performing ministers should go. Nine months is enough time for them to prove themselves. By now, I should know that some are just not minister-material. A spring cleaning is in order.

I would stop antagonising my Harapan colleagues and start listening to their concerns about accepting ex-UMNO parasites. Saying that they have changed sounds so shallow and feeble. So is telling Shafie Apdal that Bersatu is going to Sabah to help him and Warisan. I should be aware that those statements sounded hollow, childish even.

I would make sure that my promise to Anwar Ibrahim to pass the baton to him two years after Harapan’s victory is fulfilled. No more pussyfooting around on this.My friend is right. Mahathir must stop being a politician. He has to be a statesman.

That is what many would want our current paramount leader to be. Even those of us who have criticised him would badly want him to succeed for the sake of the nation and the people as he enters the final lap of his illustrious political career.

May the One Above continue to bless our dear Dr Mahathir with good health and we all wish him many, many happy years ahead!


FRANCIS PAUL SIAH head the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com

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

7, 2019

 

Our leaders need a change in mindset – but so do we


February 14,2019

Our leaders need a change in mindset – but so do we

by Dr,Sharifah Munirah Alatas

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Last May, most Malaysians were ecstatic, full of hope that the Barisan Nasional (BN) “regime” had finally disintegrated. Out with the old, in with the new… or so we thought.

Nine months and five days later, the hopes of the Malaysian public are dashed. We went through the gestation period, and a “baby” was delivered in the form of Pakatan Harapan (PH). However, large segments of our society have lost hope. The new narrative rejects this newborn infant. It is as if we suddenly realised that we do not like the shape of its head, or the position of its ears. It is either too small or too thin and cries incessantly; or it is too quiet or maybe even mentally challenged.

But despite knowing that a newborn has no ability to show its true character yet, many of us have concluded that we made a massive mistake in conceiving it. Did we commit a blunder in voting for PH? Were we too impetuous? Did we act irrationally? Are we too myopic? But the “coffin” has been sealed, till 2023 at least.

The reverse side of the coin exposes a similar, although less obvious, climate of uneasiness and regret. Those voted into power may be asking similar questions of themselves, but it is manifested differently in their public life. The backlash Dr.Maszlee Malik received after accepting the presidency of IIUM is a case in point. The media had a field day when they reported that it was against PH’s promise not to prop up politicians as heads of public universities.

Maszlee later agreed to give up the post pending his replacement by a suitable candidate. We hope that this positive step taken by Maszlee was because he realised that he was too impetuous, irrational or myopic, or that he simply made a boo-boo. But we, the public, should stop harping on his mistake and commend him for succumbing to the criticism of civil society.

The recent embarrassment about “lacklustre” degrees obtained by certain Cabinet members is another case in point. The issue, to my mind, is not the fact that an academic degree should be judged as mediocre, good, better or best. The issue, rather, is that the person concerned should not feel so insecure as to withhold the truth about which university granted him the degree. Even worse, he should not try to fool the media and public into thinking that “one Cambridge fits all”, as if we are referring to undergarments.

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Again, the issue is about integrity, confidence, dignity and honesty. In this case, Deputy Foreign Minister Marzuki Yahya ( pic above) should ask himself if he, too, was impetuous, irrational, myopic or intentionally dishonest. At least, we the public hope he will engage in some form of self-reflection. We the public should also look beyond the petty issue of Ivy League versus online degree. We should monitor our leaders so that they keep their inflated egos in check, especially when it serves no purpose for the reforms that our country desperately needs. Criticise the ego, not the stupidity.

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In early January, a student activist said that despite Maszlee’s announcement on November 9 last year that he would relinquish the post of presidency “pending the choice of a suitable candidate”, the process is taking too long. The student questioned Maszlee’s sincerity, asking if he really intended to step down. The delay, the student said, was a deliberate attempt to break a promise.

The common claim in other complaints about “broken promises” is that PH is delaying policy reforms, and that there is an agenda to maintain a BN-like status quo. People feel that the agenda is a ploy to ingratiate the coalition with BN supporters, including PAS.

Maybe so, but we should also be cognisant of the fact that many of our leaders in PH are incompetent or inexperienced. It is our duty to “educate” them and provide constructive criticism. After all, we do that with our children. In Maszlee’s case, we should monitor the situation maturely, because he may be right in saying that “it takes time to find a suitable person”. We should also realise that it is “slim pickings” in Malaysia right now.

Our post-GE14 history has shown that talk about “changing our mindset” has fallen on deaf ears. It is business as usual at our schools and universities, for instance. I am not aware of a single innovative training programme for teachers, or new workshops for lecturers that address “mindset-changing” paradigms for Malaysia Baru. So far, I have not come across any public lectures, talks or seminars in the country that has addressed this problem in depth. After nine months, I wonder if any of us actually understand what “reform” really means.

Image result for Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun and his deputy, Noor Rashid Ibrahim in Turkey

On Feb 12, a news portal ran a story on Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun and his deputy, Noor Rashid Ibrahim. They made a trip to Istanbul together with about 17 other senior police officers and their wives.

Before this was disclosed by a local newspaper, our officials in Putrajaya were silent. After the event appeared on social media, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin confirmed that he had approved the trip. But the reason given does not justify the business-class travel, the luxurious accommodation or delectable dining experiences for these “vacationers”.

What is baffling is that Muhyiddin did not seem to know exactly what the extravagant trip was about. He was reported as saying: “This is something I felt the police needed.” Sounds very unprofessional, doesn’t it? He was also quoted as saying: “Maybe they want to learn from what is being done by another country.” “Maybe”? Why is our Home Minister unsure about the real reason for the trip and the huge expense? Once again, the public feels cheated and manipulated.

We urgently need some insight into the psychology of political and social change. It is very difficult to change people’s fundamental political beliefs. This applies to those in government as well as the general public. Many interacting factors are involved, including cultural conditioning, motivation, personality and temperament. Most people are resistant to altering the way they process empirical data. But this does not mean we cannot keep trying.

There is a phenomenon at work in the current political landscape called the “persistence of political misperceptions”. When challenged with facts that debunk various points of view, the more partisan subjects (public and government) become even more sure of their original beliefs.

Mentioning debunked myths such as “the Malays are lazy” while correcting it with the truth – that they are not lazy – is enough to reinforce the original lie that they are.

The mind demonstrates an unwillingness to change, so it is simpler not to challenge existing understandings. It is easier to take comfort in a little ignorance and to remain in the original belief. The downside is that the less Malaysians allow themselves to know about a phenomenon or policy, the more extreme their opinions tend to be. This is basic hat-trick political psychology.

Our current leadership seems to be acting out just such a hat-trick, whether they know it or not. If they truly desire to revamp the education policy, for instance, the ministry should have engaged the media incessantly, informing us of tangible reform programmes for teacher education. Policies about shoes and schoolbags could have been introduced at a later date as the issues are fairly low in the pecking order of reforms.

But we, the public, are just as guilty of warped political psychology. A majority of us gave PH the mandate to lead the nation towards social, political and economic recovery. But quite a number of screw-ups have happened since May 9 and the public is rightfully livid.

As I look around, though, I also see an uncompromising, over-critical and impatient public, stuck in the old mode of “politicians will be politicians”, “this is realpolitik” and “all politicians are corrupt – what to do?”

Let’s criticise constructively, not merely to achieve that two-minute thrill of Facebook or Twitter fame. After all, revolutions throughout history did not reform society in just nine months. Regime change entails years, and even then there are no perfect regimes.

There are several civil society groups which have been giving constructive criticism, who scrutinise events and who toil over media reports about misbehaving leaders. But these are few and far between.

What we need in the New Malaysia is a more educated public with a vision that reaches beyond their pay cheque. This may be a tall order, but if we want our leaders to change their mindsets, we must change ours as well.

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

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.


January 16, 2019

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/10/trump-has-conjured-a-crisis-out-of-thin-air-that-should-worry-us-all

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Watching the struggle over funding for a border wall, I am struck by the way in which, in one sense, President Trump has already achieved success. He has been able to conjure up a crisis out of thin air, elevate this manufactured emergency to national attention, paralyze the government and perhaps even invoke warlike authority and bypass Congress. He may still fail, but it should worry us that a president — any president — can do what Trump has done.

Image result for Trump and The Wall

Let’s be clear: There is no crisis. The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has been declining for a decade. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the southern border has been on a downward trend for almost 20 years and is lower than it was in 1973.

As has often been pointed out, far more people are coming to the U.S. legally and then overstaying their visas than are crossing the southern border illegally. But it’s important to put these numbers in context. More than 52 million foreigners entered the U.S. legally in fiscal year 2017. Of this cohort, 98.7 percent left on time and in accordance with their visas. A large portion of those remaining left after a brief overstay, and the best government estimate is that maybe 0.8 percent of those who entered the country in 2017 had stayed on by mid-2018.

As for terrorism, the Cato Institute has found that, from 1975 to 2017, “there have been zero people murdered or injured in terror attacks committed by illegal border crossers on U.S. soil.”

As for drugs, the greatest danger comes from fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances, which are at the heart of the opioid crisis. Most of this comes from China, either shipped directly to the United States or smuggled through Canada or Mexico. Trump has addressed the root of this problem by pressing the Chinese government to crack down on fentanyl exports, a far more effective strategy than building a physical barrier along the Mexican border.

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration acknowledged in a report last year that while the southern border is the conduit for most of the heroin entering the United States, the drug typically comes through legal points of entry, hidden in cars or mixed in with other goods in tractor-trailers. In other words, a wall would do little to stanch the flow.

And yet, the power of the presidency is such that Trump has been able to place this issue center-stage, shut down the government, force television networks to run an error-ridden, scaremongering Oval Office address, and now perhaps invoke emergency powers. This sounds like something that would be done by Presidents Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, not the head of the world’s leading constitutional republic.

When the U.S. government has created this sense of emergency and crisis in the past, it has almost always been to frighten people, expand presidential powers and muzzle opposition. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the Red Scare to warnings about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal, the United States has experienced periods of paranoia and foolishness. We look back on them and recognize that the problems were not nearly as grave, the enemy was not nearly as strong and the United States was actually far more secure. The actions taken — suspending civil rights, interning U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent, taking the nation to war — were almost always terrible mistakes, often with disastrous long-term consequences.

And yet, presidential powers have kept expanding. Modern media culture has made it easier for presidents to set the agenda, because the White House is a central and perpetual point of focus and now receives far more attention than it ever had. Trump has managed to use this reality and turn good news into bad, turn security into danger and almost single-handedly fabricate a national crisis where there is none.

This whole episode highlights a problem that has become apparent in these past two years. The U.S. president has too many powers, formal and informal. This was not intended by the founders, who made Congress the dominant branch of government, and it is not how the country has been governed for much of its history. But over the past nine decades, the presidency has grown in formal and informal authority.

I have been an advocate of a strong executive for most of my life. I don’t much like how Congress operates. I now realize that my views were premised on the assumption that the president would operate within the bounds of laws, norms and ethics. I now believe that an urgent task for the next few years is for Congress to write laws that explicitly limit and check the powers of the president. I would take polarization over Putinism any day.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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Book Review: The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society


 

January 12, 2018

 

 

By: Cyril Pereira

Can planet Earth survive Asia’s economic drive?

 

The Sustainable State is Hong Kong-based environmentalist and author Chandran Nair’s second book, following Consumptionomics, published in 2011. Both call for urgent recognition of the looming ecological disaster for humanity. The book launch in Hong Kong’s trendy Lan Kwai Fong district on Nov. 13 was billed as a conversation between Nair, and Zoher Abdool Karim, the recently retired TIME Asia editor. Nair’s manifesto dominated. A bemused Zoher was the smiling prop. The audience could have gained more from meaningful interlocution.

Chandran Nair has been the town crier on environmental disaster for 20 years. He faults industrialization, capitalism, free enterprise and liberal economics, for destroying the ecosystems of rivers, forests, air and water on so vast a scale, that life itself is the price paid by the poorest across the developing world. Malnutrition, starvation, and lack of access to potable water, plagues many societies at subsistence level.

Resource curse

The developed world prospered from early industrialization to capture vast resources via conquest and colonization of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he writes. The poorest societies hold the richest deposits of minerals, fossil fuels and land for plantations of rubber, palm oil, tea and coffee. Pesticides and insecticides from Monsanto and others destroy their soils and ruin their water systems. They have also been too frequently run by kleptocrats.

What he calls the “externalities” of capitalist trade – environmental degradation, pollution, social dislocation, disease and malnutrition, impact the poorest disproportionately. Therein lies the supreme irony. Nair wants these externalities of economic activity priced and charged directly to corporations. He also wants individual accountability for wasteful consumption computed for carbon footprints and taxed to discourage waste.

Responsible development and consumer habits need to be enforced, if we are to survive our collective un-wisdom. How the corporations and individuals would agree to these principles, and the respective methods to calculate the amounts to pay, are undefined. Nair does not expect the culprits to volunteer. By the legal trick of defining corporations as ‘persons,’ companies can argue rights protecting individual citizens, under national Constitutions.

Migration to cities in Europe progressed over an extended period, without too much social disruption. Rural migration to cities in the developing economies is too rapid, within a compressed time-frame. Slum populations struggle without sanitation, proper housing, access to fresh water, electricity, or schooling for children, in too many cities across the developing world. This hollowing-out of rural populations is wasteful.

Rethink development

A whole new raft of public policies needs to evolve for ecological balance. Development plans to retain rural manpower and incentivize agricultural food security, are absent. Urban dwellers have to pay higher prices for natural produce, instead of buying packaged food in supermarkets. Efficient public transport systems have to be built to prevent city traffic gridlock. Electric vehicles have to replace fossil fuel engines.

Nair’s nightmare is the adoption by developing countries of the Western model for economic growth. India and China will constitute 30 percent of the global 10 billion by 2050. Add Africa, Latin America, and the rest of developing Asia to that, and the consequences of feckless industrialization, along with wasteful urban consumption, are too obvious. Nair advocates a radical overhaul of the development mindset.

Prescriptions from the developed world peddled by the World Bank and the IMF, in Nair’s mind, exceed Planet Earth’s healing capacity. Natural resource depletion and poisoning of the earth, water and air, must be stopped now. Hurricanes and typhoons destroying habitats and flooding societies, are increasing in frequency and ferocity. The consequences are all too real for climate change deniers.

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Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

The weight of floating plastic in the oceans will soon exceed that of the global fish stock. This poison has entered our food chain, killing us slowly while choking sea life. Human overpopulation, food cultivation and de-forestation, wipes out wildlife at the rate of 30,000 species per year, according to Harvard biologist E. O Wilson. Now our collective irresponsibility will kill the oceans too.

Prioritize social equity

If replicating the Western growth model is madness, what are the alternatives? Nair moves into contentious territory on this. He calls for strong government and a revised development agenda. Rather than Hollywood-movie lifestyles, he suggests inclusive policies for all citizens to ensure clean water, electricity, sanitation, universal education and gainful employment as minimal benchmarks. Modest prosperity benefits all.

Social equity, well-being and protection of nature cannot be achieved without political legitimacy and effective rulership. Governance has been hijacked by Big Biz and sponsor politicians. Lobby groups target lawmakers. PR companies spin fakery for corporations and politicians. The mass media is co-opted through advertising and ownership. All at the expense of gullible citizens, led to believe they have some say every five years.

Strong state works

Nair contrasts the dysfunctions of India with the success of China. He skates on thin ice where individual rights and freedoms can be ignored, for the collective good. He says only a “strong” state has the mass mobilization capacity to marshal people, resources and investment, for sustainable development. To Nair, Hong Kong is a weak state unable to address basic public housing. He jests that a boss imposed by Beijing can fix that.

The European Union is a strong authority able to mandate socially responsible policy across its constituent members. Britain and the US are weak states floundering for effective governance, polarized by divisive populist politics. Nair is less interested in ideologies of the Left or Right, than in the State as effective authority for the common good. He wants the institutions of good governance strengthened at every level.

Oddly, Nair dismisses world governance as the solution. The United Nations, overly compromised by funding dependency and too timid to upset powerful voting blocs, is not his answer. Where then will the needed global course-correction come from? The issues Nair raises are urgent. Are we doomed to self-destruct by default anyway? If he has an answer, Nair has not articulated it in his books, or his public campaigns. Perhaps there might be a third book for that.

Malaysian reform dynamics


December 8, 2018

Malaysian reform dynamics

 

by  Andrew Harding, NUS

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/12/06/malaysian-reform-dynamics/

The pattern of political reform following a regime change is usually predictable: the reformers gain popular support, make changes to the constitution and then use constitutional politics to achieve their ends. But Malaysia’s current period of political change is straying far from this pattern. Instead, Malaysia is proving that peaceful transition and reform may be possible without debates about constitutional amendment.

 

Image result for asri and mahathir

 

The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government — a coalition of four political parties — was unexpectedly elected to power on 9 May 2018, replacing the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government. Much of the PH’s current political leadership team were part of the BN’s largest member party and now discredited United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), including a former prime minister, two former deputy prime ministers and a slew of former ministers and members of parliament.

The election also revived the political career of former and now incumbent Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir had gone down in history as one of the strong men of Asian authoritarianism. His recent campaign replaced this image with one of a moderate democrat who believes in a free press, a two-party parliamentary system and the rights of citizens.

Mahathir’s campaigning against his old party carried enough rural Malay voters into the PH fold to overturn the BN’s dominance. Voters were appalled at the level of corruption in former prime minister Najib Razak’s government. The contrast was stark between voters’ own economic struggles — including the extra burden of a goods and services tax — and the wanton expenditure of leaders like Najib and his wife.

While the PH have not yet changed a single word of the constitution, it has already redefined the state as one based on good governance, the rule of law, parliamentarism and the separation of powers. The PH has proposed signing the international human rights covenants (except for ICERD), abolishing the death penalty, and addressing the political and legislative autonomy of East Malaysian states Sabah and Sarawak.

The question now is whether the reform process is politically sustainable and can be constitutionally entrenched.

One challenge facing the PH coalition is that any ordinary legislative changes — let alone constitutional amendments — can easily be blocked in Malaysia’s upper house, which is still controlled by senators appointed by the former BN government. The upper house has already rejected a bill to repeal the Fake News Act that was rushed through parliament by Najib before the election to restrict criticism of the government regarding the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

There are fears that the PH coalition may simply revert to the Malaysian dominant-coalition stereotype. These are partly fears that the leader of the People’s Justice Party Anwar Ibrahim — the largest party of the PH coalition — will assert what he sees as his entitlement to the prime-ministership.

There are also worries about factionalism within Anwar’s party, quite apart from tensions between the four coalition partners. As matters stand, Mahathir is supposed to hand over to Anwar within two years of the election. At 93 years old, Mahathir could hardly plan to go on longer than that, whatever the politics dictates.

For the time being at least, the reformers are in charge.  Attorney General Tommy Thomas and Legal Affairs Minister Liew Vui Keong are implementing the PH’s campaign promises. These include the good-governance reforms that Mahathir wryly suggests would not have been so extensive had the PH expected to win the election. Bringing those guilty of corruption to account is the major priority at this point, and ensuring that problems such as the 1MDB scandal will not occur again is also high on the agenda.

Despite the flurry of reforms, announcements, prosecutions and policy changes since the election, most legal changes — such as abolition of the death penalty — remain to be implemented. These depend on parliamentary arithmetic.

But over the next two to three years, as current senators leave office, there will be opportunity for the PH government to gain much more control over the reform process. These reforms may well involve changes to the Senate itself, which has far too many appointed members and no longer fulfils its original purpose of protecting states’ rights. This of course assumes that PH will remain stable and reform-oriented.

Entrenching the reforms in the longer-term may also be a challenge. While an extended period of constitutional debate would be beneficial for the somewhat ad hoc current reform proposals, politics can change quickly. This could side-line reform and reemphasise ethnic and religious issues. The PH still has to establish its credentials with the majority of Malay voters. At the same time, Anwar has consistently advocated democratic reforms and suffered in jail as a result of overweening executive power.

These reforms are so long overdue that many of them could become fiats accomplis, or matters of consensus rather than contention. For the moment, the further down this road the reforms go, the harder it will be to reverse them.

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.

Image result for Edward Said

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.