Making Academia Matter Again


April 19, 2018

Making Academia Matter Again

by 

Academics can no longer afford to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their own privileges. If they are to defend the freedom of their enterprise, they must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of their research – and how research actually occurs – is well understood.

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CAMBRIDGE – Academic freedom is a precious commodity, critical to ensure that discovery of the truth is not encumbered by political or ideological forces. But this does not mean that intellectuals should hide in academic bunkers that, by protecting us from criticism by “non-experts,” allow ego to flourish and enable a focus on questions that are not actually relevant to anyone else. We experts should have to explain ourselves.

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The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
 

This means, first and foremost, that researchers should be communicating their results in a way that supports accountability and confirms that public funds and education benefits are being used in ways that are in taxpayers’ interests. The duty to communicate findings also ensures that the public is educated, not only about the topic itself, but also about the way research actually works.

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Scholarly books and journals often give the impression that the truth is revealed through a neat, orderly, and logical process. But research is far from being a pristine landscape; in fact, it resembles a battlefield, littered with miscalculations, failed experiments, and discarded assumptions. The path to truth is often convoluted, and those who travel along it often must navigate fierce competition and professional intrigue.

Some argue that it is better to hide this reality from the public, in order to maintain credibility. For example, in 2014, physicists collaborating on a project known as BICEP2 thought that they had detected gravitational waves from the beginning of the universe. It was later realized that the signal they had detected could be entirely attributed to interstellar dust.

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H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, University of Cambodia (UC) Founder, Board and Trustee Chairman, And President seeks to create a Research  Culture at UC,Phnom Penh.

Some of my colleagues worried that this revelation would undermine faith in other scientific predictions, such as those involving climate change. But would hiding the truth from the public really do more for scientific and academic credibility than cultivating a culture of transparency? Probably not. In fact, being honest about the realities of research might enhance trust and create more space for innovation, with an informed public accepting that risk is the unavoidable and worthwhile cost of groundbreaking and broadly beneficial discoveries.

Another way to ensure that academia continues to innovate in useful and relevant ways is to blur the traditional boundaries among disciplines – the frontiers where invention so often happens. To that end, universities should update their organizational structure, moving away from clearly delineated departments in order to create a kind of continuum across the arts, humanities, and sciences. Students should be encouraged to take courses in multiple disciplines, so that they can weave those lessons and experiences into new patterns of knowledge.

To make this process sustainable, universities should ensure that the courses and curricula they offer help students to develop the skills that a fast-changing labor market demands. This means not just creating new curricula today, but also updating them every few years, in order to account for new trends and discoveries in areas ranging from artificial intelligence and Big Data to alternative energy sources and genome editing.

Professors, for their part, should approach their job as mentors of future leaders in science, technology, the arts, and humanities, rather than attempting to mold students in their own intellectual image. Of course, the latter approach can be useful if the goal is to advance the popularity of one’s own research program and to ensure that one’s own ideas and perspective endure. But that is not the fundamental mission of academia.

The louder the consensus in the echo chambers of academia become, the greater the ego boost for those who inhabit those chambers. But history shows that progress is sometimes advocated by a soft voice in the background, like that of Albert Einstein during his early career. Truth and consensus are not always the same. Diversity of opinion – which implies diversity of gender, ethnicity, and background – is vital to support creativity, discovery, and progress.

That is why it is so important for prizes and professional associations to be used not to reinforce mainstream perspectives, but rather to encourage independent thought and reward innovation. This does not mean that all opinions should be considered equal, but rather that alternative views should be debated and vetted on merit alone.

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We in academia cannot continue to pat ourselves on the back, celebrating our own privileges and failing to look at the world in new and relevant ways. If we are to defend the freedom of our enterprise, we must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of our work is well understood – including by us.

Perpetual policy and its limited future as reforms stall


April 18, 2018

Perpetual policy and its limited future as reforms stall

Reforming Bumiputera policy is a colossal project both rival coalitions are reluctant to tackle. Yet the tentative consensus misconstrues an embedded but failing preferential regime.

Reforming Bumiputera policy is a colossal project both rival coalitions are reluctant to tackle. Yet the tentative consensus misconstrues an embedded but failing preferential regime.

Malaysia’s 14th general elections (GE14) will see an intense and dynamic battle for the Malay electorate, but also continuity of the extensive, embedded, and often misconstrued, pro-Malay ethnic preferential regime.

Tapping into widespread economic discontent and anxiety, particularly in the Malay population, incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalitions both offer populist-flavoured menus, with varying signature dishes. BN will try to differentiate itself by drawing attention and emotion to the pro-Malay, and more broadly pro-Bumiputera, policies that it founded and continually implements.

The political rhetoric around Bumiputera policies will escalate in the coming weeks – and recycle simplistic and convenient stances. With polling day set for 9 May, the BN under the hegemony of UMNO and dependent on Malay vote bases, increasingly kindles notions of Malay unity and Malay interests, and stokes anxieties of purported erosion of ethnic primacy and privilege. Expect caretaker prime minister Najib Razak to sell the Bumiputera Economic Transformation Programme (BETR) as a big deal, and seek a mandate to stay the course.

But the policy may not make that much of a difference; PH broadly agrees with keeping this ethnic preferential system. The newly reconstituted coalition, with a Malay-based party led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, decidedly affirms the goal of Bumiputera empowerment. It minimally specifies how its approach differs from BN’s. Assuredly, as happened prior to the 2013 elections, Pakatan will decry the patronage and cronyism recurrent in various Bumiputera-favouring programmes, while taking care to avoid alienating the multitudes that benefit from the policy, as we can discern from its alternative budget.

Thus, Malaysia’s Bumiputera preferential regime muddles along. Both coalitions have mellowed their stance compared to a few years ago, when there was more forthright talk of replacing Bumiputera preferential programmes, also termed race-based affirmative action, with “need-based” and “merit-based” affirmative action. Now the discourses imply all the above vaguely coexist, while occasionally accepting that perpetual ethnic preference is undesirable.

Clarity and precision are urgently needed, presenting coherent policy alternatives and workable solutions anchored to the objective of promoting Bumiputera participation in higher education, high-level occupations, enterprise and ownership. Policy objectives and instruments must be acknowledged, their breadth and depth grasped.

A systematic and viable roadmap for phasing out the existing Bumiputera preferential regime must lay the groundwork by broadly cultivating capability, competitiveness, and confidence. The different policy spheres also present different conditions. Higher education holds out a broad scope for “need-based” assistance for the poor and disadvantaged, through admissions policies, scholarships and financial assistance. For Bumiputera empowerment in employment and enterprise, “merit” considerations are paramount. The principal objective in these spheres is the cultivation of capable and competitive professionals, managers and enterprises – who are poised to graduate out of preferential assistance.

So-called needs-based and merit-based selections serve to complement and reinforce the Bumiputera preferential regime. Pronouncements to replace or systematically reform race-based affirmative action with such alternatives are premature and misplaced, lacking in systematic analysis. Emphatically, Bumiputera empowerment must be effective and broad-based before systemic reforms can take shape credibly and feasibly.

The regime has registered substantial achievements in promoting Bumiputera upward mobility, but shortcomings remain in terms of the ultimate goals of capability and competitiveness. By 2013, 28.4% of the Bumiputera labour force had acquired tertiary educational qualifications, compared to 26.6% of Chinese and 25.8% of Indians. However, graduate unemployment is a more acute problem among Bumiputeras.

The Bumiputera share of managers steadily rose to 45% in 2013, from 24% in 1970 to 35% in 1985. The public sector and government-linked companies considerably contribute to these figures, and among private enterprises, micro and small-scale establishments. In 2015, among Bumiputera SMEs, 88% were classified as micro, 11% small, and only 1% medium, while the corresponding figures in non-Bumiputera SMEs were 70%, 26%, and 4%. Bumiputera-controlled companies account for only 25% of the 800,000 registered companies in Malaysia.

The Bumiputera population at large must be adequately equipped before Malaysia can truly reform and roll back the system. As things stand, there is scant analysis of policy outcomes and mostly tacit acknowledgement of policy inefficacies, and no formulation of exit strategies for facilitating the graduation of Bumiputeras out of overt ethnic preferential treatment.

 

To be fair, the BETR, introduced in 2011, does modify policy objectives and methods. It is distinguishable from preceding policies, through the ways it reaches out to disadvantaged students and strives to cultivate capability and competitiveness in private enterprise. But these interventions are selective, not systemic. They leave swathes of the ethnic preferential regime untouched.

Indeed, the policy spheres with extensive outreach and potential to empower Bumiputeras – in pre-university programmes, university admissions, government contracting, microfinance and public sector employment – scarcely appear in long-term development plans. There is no commitment to apply lessons from the BETR’s focused interventions, let alone any intention to execute systemic reforms.

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And yet Malaysia arrives at an historical juncture, with GE14 determining who governs into 2020, the nation’s hallowed destination. Articulated by Dr Mahathir in 1991, Vision 2020 loftily aspired for Malaysia to be a “fully developed nation” economically, socially, politically, and culturally. More specific aims include the “creation of an economically resilient and fully competitive Bumiputera community so as to be on par with the non-Bumiputera community.”

Vision 2020, charismatic albeit flawed especially in neglecting education, enterprise development and democratisation, secured a place in the hearts and minds of Malaysians. So firm is the hold on the public imagination that even as the Vision’s progenitor Mahathir now assails Najib, the latter cannot forsake the brainchild of his new nemesis. Rather, Najib postures his administration as building on Vision 2020, merely implying there is some incompleteness in Mahathir’s treatise.

Beyond 2020, a new 30-year mission is being crafted under the TN50 (National Transformation) banner. This project adopts a more “bottom up” approach of compiling popular aspirations and engaging in public consultations. The templates and priorities already laid out are wide-ranging, sanguine and opportune – but conspicuously steer clear of the question of ethnic preferential policies.

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NEP (Tun Razak) –Wawasan 2020 (Tun Dr. Mahathir) and Transformasi Nasional 50 (Najib Razak)–where are we heading with billions misspent on Bumiputera Empowerment!–“Howk Aun-Lee

It has to be acknowledged that reforming Bumiputera policies is a colossal project, and the bi-partisan reluctance to deal with it partly stems from a desire to look beyond ethnic identity and to pursue non-ethnically delineated policies. But the political consensus, while striving to transcend ethnic policies in rhetoric, misconstrues and ignores the embedded ethnic preferential regime.

Resistance to change is often blamed on the political establishment, but this is too simplistic. On the ground, societal forces are also deeply apprehensive and resistant to change. Bumiputera households are not simply being played by politicians; they materially benefit from the policies. Why and how would any people rationally, willingly surrender privilege? There are no easy answers. But Malaysia’s political dispositions and policy discourses preclude candid, honest and rigorous engagement on these crucial issues.

Election campaigns will deservedly dwell on livelihood concerns such as cost of living, social assistance, housing and jobs, and developmental concerns like infrastructure, transportation, education and health provisions, and matters of governance and morality, including social justice, inequality and corruption.

Of course, politicians will stick to simple and straightforward promises, not complex and nuanced propositions. Consistently, candid and critical discourses appear neither during elections, when new visions and mandates might be projected, nor between elections, when necessary but inconvenient reforms might be pursued. For example, in making pre-university matriculation programmes more rigorous to better prepare university entrants, or in imposing greater demands and incentives for government contractors to raise work quality and scale up operations.

 

However, any grand quest to take Malaysia to the next stage must address the current state and future prospects of the Bumiputera preferential regime. Instead of suppressing such questions, or entertaining misguided notions that full-fledged transformation is already in progress, a true mark of Malaysia’s progress on this issue will be its capacity to appraise how effective it has been in promoting Bumiputera empowerment, while rekindling the intent – and audacity – expressed in the past for pursuing capability, competitiveness and self-reliance.

(published in collaboration with RISE: T.wai)

PSM and GE-14: On Principle,Go It Alone, Michael


April 3, 2018

PSM and GE-14: On Principle, Go It Alone, Michael

by Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj

Read : https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/dr-michael-jeyakumar-devaraj-social-critic-tireless-activist-and-mp-for-sungai-siput/

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With PRU 14 fast approaching there are many Malaysians, especially urbanites, who feel that a change of government is at hand. Several among them urge the PSM not to “create 3-corner contests” but to take stock of the big picture and go along with the Pakatan Harapan. This would mean standing down all PSM candidates except for myself – I alone will be allowed by PH to contest Sg Siput under PKR logo.

To our friends and supporters who urge this course of action, I would like to point out three facts. The first is that the 3 corner scenario has been foisted upon us by the PH itself as they went ahead and apportioned all the seats in Semenanjung amongst themselves. The PSM, which has indicated since 2011 that we wished to work with the Pakatan Rakyat (as they were then) to bring a change in government, was never invited to any seat negotiations. As a result, wherever we stand in Semenanjung there will be a 3-corner situation. But is it fair to say that the PSM has “created” these?

The second point is even more important – what happens to the Reformasi agenda in the aftermath of  PRU 14? (The day after – the 2 years after). This is I think, the even bigger picture that people who want genuine change must take into account. Can the Pakatan Harapan, which is making a number of tactical compromises, in a good position to oversee the reform agenda, or do we need other political parties around to help push that forward? Reading the PH Manifesto might give some clues –

–          There is no mention of Local Council elections;

–          They seem to be backing away from Free Education at varsity level;

–          Ethnic based policy pitches seem to be making a comeback;

–          Several of their economic policies have a strong neo-liberal flavor.

 Now don’t get me wrong –  the PSM is calling on the people of Malaysia to support the PH in PRU 14 (except in the few seats that the PSM is standing – at this point in time 5/222 Parliament and 11/545 State seats). The PH is the better of the 2 alternatives available at present.

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 But the question that Malaysians who want to see politics moving in a more healthy direction need to ask themselves is – will the PH be able to deliver what we hope for, on their own? Or is there a need for a party like the PSM that keeps reminding all of us that

–          Poverty in Malaysia cannot be comprehensively tackled without addressing the massive transfer of profits out by the 500 richest Multi National Corporations which control the “global chains”;

–          We need to call out the World Bank and the IMF who would like us all to believe that poverty in developing countries is due to our low “productivity”. We are the only political party in Malaysia that is pointing out there is a problem with how productivity of our workers is measured. Consider – the selling price of an electronic chip produced in Bayan Lepas is about a fifth of the selling price of an identical chip produced in California. Based on the current formula, the “productivity” of the Californian worker is five times that of our worker – for the same product, and the same volume of output! The oligopolistic position of the MNCs enables them to suppress the prices of good that they subcontract out to us and other 3rd world countries. So the root problem is not productivity but the excessive market power of the biggest MNCs.

–          We need to counter the perception that liberalizing the economy and giving more scope to businesses is the best way to tackle bureaucracy and inefficiencies in the Public Sector. We believe that such an approach would tend to push costs up and further marginalize the bottom 80% of the population.

–          We are keenly aware that increasingly, the richest business groups in Malaysia have great influence over the political process in the country as they fund both sides of the political divide. Our democracy is being undermined by massive political funding by the business elites. The PSM has been calling for public funding for political parties, and we have suggested mechanisms for doing this in a way that enhances the peoples’ influence;

–          We seem to be the only party that feels there are concrete reasons why the rural Malays are apprehensive about regime change. We have been studying the rural economy for the past few years to ascertain why rural poverty persists despite the billions of ringgit the government has thrown at it. We have the framework of a program to address this problem – a program that has great potential to allay the fears of the rural Malay voters and get them to support our reform agenda.

–          We believe that political leaders have to be more accountable regarding their wealth accumulation. We advocate that those who want to amass wealth should choose some other profession and not come into politics and rip off the people.

–          We are against populist policies like toll-free highways, lower prices for cars and cheaper petrol. Concern for the environment cannot be limited to speeches on Earth Day! We need to cut our carbon footprint – we should use economic incentives to shift to public transport and develop more electric powered vehicles while working on electricity generation from renewables.

–          We believe that automation and AI should be a boon for humankind and not a cause of unemployment and gloom. The rapidly increasing productivity of our global economy means that we do not need to work 12 hours a day to make ends meet. But at present, those who can’t find work can’t consume – its painful both for them and the global economy as aggregate demand will remain sluggish if people do not consume. The solution, as we see it, is a massive increase in the hourly wage rate coupled a 32 hour working week – so people will be able to get a living wage for working less, and all families will have work and businesses will have adequate markets to sell to. We all will then have more time for ourselves, our families, the community, religion the arts sports etc – the full flowering of human potential. I doubt if any other party in Malaysia has a similar vision of a better society if we could order our economy on the basis of social solidarity and not the avariciousness of the Forbes 500.

 

People might say we are deluded, but we in the PSM really believe that we have a great deal to contribute to the political process in Malaysia – and I haven’t yet touched on the commitment and selflessness of our frontline activists who stand each day with the marginalized groups in our society. That is why we will not quietly “close shop” and retreat to the sidelines of politics.

We remain committed to bring regime change – and we agree that at this point in time, only the Pakatan Harapan is big enough to do this. We are prepared to work with them. We would be quite prepared to compromise and stand down half the seats that we are preparing to stand in – if we are given the remainder as 1:1 contests against the BN (ie the PH backs out of these). Which seats? – That can be settled through discussions and we called for these more than 24 months ago. Only now, at the 11th hour are representatives from the PH reaching out to us. We have replied that we are ready to meet asap.

 I would like to appeal to all Malaysians who support the Pakatan Harapan – you too have a role to play in the resolution of this problem. Tell your PH leaders to deal fairly with the PSM – convince them that the PSM can add value to the reform movement. Sometimes, (and this is the third point I want to raise) it’s your uncritical support for them that leads to a touch of arrogance in the way they deal with others!

 

Jeyakumar Devaraj

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman rebuts Dennis Ignatius


March 26, 2018

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman rebuts Dennis Ignatius

by Anifah Aman

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Note: I think Foreign Minister  Anifah Aman deserves a fair hearing, even on my blog which has of late been blocked in Malaysia by The Ministry of Multimedia and Communications.  FM Anifah is a good friend, although in recent years he has avoided contact with me,  perhaps out of deference to his boss, Najib Razak since I have been making pungent and biting comments on the competence, character and integrity of the Prime Minister. I am pleased that FM Anifah is engaging in public diplomacy. Hopefully his Cabinet colleagues can emulate him. –Din Merican

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COMMENT | I serve as a Minister in a government that listens and welcomes feedback. For this reason, I seek views from people from all walks of life – from my constituents in Kimanis, to foreigners, to businesses, and even from biased commentators. Dennis Ignatius falls in the last category.

I read his rant contained in his latest blog entitled “GE14: Last Chance for Change” dated March 21, 2018. It is in the same vein as his previous blogs. Full of wild but unsubstantiated accusations, based on anger but devoid of facts, opinions masquerading as facts.

Let me take a few examples quoting directly from his blog. “They (the government) have been extraordinarily incompetent and reckless fiscally, forcing our nation into levels of debt that were unheard of before”. I want to point out that our fiscal deficit has been reduced by more than half from 6.7 percent in 2009 to three percent in 2017.

“And while Kuala Lumpur has more millionaires than Abu Dhabi, 90 percent of rural, mostly Malay households, have zero savings”. That Kuala Lumpur has more millionaires than Abu Dhabi is not surprising. Our economy is doing extraordinarily well, and Malaysia’s population is 31 million compared to the UAE’s 1.4 million (of the total population of 9.2 million, 7.8 million are foreigners). As for the 90 percent figure, this hardly makes sense. Any worker in Malaysia would have at least either an EPF account or a pension. Furthermore, the government is also trying to improve financial education.

“The majority of young workers cannot earn enough to live decently”. I wonder where he received this information. I also question his use of terms such as “majority” and “live decently”. We all recognise that unless one is blessed with wealthy parents, all young workers face challenging situations, but for many young Malaysians, our quiet heroes, they continue with the business of life, improving themselves and our country.

I could go on, but in all honesty, I have a job to do. Spending too much time on blogs such as these, distracts the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from its important job of defending the nation’s interest. Were I to spend too much time on it, I would not do justice to the very many hardworking, creative and patriotic people at Wisma Putra, whom I have known and cherished in all the years I have had the honour to serve as “FM” – foreign minister.

Let me tell you Dennis – your untoward criticisms of the government, your constant griping and whining of the good old days (viewed through rose-tinted glasses), are not at all well received by officers at Wisma Putra. They are proud of Wisma Putra’s achievements, as I am of all of them.

They are proud of the investments flowing into the country, which are due to high-level visits, especially the prime minister’s. I want to point out that between 2011 and 2017, RM1.8 trillion worth of investments were recorded, surpassing the initial National Transformation Programme (NTP) Roadmap’s target of RM1.4 trillion.

They are proud that under Malaysia’s chairmanship, the Asean Community was established in 2015 and that ASEAN continues to play a pivotal role in the region despite very many strategic challenges.

They are proud that, unlike the past, Malaysia’s relations with our neighbours and the major powers are an at an all-time high, enabling us to derive economic benefits and to play a more active and constructive role in strategic affairs.

They are proud that despite having already served as non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Malaysia garnered 187 out of 194 votes in the elections in 2014, guaranteeing our membership in 2015 – 2016. This is proof and validation of the high esteem that the entire international community holds for our country.

Dennis tries to present his arguments as a call to idealism. In fact, to the contrary, it is a call to naiveté. On Dr Mahathir (Mohamad’s) U-turns, he argues that there “is every indication that he will honour his commitment to ‘reformasi’, it is his last hurrah and he wants to get it right”. This is incredible in its naiveté and shallowness. There is nothing to show that this is the case; Mahathir (photo) only wants to give the indication that the wrongs of the past were not of his doings – he was merely following advice. He has given no indication that he would change. Is this the attitude of a reformed man, committed to “reformasi”?

Dennis also argues that “in any case, Anwar (Ibrahim), Mohamad Sabu (Mat Sabu) and Lim Kit Siang will be there to ensure that no one hijacks the reform agenda”. All this means is that were the opposition to win, all their time and energies will be dedicated to checking one another, guaranteeing instability and chaos for five years. This would certainly happen since there is nothing in Mahathir’s career to suggest that when in power, he will do anything except what he wants.

If Dennis was still in service and this analysis is included in his political report, that report would be thrown immediately into the garbage can; his judgement, credibility and objectivity would also be questioned.

I agree with Dennis on one thing though – the opposition faces an uphill task. But it is due to their own incompetence in managing the states under their control, the shambles and chaos in the opposition coalition, as well as the rakyat’s support for the government, knowing full well the government’s competence, good international standing and commitment to improving the welfare of all Malaysians, including naysayers and prophets of doom such as Dennis Ignatius.


ANIFAH AMAN is the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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

The Keruak has spoken: Government will block portals and websites–1MDB is fake news


March 23, 2018

The Keruak has spoken: Government will block portals and websites–1MDB is fake news

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/416777

The Keruak has spoken but he conveniently forgets that the regime he serves is Malaysia’s No.1 dispenser of fake news. The authorities in Singapore, Switzerland and the United States are fakers on 1MDB?

The government will block websites and portals that spread information with the intent of causing a ruckus before the 14th general election (GE14), Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said.

“We will work with the police and relevant agencies on the allegations. Of course, action will be taken against any party that violates the rules,” he is quoted as saying by Bernama.

Salleh said this after being asked about Police identifying 1,100 individuals and organisations that could potentially conduct a ‘surprise last minute attack’ and start a riot during GE14.

He said his ministry would conduct a thorough investigation before any action was taken.The government is set to table an anti-fake news bill in Parliament next week.

Salleh’s Deputy, Jailani Johari, told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that any unverified information regarding 1MDB was considered fake news.

Previously Jailani had also said that media publishing “fake news” about 1MDB included The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Economist, Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) and MSNBC.

 

 

GE14: Last chance for change


March 22, 2018

GE14: Last chance for change

by Dennis Ignatius

GE14: Last chance for change

We are now at the cusp of GE14, one of the most momentous political events that any of us will quite possibly experience in our lifetime. Rarely in the history of a nation has so much depended upon a single decision: who we vote for will quite literally decide the destiny of our nation.

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To be sure, many are piqued and frustrated that it has come down to a choice between Najib and Mahathir. But this election is much more than a choice between personalities; it is a choice between two very different futures for our nation.

Politically moribund

UMNO-BN has now been in power for some 60 years. Like all political parties that have overstayed their welcome, they have become politically moribund. They have lost their way, their integrity, their credibility. They have neither the vision to inspire nor the moral authority to lead.

In almost every area of governance and leadership they have failed our nation.They have been extraordinarily incompetent and reckless fiscally, forcing our nation into levels of debt that were unheard of before. Billions of ringgit in public funds have also been looted with utter impunity or squandered through mismanagement and waste. GST is the price we are paying for their profligacy.

The 1MDB scandal, in particular, has been especially damaging to our nation’s international credibility, not to mention the loss to the nation’s coffers. More than 50 years of diplomacy promoting and positioning our nation has gone down the drain as a result.

It should be clear by now that they do not have the political will to eradicate corruption. When the system jails those who expose corruption and protects the scoundrels who rob us, you know the battle against corruption is over, and we’ve lost.

Under their watch, many of our once proud national institutions have been compromised or reduced to mere appendages of the ruling party.

Despite having amassed more power than any other administration since independence, they still feel vulnerable, still feel the need for yet more power, yet more limits on our freedom. Executive power is now so pervasive that we teeter on the edge of autocracy.

Can we trust a political party that has consistently abused their power with yet more power? Under their watch, our democracy has been hollowed out; gerrymandering and malapportionment have made voting itself increasingly meaningless. In fact, this might well be the last meaningful elections to be held in Malaysia if UMNO-BN is returned to power.

In the meantime, life continues to be a struggle for many. Twelve percent of our young people below 24 are unemployed; thousands of graduates cannot find jobs; the majority of young workers cannot earn enough to live decently. And while Kuala Lumpur has more millionaires than Abu Dhabi, 90% of rural, mostly Malay households, have zero savings.

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And this after 60 years of development, after decades of the NEP and other programmes.

Charting a different course

We must now ask ourselves whether or not we can afford another five years of UMNO-BN rule, another five years of the same failed policies that have impoverished our nation, undermined our unity and weakened our democracy. Can we afford another five years of corruption, scandal and international shame?

If we are willing to look beyond the personalities, if we are willing to overcome our fears and UMNO-BN’s scaremongering, if we are willing to settle for the pragmatic over the ideal, we might just discover that we actually have a unique opportunity to break with the past.

For the very first time, we have a multiracial coalition [Pakatan Harapan] led by experienced political leaders who are genuinely able to unite our nation behind a vision for reform and renewal. They may not be on the same page on all issues but they are united on the things that matter most – respect for the constitution, rule of law, national unity and good governance.

As for Mahathir, there is every indication that he will honour his commitment to ‘reformasi;’ it is his last hurrah and he wants to get it right. In any case, Anwar, Mat Sabu and Lim Kit Siang will be there to ensure that no one hijacks the reform agenda.

It won’t be the end of the struggle to reform our nation but it could well be the beginning that we have long dreamed of.

A second chance

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It is going to be an uphill battle to unseat UMNO-BN but we are now closer than ever before. The future of our nation is in our hands. We must seize the moment and do everything in our power – campaign, donate, support and vote – to ensure victory.

Few nations get a second chance; this is our tryst with destiny and we must not squander it.