Malaysian Civil Service: Can they think, raise the right issues, and do things right?

May 20, 2016

Malaysian Civil Service: Can they think, raise the right issues, and do things right?

No one of substance in government is bold enough to raise the right issues as most prefer wallowing in self-consolation hoping things will eventually self-correct.

by TK Chua

There is a management thought that says we must be honest and bold enough to raise the right issues or to ask the right questions. If we do not have the right questions, it does not matter much that we have the right answers. Right answers to wrong questions are useless.

1MDB is Malaysia’s Najib-inspired Blue Ocean Strategy Bull

Today, Malaysia is reeling from the reality that no one of any substance in government is bold enough to raise the right issues or ask the right questions as most prefer wallowing in self-consolation, hoping things will eventually self-correct. Rarely do they rock the boat and challenge the established paradigm. Instead, they pretend to support every phoney reform undertaken – from Pemandu, BR1M, BRAM, BROOM, NBOS  Initiatives (watch video above), to GST and all the baloney that takes place in GLCs (e.g. 1MBD).

Malaysia’s Top Civil Servant with his Brains Trust

We know from history it is never easy to reform a system or a country from within. The death of the Qing dynasty and the French Revolution convey the same story – failed reforms.

People in power usually cannot see it or refuse to see it. They become insensitive and insular to the needs of others. Hence, while many in the country are struggling to get by, the ruling elite shamelessly and effortlessly indulge in obscene extravagance even for a simple event like a birthday or wedding celebration. We used to laugh at Marie Antoinette’s infamous “let them eat cake” joke, but I don’t think we have ever learnt anything worthwhile from it.

Why do I say we are addressing the wrong issues? Let me list a few examples:

i. We use the GST to perpetuate our wasteful ways, not instill financial discipline and prudence in the public sector. The GST, therefore, will not solve our fiscal unsustainability problems. It will not help stabilise and strengthen the ringgit. It will only reinforce the government’s spendthrift ways.

ii. Pemandu did not transform the government machinery.Like any bureaucracy, it only added more outfits and programmes to it and drains  our national coffers. Therefore, it will only incur more expenses but with no efficiency gained.

iii. National development is not about issuing bonds or raising debts, setting up giant corporations and listing GLCs that the earlier generations have taken decades to nurture and build. Why are we indulging in buying, investing, selling, restructuring, paying off debts, and renegotiating with “partners” endlessly? Why instead of creating value, are we moving from one protracted problem to another? This is worse than children playing the game of monopoly.

iv. Foreign workers are supposed to come here to supplement our needs, not dictate the “production function” of this country. Now we have Malaysians leaving the country in droves while foreigners are allowed indiscriminate entry. In the process, our value chain goes down the drain and our way of life turns upside down.

v. We keep saying the future of this country is in the hands of the young. But what future have we created for them – an increasing pool of unemployed and unemployable graduates?

vi. We were told to be magnanimous and live in harmony, but every day we are reminded of protests over altars here, tokongs there and the general lack of piousness everywhere. If we are so godly, why are we so filthy and depraved? Why are we experiencing mass food poisoning so often? Why are our children so prone to mass hysteria? Why are our women subjected to snatch theft, attempted rape and rape so often? I know what you are thinking – when compared to other countries, Malaysia is not so bad. Maybe that is why some say we are good in jumping on the spot.

vii. Our idea of multiculturalism is when one marries a spouse of a different race or religion. Our racial tolerance is to adopt a son or daughter from another race or foster a child of another race. Our idea of inclusiveness is to produce a video portraying groups of different racial backgrounds dancing or singing together for a GLC’s advertisement or a national event. However, in our daily life, we don’t care whether our policies are fair and just.

When push comes to shove, we just hoist our flag of race and religious supremacy. We just need to divert blame onto others – and cry out at how others have tried to sabotage and undermine our vital interests; how we must be ever vigilant to keep them in the box.

I think it is enough for now. You may add on to the list if you want.*

*There is no need to add to Mr. Chua’s list. We must take the blame because we continue to allow an incompetent UMNO-BN government led by the corrupt Prime Minister Najib Razak to operate. We are indifferent and do not have the guts to sack the Prime Minister and his cabal who are in charge of our national coffers. To make matters worse, we have  a political opposition which will do the same if they are given the opportunity, that is, they can be equally arrogant and corrupt. We are already a failed state.

Only a failed people will want the status quo. So, our voters will allow  UMNO-BN to win the forthcoming by-elections in Kuala Kangsar and Sungei Besar like they did in Sarawak recently. We deserve the government we get. –Din Merican

Hududisation of Malaysia

May 28, 2o16

Hududisation of Malaysia: What Najib Razak would do for political survival

by John Berthelsen

Public Caning under Hudud

After being dormant for more than a year, the issue of hudud – harsh seventh-century Islamic law prescribing the amputation of limbs for theft and stoning of adulterers – has suddenly come alive in Malaysia again.

The government appears to be fully behind the move, although debate has now been postponed until October. The move has raised deep concern among civil societies and human rights organizations and, according to some critics, could threaten the country’s standing with the international business community.

 Nonetheless, on May 26, the final day of the current parliamentary session, Azalina Othman Said, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, suddenly tabled a motion to fast-track amendments that would allow the nominally opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, to implement the criminal code in the east coast state of Kelantan, the only state PAS controls.

The Halal Entertainers

One source in Kuala Lumpur suggested the move was a strategy on the part of Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose United Malays National Organization faces two imminent by-elections forced by the death of two high-ranking UMNO officials in a helicopter crash last month while campaigning in Sarawak state elections. The two by-elections are in the state of Selangor.

“Now that Najib has messed up the economy he is so desperate to win these coming two by-elections that he is using religion knowing very well Malays would be hard pressed to vote against hudud,” the source told Asia Sentinel. He called the bill “the ‘Talibanization’ of Malaysia.

UMNO’s Peity–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

The measure, a so-called private member’s bill by PAS President Hadi Awang, had been languishing for months before Azalina’s decision to move the measure, an extremely unusual action. It appears to be unheard of for the government to back an opposition party’s bill. It is even unsure whether the bill, if passed, would be legal under Malaysia’s federal Constitution.

The action runs directly counter to Najib’s characterization of his country as a moderate Muslim society in international forums and before the United Nations.

The Most Corrupt Prime Minister of Malaysia

However, Najib and UMNO are caught in an enormous scandal that threatens the government’s legitimacy and stretches across at least seven international jurisdictions. Earlier this week, Singaporean authorities shut BSI Bank Ltd., the  Singapore-based arm of the Swiss BSI SA in what Singapore Monetary Authority Managing Director Ravi Menon called “the worst case of control lapses and gross misconduct that we have seen in the Singapore financial center.”

BSI handled a major chunk of the business for 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the scandal-wracked state-backed development fund that appears to have lost billions of dollars to theft and mismanagement. It has been called one of the biggest money-laundering cases in history, with authorities in the US, Abu Dhabi, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and other jurisdictions in addition to Switzerland and Singapore pursuing cases against the fund. Authorities are also seeking to find out the origin and disposal of an estimated US$1 billion that flowed into and out of Najib’s own accounts in 2013.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s most persistent domestic foe, has accused Najib of signing off on the hudud law in an effort to split an already-weakened opposition by getting PAS’s support in exchange for the law in order to protect himself in the scandal.

In an interview with The Australian, Mahathir said Najib is so desperate to cling to power that he is willing to sign off on the harsh Islamic law in exchange for PAS’s support.

“He’s prepared to support these so-called Hudud laws where you decapitate people, chop off their hands, stone them to death,” Mahathir was quoted as saying. “He doesn’t care what he does or what his policy is as long as he gets support. And he wants the support of the opposition PAS. The leader of PAS is talking to him.”

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi insisted to reporters that the bill would only apply to Muslims in Kelantan. But critics are worried that implementation in Kelantan would let the evil genie out of the bottle. With a rising crime rate and concerns especially over violent street crime, the issue has caught fire with the wider public and threatened to bring it to a national level. The independent Merdeka Center, which samples public opinion, found last year that 73 percent of Malay Muslims supported the Islamic law in principle, up from only 47 percent in November of 2013.

One UMNO source told Asia Sentinel there is a danger that once implemented in Kelantan, the rural northern tier of states that abut the Thai border including Perlis, Kedah and Terengganu. There is even rising sympathy in the moderate urban state of Selangor, the source said.

However, it has horrified the 35 percent of other races that make up the country’s polyglot population of 30.7 million as well as moderate city-dwelling Malays. In particular the Chinese, who make up about 20 percent of the population and the bulk of the political opposition, view it as a powder keg.

PAS has been pushing for hudud in Kelantan for decades. But over the past couple of years, as the opposition headed by now-imprisoned leader Anwar Ibrahim gained popularity, sources in Kuala Lumpur have said, Najib saw a behind-the-scenes embrace of hudud as a way to split PAS off from the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and Anwar’s own Parti Keadilan Rakyat. The Barisan’s own minority-dominated component parties including the Malaysian Chinese Association, Gerakan and the Malaysian Indian Congress have also opposed implementation.

Today, however, the reasoning in Najib’s camp seems to be that with ethnic Malays making up at least 60 percent of the population, they can ignore the minorities.

With Parliament closing, the bill requires further debate before it would become law. It remains unknown if Najib and his forces would actually inflict the law on the population.

Under its provisions, hudud would impose age-old punishments for certain classes of crimes under Shariah law including theft, sex out of wedlock, consumption of liquor and drugs and apostasy. There appear to be no punishments for corporate crime, which is rife in Malaysia.

But, as Mahathir said when the issue arose in 2014, “There are Muslims and non-Muslims in our country. If a Muslim steals, his hand will be chopped off but when a non-Muslim steals, he goes to jail. Is that justice or not?”

As Mahathir has said, although the law would apply only to Muslims, it sets up the specter of a dual class of punishments, with a Chinese, Indian or other minority facing perhaps two months in jail for theft, for instance, and a Malay facing the prospect of losing his hand. Adultery in Malaysia is rarely punished today for any of the races and although it is not talked about, it is rampant among the leaders of UMNO.

Malaysia’s Travel Ban

May 27, 2016

Malaysia’s Travel Ban: Administrative Stupidity or Political Insecurity?

by Azmi Sharom

BOY, was I worried last week. This paper reported that the Immigration Department was going to bar those who disparaged or ridiculed the Government from traveling abroad.

And those who did so overseas would be barred from traveling upon their return home. For up to three years!

Crikey. This was most concerning. In my job I speak about laws and government policies all the time; at home and abroad.We, lecturers, go to seminars and conferences and we discuss ideas.

So, even if I take special care to say only the sweetest things about the Government, I could still be faced with questions like “Why is your government-owned strategic development company facing so much trouble?”.

What a conundrum. Do I spout some inanity (“err … that is a good question, Malaysia is truly Asia. Thank you.”) or give my opinion and risk being unable to eat authentic Nasi Gudeg for three years?

I suppose I could say something brilliant like “Look, is that an ostrich in the aisle?”, and then make my escape. And furthermore, The Star reported that these disparaging comments can be done in any manner. Good lord, does that include private conversations?

What if I am in a café in Madrid and my Spanish host asks me, “Señor Azmi, why does your Government prevent people from going overseas to get human rights awards?”

What do I say then? “Manuel, I am Malaysian, I cannot answer your question. Please pass the paella.”

Then fortunately, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs comes swooping in and says that there will be no ban on travelling for critics of the Government.

Phew, that’s a relief then. I guess those guys in the Immigration Department just got together and decided amongst themselves to make up this policy.

I did not realise that government agencies had so much autonomy that they could make far-reaching unconstitutional, anti-human rights-type decisions without the OK from the minister or his faithful deputy.

Just shows what I know.

But then the Deputy Minister goes on to say that the ban only applies to those who are a threat to national security and who have violated the Constitution.So I guess Maria Chin is a national security threat and habitual violator of the Constitution then.

It is as though the Constitution is a high-born Roman lady in danger of being attacked by a ravaging Visigoth.How can a private citizen violate the Constitution?

Hey, we are not the ones who make laws that blatantly go against the Fundamental Liberties listed in Part 2 of the Constitution. We are not the ones who say that this is an Islamic state when the Constitution says no such thing.

We are not the ones who obtusely say that there is no separation of powers because the Constitution does not use the term “separation of powers” (even though the executive, legislature and judiciary are each given separate chapters and have clearly defined powers).

It is virtually impossible for a private citizen to violate the Constitution.Short of perhaps companies that treat their workers like slaves or practise gender bias.

So the idea that citizens who violate the Constitution can have their passports taken away is laughable.It’s as though by throwing big words into the mix, this ludicrous and unlawful attack on our freedom of movement is all hunky dory.

Really, all this business about keeping us stuck at home is ridiculous.Do we need to go overseas to belittle the Government when their actions can be spread far and wide via existing technology? Why worry about citizens belittling or disparaging them abroad when they do it so well by themselves?

Philippines’ Man of the Moment: Rodrigo Duterte

May 26, 2016

Philippines’ Man of the Moment: President-Elect Rodrigo Duterte

by Mong Palatino

Mong Palatino explores the many sides to the Philippines’ new President, revealing there is far more that meets the eye than Trump comparisons alone can offer.

President-Elect Rodrigo Duterte–The Man from Mindanao

The landslide victory of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the recent Philippine presidential election has been reported already across the world. Perhaps many in Southeast Asia are asking: Who is Duterte?

The reaction is understandable. After all, it was only five months ago when Duterte announced his bid for the presidency.

Duterte’s electoral success is historic and politically significant for the Philippines. Not only did Duterte receive the most number of votes in the history of the Philippines, he is also set to become the first President from Mindanao.

Mindanao is the country’s second biggest island known for its rich natural resources but plagued by poverty and numerous local conflicts. When Mindanao people speak of historical injustice, they are referring to the state-sponsored displacement of Muslims from their homeland and the continuing plunder of the island’s wealth by corrupt politicians from ‘Imperial Manila.’

Duterte’s victory suddenly gave hope that the national government will start to prioritize the needs of Mindanao. Duterte, who claims to understand the history of the Muslim struggle for self-determination, also promises to pursue the peace process in Mindanao.

That a politician from Mindanao will assume the presidency on June 30 is unprecedented in Philippine politics. It’s like a Buddhist mayor sympathetic to the self-determination struggle of Thailand’s ‘Deep South’ becoming prime minister.

Unfortunately, Duterte’s anti-crime platform is given more attention by the mainstream global media. Because of his aggressive methods to rid Davao of crimes and his plan to kill all drug lords once he becomes President, he is called the ‘Punisher’ and Dirty Harry’. Perhaps he deserves the nicknames and he has no one to blame but himself if the world thinks his only crusade is to enforce discipline and order in society. He is like Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who believes that reforms can be achieved through extralegal and even authoritarian means.

Like Prayut, Duterte’s scandalous statements ridiculing women and the LGBT sector often attract wide condemnation. Both Prayut and Duterte think that crass talk can make them more popular among ordinary citizens. But when commentators condemn Duterte’s behaviour, most fail to mention his similarity with Prayut. Right or wrong, Duterte is often compared to American presidential candidate and business tycoon Donald Trump.

The comparison is inaccurate and unfair to Duterte. First, he is not a billionaire. Second, he does not mouth anti-Muslim statements. Third, he is proud of his so-called Leftist background. And fourth, he has been serving the country as an elected leader for three decades already.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen: Making a Difference

If making politically-incorrect pronouncements is the measure for comparison, Duterte’s image is closer to Prayut or Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The latter is like Duterte, a veteran politician who uses obscene language to ridicule his critics and political enemies.

But perhaps matching Duterte with Trump can also help to make the Filipino leader realize that his public antics are increasingly being viewed by many as offensive and divisive.

Persuading Duterte to abandon his ‘Trump’ reputation is easy.  He only needs to remember his record as a politician who has consistently worked well with progressive groups and NGOs in drafting social welfare programs for the poor. Unlike Trump who is part of America’s traditional elite, Duterte is seen as an ‘outsider’ who challenged the rule of oligarchs and big landlords in the Philippines.

In many ways, Duterte is like Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo. Both made a name by being effective city mayors before running for a national position. Both gained popular support among the poor and the youth. And both tapped into the widespread frustration of ordinary voters against the inefficiencies and inequities of the bureaucracy.

The Philippines today is like Indonesia in 2014 after the electoral victory of Jokowi. There’s high expectation that Duterte will deliver change and uplift the conditions of the poor and marginalized.

Duterte is no democracy icon like Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi but many Filipinos now see him as a leader who will lead the struggle against elite oppression, criminality, and corruption.

The defeat of the military-backed party in Myanmar remains the most meaningful political event in Southeast Asia in recent years but Duterte’s rise to power is a political phenomenon that deserves serious attention too. Indeed, Duterte has cultivated a strongman image like Hun Sen and Prayut; but unlike the two, he gained power in a more democratic way similar to how Jokowi and Suu Kyi’s party won a convincing mandate to lead in their countries.

There’s a persistent anti-communist bias in the Philippines, and in the whole Southeast Asian region as well, but here’s an incoming president who introduces himself as Leftist or socialist. If Duterte turns out to be a real socialist, will this start a trend in Southeast Asia?

Will he become a genuine reformer or will he degenerate into a conservative populist? He has six years to establish his true legacy but this early he is already facing corruption allegations. It’s noteworthy to mention that his rivals are suspicious about his bank transactions. The issue is quite similar to the ‘political donations’ received by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (pic above) in his dollar bank accounts. Although, to be fair to Duterte, Najib’s corruption scandal is definitely far worse.

Duterte’s detractors want to unseat him already even if he has not yet taken his oath as president. His supporters, however, expect him to bring change in three to six months which is part of his election campaign pledge. Of course substantial change is difficult to achieve in six months but he must try to show some concrete results during this period if he wants to retain the support of the majority who voted him to power.

Duterte is more than just the Trump of East Asia. To understand his politics, it’s useful to compare him to other leaders in the region. And once we see the many sides of Duterte, he appears less scary; although he remains an enigmatic political figure who can either strengthen or destroy democracy in the Philippines.

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the Southeast Asia editor of Global Voices, a social media platform.

How to introduce Duterte in Southeast Asia

Rudderless PKR : Courting PAS is a strategic error

May 25, 2016

 Rudderless PKR : Courting PAS is a strategic error

by Mariam Mokhtar

It appears that PKR leaders do not know what the electorate wants. The rakyat do not want wishy-washy politicians. We want firm leaders who have our interests at heart. We do not want race and religion to set us apart.

We know that we can move forward only when we have strong leaders who would not allow themselves to be stabbed in the back twice. We certainly won’t trust a political party that vacillates from one viewpoint to another or make an alliance with a known enemy.

Soon after the Sarawak state election, PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali horrified us when he expressed an intention to invite PAS back into the opposition coalition for GE14. This week, it was PKR President Wan Azizah Ismail’s turn to shock us. She suggested that PKR could talk with PAS about the upcoming by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar.

Why does PKR want to do business with PAS? Joining up with PAS and Hadi Awang is like taking a step into the unknown. Can Hadi be trusted after all his machinations against the opposition coalition and the deals he has made with UMNO-Baru?

Is Wan Azizah a stickler for punishment, or has Azmin Ali managed to convince her of PAS’ shining qualities? Is there a plot of some kind that we’re yet to uncover?

Does Wan Azizah remember how Hadi humiliated her when she was nominated for the post of Selangor MB? Hadi kept the nation waiting for one month, saying that he could not divulge the reasons for his opposition to Wan Azizah’s nomination. In the end, he said a woman could not serve as MB. He even hinted that he feared people would go to hell if they were ruled by a woman as MB or PM. Malaysia does not need politicians who are misogynists.

At the 2014 PAS muktamar in Johor, Hadi insulted two PAS assemblymen because they supported Wan Azizah’s nomination. He called them “baruah,” using a loaded Malay word for “lackey”. It’s original meaning is “pimp”.

For all we know, Hadi is still in discussion with UMNO-Baru for a unity government. Doesn’t Wan Azizah remember Hadi’s arrogance? He said he would attend Pakatan Rakyat meetings only when he felt like it.

PKR, which some people have always seen as a party of UMNO-Baru rejects, is now in danger of gaining a reputation as a party of indecision. Why is PKR afraid to take a firm stand? If it’s policies are good for the nation, it should forge ahead with them with confidence and thereby strengthen public trust in it. However, if it shows indecisiveness and teams up with PAS, whatever trust the public now has in it will be eroded.

The rakyat have waited 59 years for a leader they can trust. They will not mind waiting a few more years for the right party to present such a leader. PAS is not that party. Hadi is not that leader, and neither is anyone who plays footsie with him.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.