Timor-Leste’s win against Goliath Oz

January 12, 2017

Timor-Leste’s win against Goliath Oz

by M. VeeraPandiyan@www.thestar.com.my

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Cristo Rei of Dili is a statue that depicts Jesus Christ on top of a globe, and is located in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

The idyllic beauty of Timor Leste

A treaty that is unfair to one of South-East Asia’s poorest countries will be repealed to enable it to redraw a more realistic border with Australia.

I WAS in a village in Jakarta, Indonesia over the weekend and I was smeared by all and sundry.

This was a “smear campaign” of the joyous kind, though, held annually to mark the start of the year in Kg Tugu, near the port of Tanjung Priok.

The ritual is called Mandi Mandi but the water is only used to mix a beige talcum powder into a paste, which is then smudged on the faces of everyone, symbolising forgiveness in an atmosphere of fun.

The charming hamlet is the home of the descendants of slaves brought to Batavia (the old name for Jakarta) after the Portuguese lost Malacca to the Dutch in 1641. In later years, they were joined by others from the Moluccas, Celebes, Flores, West Timor and parts of India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Now referred to as Keluarga besar Tugu (Big family of Tugu), they were once known as Mardjikers, a corruption of the Sanskrit Maharddhika meaning “prosperous”, which acquired the meaning of a free person in the region. The word Merdeka (independence), used in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, can be traced to mardjiker.

In 1653, the original group of former slaves were offered freedom on the condition that they changed their faith from Catholic to Protestant. Eight years later, 150 people from 23 families were given a place to settle down.

Kg Tugu was then a harsh swathe of forests and mosquito-ridden swamps and many died from malaria. However, the community survived despite the odds and have kept part of their culture, traditions and music alive over the centuries.

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At the Mandi Mandi festival, the surprise presence of Xanana Gusmao, 71, the former guerrilla leader who led Timor-Leste to independence from Indonesia on May 20, 2002, made it a truly special event.

Yuk ke Atambua, Intip Pesona Wisata di Perbatasan RI-Timor Leste
Timor-Leste’s first President until 2007 served as Prime Minister for more than seven years before stepping down in 2015. He is currently Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment, a role overseeing the country’s quest for a better deal for its oil and gas resources from its bigger and richer southern neighbour, Australia.

East Timor was a colony of Portugal until it first declared independence in late 1975, only to be invaded and occupied by Indonesia until a UN-backed referendum in 1999 paved the way for independence three years later.

When I last met him in Malacca in June 2016, Gusmao was in the midst of resolving a bitter dispute over Timor-Leste’s maritime border with Australia through the United Nation’s 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

UNCLOS gives all coastal states the right to a 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from the sea surface to under the seabed.

Australia signed the convention in 1994 but in March 2002, two months before Timor-Leste’s independence, it pulled out of compulsory jurisdiction of international courts and tribunals on matters relating to maritime boundaries. In 2006, East Timor and Australia signed a treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) but no permanent border was set.

Under the original pact, Timor-Leste received 90% of current oil revenues from the joint petroleum development area, and Australia 10%, but the further Sunrise IUA treaty gives Timor-Leste only limited claim over future exploitation of the larger Greater Sunrise field.

It prevented any negotiations on boundaries for 50 years, although the line should rightly sit halfway between the countries, placing most of the oil and gas in Timor-Leste’s territory.

In December 2013, Australian police and Security Intelligence Organisation officers seized files and computers from a lawyer advising Timor-Leste in the dispute over CMATS.

The lawyer, a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agent, was reported to have prepared documents exposing Australian espionage to secure advantage for the country during negotiations for CMATS in 2004. His passport was cancelled, preventing him from travelling to The Hague, where the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was due to hear an application to cancel the treaty.

The ASIS agents, who pretended to be aid workers, bugged the walls of an office where ministers met, gaining information that gave Australia advantage in the negotiations before the treaty was signed against an impoverished and vulnerable neighbour.

Gusmao described the raids as “unconscionable and unacceptable conduct” and when Australia refused to return the documents, Timor-Leste filed for a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The episode sullied Australia’s “fair go” reputation and in September last year, the PCA agreed to take up the dispute.

On Saturday, before Gusmao’s face was smeared and he went around smearing others, he told me that things were going well and to expect a good announcement soon.

And on Monday, reports revealed that Australia had to eat humble pie. A joint statement from both countries said CMATS would no longer apply after three months.

“The Government of Australia has taken note of this wish and recognises that Timor-Leste has the right to initiate the termination of the treaty,” the statement read.

For now, it means Timor-Leste has won another “David vs Goliath” battle and the situation will revert to the 2002 treaty which set up the joint petroleum development area.

Media Consultant M. Veera Pandiyan


How uneven are our scales of justice?

January 9, 2017

How uneven are our scales of justice?

by Dr,Lim Teck Ghee@www.malaysiakini.com

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Professor and Ambassadoor Koh is the first Singaporean to receive the “Great Negotiator Award”, given out by the programme on negotiation at Harvard Law School, which comprises of students and faculty from the university as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University.

COMMENT In an exchange with Tommy Koh at a seminar on ‘Japan as an economic power and its implications for South-East Asia’ in 1974, the Singaporean diplomat reminded me that members of the legal profession did not comprise members of the world’s oldest profession, perhaps only second. That’s probably untrue as they could be third or fourth on this list.

Whatever anyone’s opinion of lawyers derived from personal experience is – we should not forget that lawyers generally sell their services to the higher bidder – there needs to be concern about how unevenly tilted the scales of justice in Malaysia have become.

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Surprisingly or not surprisingly, there has been little discussion of this important topic though we have had a courageous whistleblower, Justice NH Chan, who called attention to the shortcomings of some of his former judicial colleagues in his book, ‘Judging the Judges’, subsequently printed in its second edition as ‘How to Judge the Judges’.

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Although Justice Chan, who sadly passed away recently, directed his criticism principally against his senior colleagues, his reiteration of the fundamental underpinnings of justice administration resonate in its relevance to the entire judiciary and other members of the legal profession.

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Members of the Judiciary–The judge must be fair and impartial. At the same time, it is important that even litigants who lose should feel that they had a fair trial.–Lim Teck Ghee

To him, the epitome of justice is a fair trial and this requires that the judge must do justice according to law – “this is what the rule of law is all about”. The judge must be fair and impartial. At the same time, it is important that even litigants who lose should feel that they had a fair trial.

Justice Chan also felt that the public should have sufficient knowledge to enable them to judge the performance of the judges.

However, even when there is public scrutiny – which rarely happens except in the most attention-grabbing of cases, say one in every tens of thousands – it appears to be well-nigh impossible to bring anyone from the judiciary – from the lowest subordinate magistrate level to the highest level of federal supreme judge – to book for any abuse of power, corrupt practice or judgment or judicial behavior seen to be unfair or unjust.

The Royal Commission’s no-action decision on the notorious VK Lingam case serves as a good example.Being fair and impartial means that each and all members of the judiciary especially have to rise above the factors of class, race or religion in arriving at judgment. Do integrity and impartiality constitute the norm or is the judiciary – as with the rest of the civil service – influenced by extraneous factors in the cases they hear?

To what extent, for example, are members of the judiciary influenced or affected by the racial identity of the accused and/or of the lawyers in the cases they hear? Are they likely to be more lenient when sentencing members from the rich and powerful strata of society or from members of their own racial grouping?

Are they biased against those from the poorer classes who do not have the services of sharp and expensive lawyers to ensure that they get a fair trial or against those from different racial or religious groups?

Seldom raised in public realm

To my knowledge, these and similar questions have seldom been raised or discussed in the public realm. Colleagues from the legal fraternity to whom I have addressed this question in private, although generally agreeing that the judiciary is far from being independent or free from political influence, argue that the scales of justice are generally evenly and fairly administered in Malaysia in terms of the influence and impact of race and religion.

The most recent findings in the 2016 Rule of Law Index conducted by the World Justice Project appear to contradict this view. This is Malaysia’s score on the following components of civil and criminal law

Civil Justice

No discrimination – 0.5
No corruption – 0.5
No improper government influence – 0.38
Accessibility and affordability – 0.5

Criminal Justice

No discrimination – 0.51
Due process of law – 0.57
No improper government influence – 0.39
Timely and effective adjudication – 0.53

Source here, p110.

What the data by this organisation seems to indicate – the index is based on over 100,000 households and 2,400 expert surveys to measure how the rule of law is experienced, but we do not know the details of this sampling for Malaysia – is that one out of every two cases of civil and criminal justice in the country is tainted by discriminatory or corrupt action by the law enforcement agencies, including the judiciary.

Public attention – local and international – has tended to focus on issues related to fundamental rights and freedoms, constraints on government powers, and open government.

However in a robust and thriving democracy, it is equally important to ensure that the rule of law – as experienced in practical, everyday situations by ordinary people – is also subject to scrutiny and reform so that it is fair and impartial in all aspects.

A good example of such public examination is that recently conducted by British Columbia in its 2012 Justice Reform Initiative which resulted in a white paper and road map for justice reform in the state. We are sorely in need of such an initiative or minimally a clear and useful dialogue on this often neglected aspect of the Rule of Law. Perhaps the Bar Council can take the lead in this exercise.

LIM TECK GHEE is a former World Bank senior social scientist, whose report on bumiputera equity when he was director of Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies sparked controversy in 2006. He is now CEO of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.


Imagine a world without activists

December 28, 2016

Imagine a world without activists

by Stephen Ng@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Maria Chin and Ambiga

Free Riders Everywhere You Look

In the story, ‘Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, And Nobody’, the activists would not sit down believing that when “there was an important job to be done, Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.”

Since the Prime Minister and his Cabinet Ministers apparently care little to look into a certain problem, despite being vested with the power to do so, the activists would not accept the fate that at the end of it all where Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

This is why the activists have to cause a stirring in a situation. Yes, although their frequent campaigns may make the people in the corridors of power feel uncomfortable, the activists play a very important role in parliamentary democracy.

When the activists are barking, the powerful individuals and the kleptocrats no longer enjoy the ‘peace and tranquility’ to rape the rich resources belonging to the Malaysian people. Suddenly, the people become aware of what is happening to the natural resources God has endowed on this country.

Testimony of a failed system

The system, along with the people in the corridors of power, be it the executive branch of the government or those who are tasked with a job to protect the welfare of the people and the nation, has somehow failed to deliver what it is designed to do.

The Malay proverbial saying, “Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi” (it is disappointing when the fence is supposed to protect the padi, it ends up destroying the crop) is an apt description of our politicians today, especially on issues that do not attract votes.

This is why activists like Shariffa Sabrina, Henry Goh (Malaysia Nature Society president) and others like Clare Rewcastle-Brown (Sarawak Report) have come to the forefront to highlight issues relating to the shrinking tropical rainforests.

We have always believed that our democratic system is upheld by the executive branch of the government, the Judiciary and the Parliament; however, activists like the media are also a pillar that upholds and protects the democratic rights of the people.

Shariffa Sabrina, for example, entered into the limelight when she was arbitrarily arrested for allegedly highlighting some tropical rain forest clearing which caused degradation to the environment; her efforts have helped us become more concerned about the way our government has been managing natural resources.

In short, the activists are the checks-and-balances within the democratic system. They will not hesitate to criticise or expose a lie, if they can.

In her capacity as Peka president, Shariffa Sabrina does her work as a volunteer. Like most other activists, she has great passion for her work. It is unlikely that she would give up the cause. Despite the arrest, Shariffa Sabrina and Norhayati are adamant to continue with their campaign to stop the indiscriminate clearing of tropical rainforests.

They would not put down their spade, but continue digging and exposing the people responsible for the deforestation until a few feathers are ruffled, and good sense finally prevails.

STEPHEN NG is an ordinary citizen with an avid interest in following political developments in the country since 2008.

Inching toward Orwell in Thailand (and ASEAN too?)

December 25, 2016

Inching toward Orwell in Thailand (and ASEAN too?)

Online censorship in Thailand has become more draconian following the approval of additional legislation last week to curtail freedom of thought, Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang writes.

The junta has a dream, the ultimate dream of being able to control the minds of the Thai public. But if that dream is impossible, the authoritarian government is happy to settle with controlling the expression of those minds. Last week, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) unanimously approved amendments to the Computer Crime Act, in a move that gives the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) almost absolute control over how Thais express themselves.

Under the Computer Crime Act, people can be jailed for up to five years for entering “false information into a computer system that jeopardises national security, public safety, national economic stability, or causes panic.” The Act will also see the introduction of a nine-person committee that can seek court approval to remove any content considered in breach of “public morals”.

The NLA claimed that the objective of the bill was to deal with online royal insult and dissent. The need for the harsher law becomes more urgent with the transition from King Bhumibol to King Vajiralongkorn. But the junta is also acting out of self-interest in passing this new law.

Since the coup in May 2014, the NCPO has engaged in information warfare. Activists are monitored and persecuted making a large-scale public demonstration impossible. The battle then moves online. Prayuth and his cabinet are constantly ridiculed. His grumpy expression makes a perfect meme.

But the Internet battlefield offers more than silly harassment. It is the lifeline for dissent against Prayuth. In one example, soldiers kidnapped a student activist at midnight outside a university. Within seconds, the news spread to the network of activists at the university, then on to the network of international human rights groups and news agencies. A short while later the detainee was released at the police station. The prompt online reaction probably saved that student from a forced disappearance.

Moreover, the Prayuth administration is porous. Leaks of confidential documents have led to allegations of exorbitant spending, nepotism, and cronyism in his government. Prayuth’s nephew won lucrative construction contracts from the Third Army Region where Prayuth’s brother had been the commander. Prawit Wonsuwan, the Deputy Prime Minister overseeing security, flew to Hawaii on a luxurious 20-million baht trip. The former Army Commander was also involved in the notorious Rajbhakti Park scandal. Cronyism, corruption, and conflicts of interest badly delegitimise a regime that relies primarily on moral authority. When Prayuth is unable to stop this behaviour, the alternative solution is to block the public from receiving this damaging information.

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There is no doubt that the model of Internet censorship the NCPO wishes to follow is that of China or North Korea. But those two countries have the advantage of an early start. Their Internet monitoring systems were developed alongside the arrival of the Internet. Alternative platforms replace the prohibited ones. Millions of employees have been hired to monitor the virtual world. Thailand proves more difficult because Thais are already spoiled with access to the online world. Thais are among the most heavily addicted to social media. Depriving them of Internet freedom would surely create a backlash.

The boldest attempt happened a few days after the 2014 coup. Facebook was entirely blocked, causing panic and anger. The blockage was quickly lifted. Although the NCPO denied any involvement, one mobile phone company confirmed being approached by the NCPO for cooperation; a confession that upset the government, which the company subsequently apologised for.

Another bold, yet embarrassing, attempt was the Single Gateway policy. The NCPO dreamed of channelling all Internet traffic through one national gateway where the NCPO could easily monitor online traffic. Internet users struck back with Distributed Denial of Service attacks that shut down websites of the government agencies and armies for days. The attack showed how weak the security of the government’s system was and forced the government to retreat.

Unsuccessful, the NCPO resorted to the two-pronged approach. On the diplomatic side, the junta repeatedly asked major IT giants such as Facebook, Line, and YouTube for help. Its success was limited. Facebook and Line rejected requests to access personal accounts of their users. YouTube agreed to block some content, which was contrary to its universal policy. But, overall, the gestures were more theatrical, to please the NCPO’s supporters.

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Other moves include online coercion in several different ways. When a dissident is detained, he is forced to surrender the passwords to his social media accounts. The government then combs through conversation threads to find harmful content, often leading to more arrests. Other tactics involve intimidating people who pressed “like” or shared content deemed to be improper by threatening them with cyber crime, lese majeste, and sedition charges. Lately, the NCPO expanded its scope of operations to those who followed dissident figures on Facebook. This created a chilling effect. Internet users have to think twice before expressing their thoughts. The army also conducted an informational operation, countering such content with its own messages through proxies.

The number of banned websites in Thailand has soared, leaving the country among the least liberal in term of freedom of expression. More people are being indicted for sedition, defamation, lese majeste and computer crime. But the online world is still relatively uncontrolled. Virtual private networks provide a backdoor to banned content. For many netizens, fake accounts can circumvent prosecution.

The latest Computer Crime Act is the junta’s answer to these problems. The law creates a Digital Economy Ministry, inside which there is a central monitoring body connected to the systems of every Internet service provider. The government’s direct access to the system means that it does not have to notify a service provider so the process takes less time. The law expands its coverage to any content that violates public order or good order, terms so vague that everything could be captured by them from drinking to swearing to satirical caricature. Distortion of fact is an offence too.

Once harmful content is detected, the agency seeks the court’s approval and blocks it. But judicial review is not rigorous. The court usually defers to the agency’s discretion. In the past, the court has approved the blocking of thousands of websites within one day. There is no appeal available. Moreover, the possession of banned content can lead to punishment alongside the provider. Thus, under the new Computer Crime Act, bans are prompt, swift, unaccountable and total.

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The impact of this law is devastating in every sense. Online privacy is no longer meaningful. The law assures the government’s access even to secured networks meaning service providers have to allow access to personal accounts. The NCPO now has the haystack in which to find a needle. The chance of abuses, such as fabrication of evidence, or blackmail, is likely. Freedom is gone.

The law encourages self-censorship. If a person disagrees with the government’s opinion, his or her view may be deemed distorted, hence an offence. Furthermore, the law raises the alarm among service providers since it places a heavy burden on them to store data for inspection. Businesses, especially start-ups, are concerned with the security of their online transactions. Many are considering moving their bases abroad. The Computer Crime Act stunts any attempt to mobilise the digital economy, something Prayuth himself tries to promote.

The reaction from the public has been one of anger. Within a few days, more than 360,000 people had signed a petition urging the NLA to vote against the bill. The NLA ignored it.

Two major factors may contribute to the NCPO’s success this time. First, the NCPO won quite significantly in the national referendum in early August which approved the draft constitution. With the referendum over, the Thai public have no bargaining power. That victory also boosted Prayuth’s confidence. Second, although many people are alarmed about the threat to their privacy, they feel the need to protect the monarchy. As a result, they are persuaded into an awkward acquiescence.

The public can still challenge the law in the Constitutional Court. But the court is unlikely to find it unconstitutional as the judicial institution is known for its conservative stance, siding with the traditional elites who supported the coup. An elected government might not be able to amend it either because the new constitution has designed a very weak political system that would struggle to achieve any significant policy change. More importantly, a civilian politician might find the law useful to silence his critics too. Thaksin’s Emergency Decree, which was invoked to crack down on his supporters’ demonstrations, is a good example.

Thailand is often dubbed Ka-la land. Ka-la, a coconut shell, is a metaphor for ignorance blocking Thais from any lights of wisdom. With the new Computer Crime Act, Ka-la is getting thicker. Thais must act right and think right. For the junta, it’s better that Thais stop thinking at all – leave it to Big Brother instead. Thailand has inched toward an Orwellian dystopia.

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang is a constitutional law scholar.


Message to Prime Minister Najib Razak and UMNO–We are all Malaysians

December 23, 2016

Message to Prime Minister Najib Razak and UMNOWe are all Malaysians

by  Sin Chew Daily


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During the dawn of our nationhood, it could be seen that the leaders of Umno then embraced moderation.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman, Abdul Razak Hussein, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn all stressed the importance of racial harmony in our multicultural country. Their moderate approach was the primary moving force behind the formation of the Barisan Nasional.

Razak expanded the concept of the Alliance to Barisan Nasional in the hope of building a powerful and united multicultural Malaysia. He nevertheless realised after the May 13 incident that social and economic reforms would never succeed in the absence of social and political stability.

BN was mooted to minimise political tension so that the government could concentrate on the development of this country.

We can conclude from here that the BN spirit was established upon the reality of the country’s plural society. Although the various component parties have been largely race-based, they come together as one under BN for the good of our multiracial country.

Since the inception of BN, we can see that component parties have been able to handle religious and racial matters rather prudently despite differences in their beliefs and thinking, and that they did not sacrifice the interest of the entire nation for their own political gains.

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Unfortunately, recent developments in the country have sounded the alarm bell, and whether the BN spirit can still be carried on will depend very much on the racist and extremist remarks made by some politicians.

Such things have happened before, but what we are worried about is that if things get out of hand, racial polarisation could happen out of the political needs of some quarters. This is something we must not encourage, and it should not happen in the first place.

We can see from the issues arising from the bill proposing amendments to the Shariah Court (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, better known as Act 355, that there are indeed differences in the thinking of Muslims and non-Muslims, and this could further divide our society.Image result for Racism and Najib RazakNot Racist Najib: What we want now are firm and people-first leaders who will listen to the views of all Malaysians irrespective of race and religion.

We urgently need a strong and firm leader to take charge and deliver the country from the current crisis, not people who will tear our society further apart.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam advised our political leaders, without naming anyone specifically, that only bankrupt politicians use race and religion to gain support.

What he was trying to say is that BN must revert to the erstwhile consultative spirit and the recognition of the fact that the coalition was established upon the reality of the country’s ethnic diversity. The same should apply to non-BN political leaders, too.

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What we want now are firm and people-first leaders who will listen to the views of all Malaysians irrespective of race and religion.

The so-called bankrupt politicians Musa Hitam mentioned are those who look at things and national development from their narrow monoracial mind frame, overlooking the nation-building principles built upon the basis of our diversity.

Sin Chew Daily is a local vernacular publication

Happy New Year-2017

December 23, 2016

Happy New Year

Christmas is only two days away. Dr. Kamsiah and I wish Merry Christmas to all our Christian friends around the world. At the same time let us spare our prayers for the victims of war who are trying to survive.

2017 is likely to be a difficult and very troubled one. That said, we cannot allow our politicians a free hand to do what they please. We must now take charge our own future and have the courage to make our leaders accountable for their actions. Let us resolve to act in 2017.

To Fellow Malaysians, we have this to say–how much longer  can we tolerate this corrupt and incompetent  Najib regime? Don’t we, especially the sentimental and easy to pamper Malays,  realise that he and his cabals are running our country to the ground. It is time for us to use the ballot box to get rid of this political  cancer once and for all.  Together we can make a difference in 2017. Happy New Year.–Dr.  Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican