April 17, 2019
January 13, 2019
New York Times Book Review: “The Truths We Hold”
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
I was raised to do things, not to talk about myself or my feelings — or frankly, even to look back. It was an effort to talk about my feelings as things were happening. It was difficult. I talk about a lot that’s really personal, and that I had not talked about in public. That was a component of it that made me feel very vulnerable. But I felt it was important to talk about for a couple of reasons. One, I’m really clear in my mind that there are a lot of experiences I’ve had, emotional experiences and responses, that are in common with a lot of people. But more important, I wanted to give context to the work I’ve done. Almost everything I’ve done professionally has been motivated by some experience I’ve been exposed to.
The process of writing the book required me to really explore what I was feeling at those moments. For example, the whole chapter that we named “Underwater” — I had never talked about the fact that our mother bought our first house when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget, when my mother came back and said, “This is going to be our home.” The pictures and the excitement she had, and the excitement we then had. I connected that emotion to what it meant for all those homeowners who either had that hope when they engaged in what ended up being a fraudulent mortgage scheme or when they lost their homes. Knowing what that meant, when I’m sitting across the table from executives at the biggest banks in the country and feeling a sense of responsibility, that this wasn’t simply a financial transaction. When your mother comes home with the picture of the first home you’re ever going to have, it’s not like someone waving around a piece of paper with a stock portfolio. It’s a whole other thing.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
Hopefully the book takes the reader on a journey down memory lane about the last 12 months and how much happened. Everything is happening so rapidly right now that a lot of people tend to forget what just happened six months ago, when the thing that happened six months ago was earth-shattering. There’s a lot in the book that was happening in real time; so literally as I’m writing it, it’s happening. The book was due and then the Brett Kavanaugh hearings happened, and so how do I handle that? It was important to me to at least try to talk about that, knowing that people will be reading about it months after it happened.
“I hope you’ll walk away renewing your faith in the nobility and importance of public service, and convinced that we are a country that was founded on noble ideals. Imperfect though we may be, what makes us strong, and special, is that we’ve always aspired to reach those ideals.”–Kamala Harris.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
Certainly my mother. She was incredibly creative, as a scientist. But when I think about performers: Bob Marley. I first started listening to him when I was a child. My father had an incredible jazz collection but also a lot of Marley. I saw him in concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. I was hooked.
Jamaica’s history is actually not that well known in the context of the issues we deal with in the United States. But Jamaica grappled with vicious slavery for generations, and then colonists, with a very strong sense of identity in terms of what it meant to be particularly a black Jamaican. A lot of his music was about what it means to fight for the people. He was a very spiritual person also. I’m very spiritual. I don’t talk a lot about it, but the idea that there is a higher being and that we should be motivated by love of one another — that also requires us to fight.
Persuade someone to read “The Truths We Hold” in 50 words or less.
I hope you’ll walk away renewing your faith in the nobility and importance of public service, and convinced that we are a country that was founded on noble ideals. Imperfect though we may be, what makes us strong, and special, is that we’ve always aspired to reach those ideals.
January 5, 2019
COMMENT | The last time I used a no-frills airline was three years ago. I flew on EasyJet flying from London’s Gatwick to Zurich for 25 pounds sterling. The last trip to KLIA2 was two years ago to pick up my daughter who was returning from Auckland.
In early May, I took a decision (like many other Malaysians) not to opt for the no-frills airline operating in Malaysia. I didn’t buy the story of the “pressure” and neither was I convinced that livery could have been designed, manufactured and stuck on an Airbus in a matter of days. We’ll leave that for another day.
But if I had stepped into the terminal of KLIA2 (what people call a “shopping complex” in an airport) and noticed maggots coming out of a rubbish bin, I would whip out my mobile phone and take images of them. I would then pen a commentary with a link to the video.
If I had put it on social media, I would have merely been a citizen carrying out my civil duties and perhaps doing “national service” to point out shortcomings in the system. Since I pay a princely sum to Malaysian Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) for passenger service charges, I would expect a certain level of standards, especially when it comes to hygiene and food safety.
That was precisely what AirAsia Head of communications Mohd Aziz Laikar Ali did. Instead of being appreciated for his services, he was initially summoned by the police to have his statement today for “hurting” the image of MAHB.
(Aziz has since clarified that his “meeting” with the police to have his statement taken is not taking place but this is not the real issue. The about-turn obviously came due to public displeasure and negative vibes that both organisations created.)
The crux of the issue is that Aziz had posted a video showing a rubbish bin covered with maggots at the airport while questioning a “fancy” statement issued by MAHB last week about its commendable performance in airport management for the month of October this year. Why did the police call him in the first place? Why did MAHB file a police report? What necessitated it?
For MAHB and the police, you have done damage to yourselves and are now trying to repair or contain that damage. This is an exercise in futility and the outcomes remain inconsequential. In short, both shot themselves in their respective feet and are suffering the consequences.
As one who stood up and vehemently opposed the Anti-Fake News Bill early this year, I had warned about authorities misusing the legislation. Had it not been revoked, there could have been dire circumstances. Even so, this is no fake news unless Aziz had captured the images elsewhere and purported it as at one of the gates. That’s just too farfetched even to imagine.
Like-minded citizens are the least interested in a war of words or dispute between Air Asia and MAHB but to use the police to silence a citizen (wherever he or she is employed) smacks of conceit, thoughtlessness, and arrogance and above all sheer stupidity.
Didn’t the bigwigs at MAHB consider the backlash they would face for such an odious and hateful move against a legitimate grouse of an airport user? Or were they under the impression that their shortcomings would be suppressed by bullying the ordinary man?
To suggest that Aziz had maliciously circulated the pictures should be summarily dismissed as sheer nonsense. Would they have done the same to the scores of disgruntled passengers who write to the media or use other platforms to air their grouses?
And the police, what the heck are you doing? Why are you wasting valuable time, effort and money pursuing this case when you should be catching criminals and keeping our streets safe? If you are so bothered about protecting the image of MAHB, shouldn’t you be protecting the image of this country as a multi-racial and tolerant society?
Every day, scores of racist and defamatory statements are posted on social media. Last night, someone stood up and spoke at a rally in Klang. He provoked the crowd and threatened to attack a police station. Yet, the Police stood as silent as the grave, arms folded and allowed the speaker to pour scorn (without any basis) on individuals and organisations. (We have since been told that the case is being investigated.)
It is these kinds of action and inaction that prompt people to have a negative view of the Police Force. The people would be happier if the same effort is put into maintaining some semblance of law and order in the drop-off and pick-up points at the airport.
So much has been written and said about luxury cars with special number plates being allowed to park in areas where parking is strictly prohibited. The policemen with their summons books walk past appearing oblivious to the vehicles which are causing all the problems.
The MAHB and Police have both damaged their own reputations by indulging in this witch-hunt. People are pouring scorn on the Police for being used to settle a private and commercial dispute. Enough is enough. Get your priorities right.
By the way, should I prepare for a call from the authorities for speaking out? I am not discounting the possibility of MAHB lodging a police report for “hurting” their image. Also not discounted is the police calling me in to have my statement recorded.
R. NADESWARAN has written extensively on the bully-culture in some of our government departments, statutory bodies and agencies. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
December 4 ,2018
Historians will measure the presidency of George H.W. Bush in familiar ways — by how well or poorly he managed the major domestic and international challenges of his time, his leadership qualities, the moral and social legacies he left for future generations.
Yet, at the moment of his passing, it is difficult not to take note of the profound differences between the 41st president of the United States and the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump. Beyond a desire to be president — Mr. Bush was more competitive and ambitious than his self-effacing personality sometimes suggested — there is almost nothing in common: the one gracious and modest, the other rude and vain; the one prudent, the other brash; the one steady, the other unmoored.
Mr. Bush’s death on Friday is also a moment to recall a less quarrelsome political order, when relations with traditional allies were more cordial than combative, when government attracted people of talent and integrity for whom public service offered a purpose higher than self-enrichment, when the Republican Party, though slowly slipping into the tentacles of zealots like Newt Gingrich, still offered room for people with pragmatic policies and sensible dispositions.
Mr. Bush’s tenure was shorter than he had hoped, and ended ingloriously in a lopsided defeat at the hands of an upstart governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, presaged by a huge drop in Mr. Bush’s approval rating from nearly 90 percent at the time of the 1991 Gulf War to the mid-30s in the summer before the election. Fingers pointed in every direction after his defeat — a deteriorating economy, a divisive convention in Houston, a disjointed campaign. But one big reason for Mr. Bush’s precipitous fall was Mr. Bush himself, chiefly his inability to convince Americans that he understood the depth of their fears or could summon up a coherent plan for addressing them.
What Mr. Bush had impatiently dismissed as “the vision thing” — in an interview with a Time magazine writer in 1987 who had pressed him for his governing philosophy — turned out to be precisely what the voters found missing in him five years later. Even after four years as president and a quarter-century in public life, Mr. Bush seemed to many Americans a distant and diffident figure, a caretaker without strong purpose or compelling strategy.
A Times editorial after his defeat called Mr. Bush “an incomplete president” — good at some things but clumsy at others. Fate had dealt him one of the strongest hands in foreign affairs ever awarded a new president, and for the most part he played that hand cleverly and energetically. But when it came time to rescue a depressed nation, he had little to offer, either spiritually or in terms of coherent policy. With the economy in decline in the winter of 1992, he told a New Hampshire audience, as if reading from a cue card, “Message: I care.” That very formulation, a bit precious and patronizing under the circumstances, fell well short of the kind of the emotional jolt the moment called for. His opponent, Mr. Clinton, found a much more resonant message: “I feel your pain.”
Mr. Bush’s political persona was no less baffling. He could be charming on the campaign trail, sometimes in an endearingly goofy way. On that same foray into New Hampshire he got so wound up trying to show his down-home persona by quoting a song from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that he called the band “the Nitty Ditty Nitty Gritty Great Bird.” On another occasion, he referred to the endangered spotted owl, a source of contention among loggers in the Pacific Northwest, as “that little furry-feathery guy.”
Yet, often in the heat of combat, Mr. Bush’s good manners and amiable disposition gave way to bombast and shrill exploitation of fears of race and crime. His 1988 campaign infamously strove to tie his opponent, Michael Dukakis, to an African-American named Willie Horton who committed rape after being released on a weekend furlough program — an effort for which Mr. Bush’s attack-dog campaign manager, Lee Atwater, later apologized.
So hapless was Mr. Bush’s last year in office that it was easy to overlook his early successes. He began smartly, moving quickly to end the ideological combat of the Reagan years, broke cleanly on environmental issues with his indifferent predecessor — the upgrade of the nation’s clean air laws was a major achievement — faced up to the savings and loan scandal and offered creative approaches to the debt of developing nations, especially in Latin America.
Foreign policy was Mr. Bush’s great strength, and of his diplomatic contributions, two stand out. One was to keep America and the Soviet Union moving forward along a path to peace charted by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, a path that in time led to the reunification of Germany, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, more broadly, the end of nearly a half-century of Cold War. These transforming events may well have occurred no matter who occupied the White House, but the fact is they happened under Mr. Bush, who managed these changes with skill and saw them through to a successful conclusion. As he put it in his acceptance speech at the 1992 convention, “I saw a chance to help and I did.”
Not so much ‘New M’sia Government, but one consumed by a shiok sendiri syndrome and groping in the darkSeptember 27, 2018 by R. Nadeswaran@www.malaysiakini.com COMMENT
William Lyons, a senior lecturer at the Glasgow University argues that fear of the dark is usually not a fear of darkness itself, but a fear of possible or imagined dangers concealed by darkness. When fear of the dark reaches a degree that is severe enough, it is considered pathological.
Pakatan Harapan Defense Minister who became a Fighter Pilot overnight– A Case of Shiok Sendiri
Imitating an UMNO Fighter Pilot
This is not a class on fear and darkness, but provides a fairly accurate description of how some Pakatan Harapan leaders – including ministers – are performing. After almost five months in government, they are still groping in the dark and this becomes inexcusable.
To put it more succinctly and concisely, they are not stumbling in darkness but tipping over each other in broad daylight. Offering none, or sometimes nonsensical, solutions to the problems facing the citizens, some of their utterances and actions have bordered on incongruity.
This is no report card on the government. We elected our Members of Parliament (MPs) for five years but transversely, the events since May 9 have been emitting a sense of hopelessness among the common folk. Not that the public expects the sky and moon, but would just like to see changes that would offer a better quality of life.
Let’s not beat around the bush – any government or a set of lawmakers will do better than BN– with closed eyes even if one does not try. BN’s track record over the past six decades was so abysmal, appalling and dreadful, that even minor changes would look astronomical.
The (new) government was elected on the premise (among others) that it would root out corruption, cut out cronyism, promote meritocracy, address weaknesses in the administration and revamp the government machinery so that the people will be the eventual beneficiaries of such changes. The people were promised improvements and reforms and doing away with nonsensical pieces of legislation.
Little of this has been seen. Take the much-talked about child marriages as an example. Why is there so much pussyfooting over an issue that can be solved, just by taking away the jurisdiction given to religious courts.
Excuses after excuse have been given including one that there would be legal and social implications if the minimum age of marriage is increased to 18 years.
What legal and social implications, one may ask? For the previous regime, the escape-all clause when everything else failed, was to throw in the religious or the race card. It is ludicrous that a child is allowed to be married based on culture, religion and customs, which are actually excuses to not accepting international standards in human rights. Ditto for the current set of lawmakers.Parliament not football pitch
How and why should an elected MP resign? What is the co-relation between “Langkah Port Dickson” and parliamentary reforms?
The last time we heard of the phrase, the then speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia got a new toilet and an expensive set of furniture for his office!
Parliamentarians are lawmakers. Parliament is not a football pitch were substitution is allowed anytime without any rhyme or reason – according to the whims and fancies of the coach or manager.
When BN put up posters before nomination day in the last election, they were accused of breaking election laws. Drive around Port Dickson today and you’ll notice giant banners and buntings. What reform, when the law breaker is seeking office?
And why should the Education Minister play a dual role as the president of a university? However one look at it, he is conflicted, but he is finding all kinds of excuses to justify his acceptance.
Elsewhere, intra-party affairs and disputes seem to be distracting some of the leaders. Instead of seeking to implement changes and ideas, too much time is being spent on politicking.
The former premier has adopted a “make-a statement-a-day” routine and our ministers are keeping him relevant by responding and making him important. He ought to be told the literal meaning of the legal doctrine of “those seeking equity must come with clean hands”.
‘No more political appointees in government-linked companies’ was the battle pre-May 9. The head honchos who made up the pancaragam which composed and sang BN’s campaign song found themselves out of their jobs. So, did scores of others, but who were their replacements?
On the administration side, there is little visible change. It still takes ages for some government departments to respond to letters; the “pegawai pergi mesyuarat” (the officer’s in a meeting) slogan is frequently used to avoid contact with citizens and other old practices. Self-appointed regulators of public morals are still imposing their values, including dress codes on visitors. They seem more interested in the length of the skirts than the issues they have to address.
Why haven’t they been reined in? Yet again, the answer would be: “It is a sensitive issue.” Many are reluctant and refuse to adopt Transport Minister Anthony Loke’s diktats – those who find female flight attendants’ uniforms too sexy should turn their heads away and not look at them.
The only visible change is the move to do away with the sign-off, which means nothing. From “saya yang menurut perintah” (I’m just following orders), it has become “saya yang menjalankan amanah” (I’m just following the mandate). Everything else including mindsets remain status quo. How does it help improvise delivery?
The attitude and brashness of most civil servants has not changed. They seem stuck in the old culture, and continue to act as Little Napoleons ruling their own fiefdom.
Public opinion matters little to Harapan lawmakers, who now believe they can walk on water. The mainstream media which pilloried, denounced and humiliated them when they were on the wrong side of the divide, has suddenly changed tack. These days, the editors (and censors) are now lining up to “pay homage” to very same leaders they had once pounced on, like vultures devouring a carcass.
Instead of using its new-found freedom and being objective, it wants to continue its insalubrious role as the supporter of the ruling elite. There has hardly been a whimper on the weaknesses which are so visible. Every citizen including journalists has a right to demand explanations on expenditure and policies because this government promised transparency and accountability.
Asking questions and requesting for justification does not make anyone a lesser Malaysian.
R NADESWARAN has no party affiliation and believes that the it is not an offence to hold government accountable. A good government must priorities good governance. Comments: email@example.com
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
August 20, 2018
Malaysian Civil Service Reform requires Political Will
Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency… Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.–T K Chua
I refer to the letter, “Is there hope for the civil service?” by Dr Amar-Singh HSS.
As a former government servant, I too can relate to what he was saying although I have tried to avoid writing about it directly.
The environment in the civil service is more than stifling. It is also where favouritism, parochialism and bigotry are allowed to thrive. Discrimination in terms of recruitment, promotion and posting is routine and done with impunity. Tokenism has evolved into a fine art. If you are assertive and smart, be prepared to be sidelined and marginalised.
A Bloated, Mediocre, Unproductive Malay dominated civil service
The civil service values mediocrity – this is absurd but true. The top echelon of the civil service is not populated by the smartest, but they know how to play politics to the hilt. To survive and keep the goodies to themselves, all they need to do is to quickly align themselves with the new regime. Soon, you will find top civil servants praising Dr Mahathir Mohamad sky high, just like they did with other Prime Ministers.
As a body, the civil service has its own inertia. It is not known for efficiency and progressiveness. On the contrary, the service is often associated with wastage, lack of initiative and poor service orientation.
The civil service is essentially an input-driven organisation, i.e. it will not move an inch without additional manpower and resources. Redeployment, revamp and reorganisation are hardly part of its consideration. That is why the civil service is ever expanding, often not in tandem with the size of the economy.
Reports like the above which was written by two top civil servants of the Mahathir 1.0 Era, Tun Ahmad Sarji and Tan Sri Mahmud bin Taib are useless when there is no political will to undertake serious reforms.
Left on its own, I don’t think the civil service will ever change. It will remain insular, discriminatory and even racist.
Change must come from the political leadership. There must be an insistence on greater diversity at the intake level. There must be an insistence on promotion and posting based on fairness, meritocracy and competency.
We must temper the rights and privileges of communities with the need for competition, efficiency and performance. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be talking so much about greater dynamism and competitiveness for this country.
TK Chua is an FMT reader.