Change in education will come, but wait


February 15, 2019

Change in education will come, but wait

 

At a recent forum attended by the education minister, I had a unique chance to observe the citizenry in action with regards to the issue of education.

I suppose 30 years of pent-up anger about the issue was suddenly unleashed after May 9 and, with the openness of the new minister, an opportunity was raised to vent out these frustrations.

Everyone has ideas on revamping the education system. I, too, in many ways, have written or voiced out those exact comments in other forums and talks.

But what seems to be missing is patience and appreciation on the part of the citizenry of what has already been done: the planning and complexity of manoeuvring things in order to effect change in education.

The ministry has addressed many housekeeping issues on the provision of basic infrastructure like abandoned projects, broken furniture, inadequate book stocks, teachers’ workloads, and trying to change attitudes towards education management.

But the middle-class elites seem unimpressed with these efforts. They want to see change now.

Image result for malaysian education blueprint 2018

What are we waiting– for the Sun to rise in The West?

We can only expect to see change if we start to think in the right direction. In the case of religious education, it will be a miracle if we see change in the next 30 years.

On the issue of English, on the other hand, I can see change in five years’ time.

Why can’t change occur now? I think the reasons are pretty obvious.

Changing 450,000 teachers is a doable, but Herculean task. Changing the mindset of the academia will not be easy after 30 years of complacency due to the Universities and University Colleges Act.

Changing the curriculum of professional education will be near-impossible if the ministry has no control over the professional bodies who ride roughshod over universities’ professional programmes. But it can still be done.

Fighting off extremist Malay and Islamic groups is like walking on water. We need a miracle! But miracles, too, can be engineered and managed, and change will come eventually.

For me, hearing about “values-driven education” and “humanising education” is already the signal for change.

The ministry has proposed a drastic change from the factory production-oriented school leavers and university graduates to a more tolerant citizenry on differences of faiths and culture. All teachers and academics should answer this call immediately and with utmost urgency.

What we can do now, we should do. What we can plan to change a little later, we put plans in place. The onus is on us not to wait for another education blueprint.

The call for change has already been sounded. The strategies for change have already been placed. The long-term issues of education are already being planned and are undergoing minute scrutiny before implementation.

What is required of the citizenry is their own efforts to understand the vision and change according to their own capacities and abilities.

What is needed are new ideas and suggestions to strengthen the framework that is already in existence. What is desired most of the citizenry is an open mind to the various sensitivities and time bombs of socio-political constructs surrounding the issue of education.

At the end of the day, we must understand that the minister concerned has no magic wand to conjure miracles.

As long as the objectives of change are clear and some small change has occurred, we should accept patience as an investment in life.

The battle to put in place the right people and perspective of change has already been won. The question for the citizenry now is: can we accept what has come and endure with patience for what is promised?

Can we look at change as a continuing process and not as a singular momentous event?

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

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In defense of the elites


February 5, 2019

In defense of the elites

 

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/31/in-defense-of-the-elites

This year’s World Economic Forum, more than usual, prompted a spirited round of elite-bashing, which has now become the trendy political posture on both the right and left. On one side, President Trump and Fox News hosts slam the out-of-touch establishment that, according to them, has run things into the ground. On the other side, left-wingers decry the millionaires and billionaires who, in one author’s phrase, “broke the modern world.”

Underlying these twin critiques is a bleak view of modern life — seen as a dysfunctional global order, producing stagnant incomes, rising insecurity and environmental degradation. But is this depiction, in fact, true? Are we doing so very badly that we need to bring back the guillotines?

On the simplest and most important measure, income, the story is actually one of astonishing progress. Since 1990, more than 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty. The share of the global population living in these dire conditions has gone from 36 percent to 10 percent, the lowest in recorded history. This is, as the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, notes, “one of the greatest achievements of our time.” Inequality, from a global perspective, has declined dramatically.

And all this has happened chiefly because countries — from China to India to Ethiopia — have adopted more market-friendly policies, and Western countries have helped them with access to markets, humanitarian assistance and loan forgiveness. In other words, policies supported by these very elites.

Look at any measure from a global perspective and the numbers are staggering. The child mortality rate is down 58 percent since 1990. Undernourishment has fallen 41 percent, and maternal deaths (women dying because of childbirth) have dropped by 43 percent over roughly the same period.

I know the response that some will have to these statistics. The figures pertain to the world in general, not the United States. Things might have improved for the Chinese, but not for the denizens of rich countries. That sense of “unfairness” is what is surely fueling Trump’s “America First” agenda and much of the anger on the right at the international system. (More bewilderingly, the left, traditionally concerned about the poorest of the poor, has become critical of a process that has improved the lives of at least 1 billion of the world’s most impoverished people.)

When criticizing the current state of affairs, it’s easy to hark back to some nostalgic old order, the modern world before the current elites “broke” it. But when was that golden age? In the 1950s, when Jim Crow reigned in the United States and women could barely work as anything more than seamstresses and secretaries? The 1980s, when two-thirds of the globe stagnated under state socialism, repression and isolation? What group of elites — kings, commissars, mandarins — ran the world better than our current hodgepodge of politicians and business executives?

Even in the West, it is easy to take for granted the astounding progress. We live longer, the air and water are cleaner, crime has plunged, and information and communication are virtually free. Economically, there have been gains, though crucially, they have not been distributed equally.

But there have been monumental improvements in access and opportunity for large segments of the population that were locked out and pushed down. In the United States, the gap between black and white high school completion has almost disappeared. The poverty gap between blacks and whites has shrunk (but remains distressingly large). Hispanic college enrollment has soared. The gender gap between wages for men and women has narrowed. The number of female chief executives at Fortune 500 companies has gone from one to 24 over the past 20 years. Female membership in national legislatures of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries has almost doubled in the same period. No countries allowed same-sex marriage two decades ago, but more than 20 countries do today. In all these areas, much remains to be done. But in each of them, there has been striking progress.

I understand that important segments of the Western working class are under great pressure, and that they often feel ignored and left behind by this progress. We must find ways to give them greater economic support and moral dignity. But extensive research shows that some of their discomfort comes from watching a society in which these other groups are rising, changing the nature of the world in which they’d enjoyed a comfortable status.

After 400 years of slavery, segregation and discrimination in the United States, blacks have been moving up. After thousands of years of being treated as structurally subordinate, women are now gaining genuine equality. Once considered criminals or deviants, gays can finally live and love freely in many countries. The fact that these changes might cause discomfort to some is not a reason to pause, nor to forget that it represents deep and lasting human progress that we should celebrate.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The Euro turns 20


January 13, 2019

The Euro turns 20

The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.

euro banknotes

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/four-lessons-from-euro-s-first-20-years-by-daniel-gros-2019-01

Image result for atomium bruxelles

BRUSSELS – Twenty years ago this month, the euro was born. For ordinary citizens, little changed until cash euros were introduced in 2002. But in January 1999, the “third stage” of Economic and Monetary Union officially started, with the exchange rates among the original 11 eurozone member states “irrevocably” fixed, and authority over their monetary policy transferred to the new European Central Bank. What has unfolded since then holds important lessons for the future.

Image result for stiglitz on the euro

In 1999, conventional wisdom held that Germany would incur the biggest losses from the euro’s introduction. Beyond the risk that the ECB would not be as tough on inflation as the Bundesbank had been, the Deutsche Mark was overvalued, with Germany running a current-account deficit. Fixing the exchange rate at that level, it was believed, would pose a severe challenge to the competitiveness of German industry.

Yet, 20 years on, inflation is even lower than it was when the Bundesbank was in charge, and Germany maintains persistently large current-account surpluses, which are viewed as evidence that German industry is too competitive. This brings us to the first lesson of the last 20 years: the performance of individual eurozone countries is not preordained.

The experiences of other countries, such as Spain and Ireland, reinforce that lesson, demonstrating that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and a willingness to make painful choices matter more than the economy’s starting position. This applies to the future as well: Germany’s current predominance, for example, is in no way guaranteed to continue for the next 20 years.

Yet the establishment of the eurozone was backward-looking. The main concern during the 1970s and 1980s had been high and variable inflation, often driven by double-digit wage growth. Financial crises were almost always linked to bouts of inflation, but had previously been limited in scope, because financial markets were smaller and not deeply interconnected.

With the creation of the eurozone, everything changed. Wage pressures abated throughout the developed world. But financial-market activity, especially across borders within the euro area, grew exponentially, after having been repressed for decades. For example, eurozone member countries’ cross-border assets, mostly in the form of bank and other credit, grew from about 100% of GDP in the late 1990s to 400% by 2008.

Then the global financial crisis erupted a decade ago, catching Europe off guard. The first deflationary crisis since the 1930s was made especially virulent in Europe by the mountain of debt that had been accumulated in the previous ten years, when countries had their eyes on the rear-view mirror.

Of course, the eurozone was not alone in being taken by surprise by the financial crisis, which had started in the United States with supposedly safe securities based on subprime mortgages. But the US, with its unified financial (and political) system, was able to overcome the crisis relatively quickly, whereas in the eurozone, a slow-motion cascade of crises befell many member states.

Fortunately, the ECB proved robust. Its leadership recognized the need to shift focus from fighting inflation – the objective the ECB was designed to achieve – to curbing deflation. Ultimately, the euro survived, because, when push came to shove, leaders of the eurozone’s member states expended political capital to implement needed reforms – even after blaming the euro for their countries’ problems.

This pattern of demonizing the euro before recognizing the need to protect it continues to unfold today – and it should serve as a second lesson of the last 20 years. Italy’s populist coalition government used to speak bravely about flouting the euro’s rules, with some advocating an exit from the eurozone altogether. But when financial-market risk premia increased, and Italian savers did not buy their own government’s bonds, the coalition quickly changed its tune.

In fact, the eurozone’s economic performance has not been as bad as the seemingly endless stream of bleak headlines implies. Per capita GDP growth has slowed over the last 20 years, but not more so than in the US or other developed economies.

Moreover, continental European labor markets have undergone an under-reported structural improvement, with the labor-force participation rate increasing every year, even during the crisis. Today, a higher proportion of the adult population is economically active in the eurozone than in the US. Employment has reached record highs, and unemployment, though still high in some southern countries, is continuously declining.

These economic realities imply that, even if the euro is not particularly well loved, it is widely recognized as an integral element of European integration. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, support for the euro is at an all-time high of 74%, while less than 20% of the eurozone’s population opposes it. Even Italy boasts a strong pro-euro majority (68% versus 18%). Herein lies a third key lesson from the euro’s first two decades: despite its many imperfections, the common currency has delivered jobs, and there is little support for abandoning it.

But probably the most important lesson lies elsewhere. The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.

 

Daniel Gros

Image result for Daniel Gros

 

Daniel Gros is Director of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, and served as an economic adviser to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the French prime minister and finance minister. He is the editor of Economie Internationale and International Finance.

 

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


 

January 12, 2018

 

 

By: Cyril Pereira

Can planet Earth survive Asia’s economic drive?

 

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

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

Resource curse

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

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

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

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

Rethink development

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

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

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

Related image

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

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

Prioritize social equity

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

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

Strong state works

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

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

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

Patronage is king in new Malaysia?


January 12, 2019

Patronage is king in new Malaysia?

by Dr.Terence Gomez

 

COMMENT | When Dr. Mahathir Mohamad led the opposition to a stunning election victory, he had an effective rallying cry that reflected why Umno’s form of governance was problematic: “Cash is king.”

If Mahathir is not careful, worrying recent trends indicate a similarly disconcerting problem about Pakatan Harapan’s government: “Patronage is king.”

When Harapan wanted to capture power, the coalition’s leaders told Malaysians to expect real change if UMNO was expelled from government. These reforms included ending ethnically-based policies, unfailingly applied since the 1970s to justify patronage favouring bumiputera, though extremely abused to enrich politicians in power.

The Prime Minister would also no longer concurrently serve as finance minister who had under his control a slew of GLCs like 1MDB and Tabung Haji, enterprises that had been persistently abused by UMNOo. Politicians would not be appointed as directors of GLCs.

These pledges contributed to Harapan’s considerable achievement of ending authoritarian rule in Malaysia. However, Harapan has been in power barely eight months and already alarming trends are appearing which suggest that this coalition is finding ways and means to renege on its pledges.

Equally troubling is a gradual and perceptible attempt to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage in the conduct of politics and in the implementation of policies, hallmarks of UMNO politics that led to its fall.

Soon after Harapan formed the government, it created the Economic Affairs Ministry, led by Mohamed Azmin Ali. Subsequently, numerous GLCs controlled by the Finance Ministry, under the jurisdiction of Lim Guan Eng, were transferred to the Economic Affairs Ministry.

Malaysia’s only sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, was channelled from the Finance Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Department. The government did not publicly disclose why the shifting of these GLCs between ministries was necessary, but it is now clear that the Finance Ministry no longer holds enormous influence over the corporate sector.

With Khazanah under his ministry, Mahathir, though not also functioning as the Finance Minister, had secured control of Malaysia’s leading investment arm. When Mahathir argued that Khazanah had deviated from performing one of its original objectives, helping the bumiputera, this contention was disputed by numerous analysts.

Mahathir went on to appoint himself as chairperson of Khazanah, though this was, by convention, the practice. The convention also was that the finance minister should be a member of Khazanah’s board.

Instead, Azmin was given this appointment. Whether the prime minister and the economic affairs minister should have been appointed board members of Khazanah merited debate as Harapan had pledged that politicians would not be appointed as directors of government enterprises.

On Sept 1, 2018, a Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras and the Nation was convened by Azmin’s Ministry. Mahathir stressed at this convention the need to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage, targeting bumiputeras, though no longer would the government allow for the distribution of what he referred to as “easy contracts.”

Daim Zainuddin, the chair of the Committee of Eminent Persons (CEP), established to prepare a report reviewing the state of the economy, endorsed the need for such a bumiputera policy, though he acknowledged problems of the past when he said: “We want to get it right this time.” Daim also stressed that the government would strive to change the mindset of bumiputera.

The nation was not told how this policy will be altered to get it right, nor how mindsets will be changed. Meanwhile, the CEP report, though submitted to the government, was not publicly disclosed.

Instead, the bumiputera policy was stressed when the Economic Affairs Ministry released its Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, while other ministers have actively affirmed that GLCs will be divested, an issue also in the 2019 budget. Given Malaysia’s long history of political patronage, worrying questions come to mind of these divestments.

For example, one important equity sale by Khazanah, an issue that barely secured any analysis in the press, was that of its interests in CIMB, the country’s second-largest bank. Khazanah reduced its equity holding in CIMB by 0.66 percent, a seemingly small divestment.

However, does this sale mark the beginning of the transfer of control of CIMB to well-connected business people, even proxies of politicians, a common practice by UMNO in the 1990s? Will Harapan, through such divestments, move to create a new breed of powerful well-connected business groups, even oligarchs, a trend seen in other countries transiting from authoritarian rule to democracy?

‘Dr M should know better’

Another worrying issue occurred recently. Rural and Regional Development Minister Rina Harun of Mahathir’s party, Bersatu, approved the appointment of politicians from her party to the boards of directors of GLCs under her control.

This is extremely worrying because, under UMNO, the Rural and Regional Development Ministry was persistently embroiled in allegations of corruption, with MARA being the prime example.

The practice of patronage through GLCs to draw electoral support was rampant under this ministry as it has a huge presence in states with a bumiputera-majority population.

So important is this ministry, in terms of mobilising electoral support, that it was always placed under the control of a senior UMNO leader. During Najib Abdul Razak’s administration, then UMNO Vice- President, Mohd Shafie Apdal, served as its minister before he was unceremoniously removed from office. Shafie was replaced by Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Najib’s close ally.

What Rina, once an UMNO member, has done by appointing politicians to GLCs under her authority is so reminiscent of patronage practices that had undermined the activities of these enterprises.

Azmin subsequently endorsed what Rina had done on the grounds that “there are some politicians who have professional background, such as accountants, engineers or architects, who can contribute to GLCs”.

Mahathir should know better than to allow this. After all, he had stressed that GLCs function to fulfil a “noble vision”, including the alleviation of poverty, equitable wealth distribution and spatial development, promotion of rural industries and the fostering of entrepreneurial companies in new sectors of the economy. Mahathir had also persistently referred to Malaysia’s complex ensemble of GLCs as a “monster.”

During Najib’s administration, this vast GLC network, created primarily to fulfil the bumiputera agenda, became tools easily exploited by UMNO, so visibly manifested in serious corruption associated with Felda and Tabung Haji.

However, Harapan has refused to establish an independent committee to review this extremely complex GLC network that operates at the federal and state levels. Is this reluctance because Harapan plans to similarly employ GLCs for the practice of patronage, as recent trends suggest?

What is clear, even becoming the norm, is Harapan’s consistent message to the nation: selectively targeted patronage will continue. The primary advocate of this message is Bersatu, an UMNO off-shoot.

 

At Bersatu’s first convention after securing power, held two weeks ago, its president, Muhyiddin Yassin, was quoted as saying: “As a party for the ‘pribumi’ or indigenous group, Bersatu should not be apologetic to champion the bumiputera agenda”.

Muhyiddin went on to say: “No one in our society will be left behind. Hence, this agenda is not a racial agenda, but a national agenda.” These statements are strikingly similar to what Umno had stressed when in power.

These trends suggest that for Harapan, and Bersatu in particular, consolidating power, by marshalling bumiputera support, is its primary concern, not instituting appropriate economic and social reforms.

If the government hopes to change mindsets, Harapan must focus on just universal-based policies that assist all Malaysians. In the process, disenfranchised bumiputera will also be supported. Patronage need not be king.


TERENCE GOMEZ is a professor of political economy at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Universiti Malaya.

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