Vision 2020 marred by scandals, corruption and abuse of power

October 22, 2015

Vision 2020 marred by scandals, corruption and abuse of power

by Dr. Lee Hwok-Aun

Financial scandals, public protests against corruption and authoritarianism, economic anxiety and a depreciating currency are factors that would threaten the position of any elected national leader. Not in Malaysia.

Lee_Hwok_Aun_0511-480x360Faced with the above, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has maintained his grip on the prime ministership. But with his credibility damaged, public trust shattered, and his signature 1Malaysia concept buried, his policy record increasingly hinges on fulfilling transformation.

The Global Transformation Forum, running in Kuala Lumpur October 21-23, will showcase Malaysia’s new policy making and monitoring model, and perhaps cast a warm glow on the administration.

Malaysia’s economic and government transformation programs are driven by Dato’ Idris Jala, Najib’s cabinet appointee and CEO of the performance management and delivery unit, and chief proponent of the “Big Fast Results” method for undertaking such endeavours.

The Prime Minister’s continued blessing for such programs has been returned with loyalty, such that even the crafting of political funding reform was entrusted to Idris and Paul Low, the Minister of Governance and Integrity.

Notably as well, Najib withdrew from launching a major global anti-corruption conference in August, but delivered the opening address of this forum. How far can the programs transform Malaysia and preserve the power of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition? The regime counts on two important balances tipping in its favor: short-term gains outweighing long-term goals and service delivery overshadowing government integrity.

Malaysia’s policy horizon is short, by destiny and by choice. Less than five years remain until the nation’s day of reckoning with Vision 2020, a grand mission launched in 1991 by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Come 2020, Malaysia is supposed to already be a fully developed nation, attaining high income, capability and technology, and fostering a democratic, liberal, progressive and innovative society.

But in reality, reaching these lofty goals will take a longer time, beyond 2020. With Malaysia’s economy continuing to grow faster than the high-income entry bar, it will join the club, although when is uncertain.

Achieving that target will also yield political returns. It is a distinct and quantifiable accomplishment. Continual public spending of growth dividends on the lower-income population does provide some help in times of economic stress, while shoring up electoral support.

Short-term bias is accentuated by design; Malaysia’s transformation model favors programs that generate big fast results and filters out those that do not.The selection process is disinclined toward initiatives that require long and slow gestations, although a number of such projects will make it through.

idris-jala-pemandu-genericOn the one hand, commitment to short-term fixes is spirited, such as the implementation of Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia — or better known as BR1M — a program of massive cash transfers to lower-income families. On the other hand, the government is lukewarm in its pursuit of systemic, broad-based innovation and sociopolitical maturation.

This trumping of immediate, quantifiable targets over gradual, qualitative progress is particularly stark in the education system, which is vital for sustaining socioeconomic advancement over the long term.

In schools and universities, learning outcomes and performance targets are spelled out while resources and personnel are constrained by standardization and audit requirements. Inquisitiveness, creativity and critical thinking remain barely encouraged. International recognition of this model revolves around its methods more than its contents.

PEMANDU has instituted a streamlined mechanism for consultative policy formulation, detailed planning, internal monitoring and performance assessments. The methodology has clearly spurred heated discussion and generated novel programs.

But far-reaching transformation entails major structural change, even disruptive contents and breakpoints. Leadership change often precedes transformational change, and there must be substantial cohesion between messenger and message, between the authority and the agenda.

Malaysia’s transformation is now being executed by a scandal-tainted Prime Minister heading a controlling and change-resistant establishment — the Barisan Nasional coalition that has held power for almost sixty years.

Governments the world over gain legitimacy and placate discontent by providing material goods and managing economic affairs. But in Najib’s case, the onus on government service delivery to scrub away doubts about his personal integrity is particularly high.

Transformation halts at pivotal points. From the political funding reform dialogue so far, it seems the US$700 million deposited into the Prime Minister’s personal account has already been exonerated as a “donation.”

Transformation into a more responsive government requires consultation in policy formulation and regular self-reporting of performance outcomes. But Najib’s government remains decidedly opposed to freer and fairer elections, accountability of the executive to parliament, rule of law, and freedom of information.

To be fair, these bigger issues lie beyond PEMANDU’s ambit; its programs specifically address economic and government transformation. But the exclusion of political transformation is precisely the problem from a national standpoint.

As technocratic as PEMANDU may be, the enduring impact of its programs lies in the hands of Malaysia’s untransformed political masters. – Nikkei Asian Review, October 22, 2015.

* Dr.Hwok-Aun Lee is a senior lecturer in development studies at the University of Malaya.

Malaysia–End of Freedom of Speech

May 16, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Malaysia–End of Freedom of Speech

Prime Minister Najib Razak has chosen to go back to the politics of race and religion and use draconian laws to suppress political opposition and people’s dissent. You can expect more as Najib struggles to survive politically. As Prime Minister, he has let the nation down by flip-flopping on policy,  and by pandering to the demands of extremist elements in his party and ultra nationalist NGOs like PERKASA and ISMA. The evidence is clear and that is Malaysia in heading towards being a failed state headed by a weak leader who is no longer trusted by a majority of Malaysians.

najib-n-obamajpgObama and his Malaysian Poodle–TPPA Agenda

What surprises me is that the Obama Administration has chosen to ignore this reality because Najib has become their poodle. The United States, the so-called champion of democracy, freedom and justice, remains muted in its criticisms of the UMNO-Barisan Nasional regime. As someone who was educated in the United States and is an admirer of the sterling qualities of the American people including their generosity,I can understand what is happening because the politics in Washington  DC which is driven by corporate vested interests and strong lobby groups does not necessarily represent the feelings and views of Americans.

Malaysia without AnwarThe Obama Administration knows that Malaysia is no longer a moderate Muslim country; yet it chooses to ignore the views of the Malaysian people  as depicted in the Al-Jazeera video (below). Najib’s Coalition of the Moderates is a hoax. The country is being led by thieves of state (kleptocrats) who can act with impunity. This is because our institutions of governance has been destroyed by UMNO and its complicit partners, which has ruled Malaysia for nearly 60 years. –Din Merican

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression Gets Ignored

October 24, 2014

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression gets Ignored

by Joshua Kurlantzick

malaysia lawyer protest march

Malaysian lawyers march during a protest calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16, 2014. The Sedition Act has been used to arrest at least 30 people since last March, local media reported (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters).

Amidst the gushing over the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first outsider, non-elite President in Indonesia’s democratic era, there is a significant void of international interest in neighboring Malaysia, where the climate for freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated badly in the past year. Over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, which in Najib’s first term had promised to improve the climate for civil liberties and abolish long-hated laws that allowed detention without trial, has shifted course. The government has pursued a sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that, next week, almost surely will end with Anwar being sentenced to jail, though the case was a comedy of ridiculous “evidence” and coached witnesses. (To be clear—I don’t think sodomy should be a crime, but it is in Malaysia; even so, there was no verifiable evidence Anwar actually engaged in this “crime.”)

In addition, over the past year the Malaysian government has investigated and/or charged at least thirty people with sedition, under an archaic law it had promised to eliminate, according to the Malaysian Bar Council. Most of those investigated and charged have been journalists, opposition politicians, and prominent civil society activists. The situation has gotten so dangerous for Malaysian civil society that last week hundreds of Malaysian lawyers, who normally are relatively passive in the political arena, marched through the capital to protest the government’s use of sedition laws to stifle dissent.

Why has this crackdown occurred? Najib has had to satisfy hard-line voices within his ruling coalition, and to fend off increasingly public criticism from former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. To satisfy hard-liners and Mahathir supporters—often the same people within the ruling coalition—Najib apparently has acceded to this harder-line policy against civil society and opposition politicians, whether or not he actually supports the crackdown.

In many ways, Najib seems increasingly divorced from the business of governing at all, taking long overseas trips while the country stagnates economically, state carrier Malaysian Airlines faces severe trouble, and the political environment becomes increasingly partisan and dangerous.

Although the Obama administration made improving relations with Malaysia aanwar-ibrahim-recent policy priority, it has mostly ignored the deteriorating climate for human rights and democracy in the country. When President Obama visited Malaysia earlier this year, he declined to meet with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (right) and held a brief grip-and-grin with a few Malaysian civil society activists. Other than that, Obama spent most of his time praising the Najib government. The White House has released just a perfunctory statement about Anwar’s trial and likely sentencing next week.

Ignoring the crackdown in Malaysia will eventually have long-term repercussions for the United States. Young Malaysians overwhelmingly support Anwar’s opposition PKR coalition, which won the popular vote in national parliamentary elections in 2013 but did not take control of parliament due to fraud and massive gerrymandering. They also tend to voice support for the civil society activists and journalists who have recently been targeted by the government in Kuala Lumpur.

Many reform-minded young Malaysians have been mystified when the United States, which a decade ago had been so vocal about democracy in Southeast Asia, and which still has significant influence in the region, has said almost nothing about the regression from freedom in Malaysia. In previous eras, American rhetorical support for democracy, American pressure against authoritarian leaders, and American linkage of aid and investment to political change had played a critical role in fostering democratization in East Asia.

In the 1980s, concerted American pressure on the governments of the Philippines and South Korea—after years of American tolerance of Ferdinand Marcos and a series of South Korean dictators—was a major reason why democracy prevailed in Manila and Seoul. A decade after Marcos gave way to the original “People Power” movement, sustained foreign pressure on governments in Cambodia and Indonesia and Thailand, in addition to many other domestic factors within these countries, helped precipitate political reform in these nations. Unfortunately, that type of pressure is absent today.

Malaysia not a secular state : says who ?

Malaysia not secular state, gov’t says
By Ram Anand

posted from Taipei, Taiwan

Jun 17, 2014

PARLIAMENT The government has stressed that Malaysia is not a secular state due to the special position of Islam in the framework of the federal constitution.

Article 3(1) and 50.4 percent of the 30 million population in Malaysia being Muslim do not make the Federation an Islamic state.

Article 3(1) and 50.4 percent of the 30 million population in Malaysia being Muslim do not make the Federation an Islamic state.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom said so in a written answer to Oscar Ling Chai Yew (DAP-Sibu) in Parliament last week.

Jamil Khir also stressed that the constitution does not provide for the civil court to have jurisdiction over matters under the purview of the Syariah Court.

“Regarding the question as to whether Malaysia is a secular state or an Islamic country, it is stressed here that Malaysia is not a secular country,” Jamil Khir said in his answer.

He said that this was based on “history” where Malaysia was established based an Islamic sultanate government and Malay sultans are heads of Islam for the respective states.

“This is further strenghtened by Article 3 of the federal constitution, which clearly states that Islam is the religion for the federation,” Jamil Khir further said.

Jamir Khir said that secular countries do not have a religion as the country’s religion.

Ling had asked Jamil Khir about the implementation of hudud and and whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic state.

However, Jamil Khir stressed that the government is still studying the feasibility of implementing hudud in Malaysia.


Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?

by Joshua Kurlantzick via Council on Foreign Relations
April 8, 2014

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance.

No matter, say some Southeast Asia experts. Some of Obama’s advisors, and many Southeast Asia experts, are urging the president to use the trip to cement a strategic partnership with Malaysia and establishing a roadmap for the kind of higher-level strategic cooperation that the United States already enjoys with Singapore and Thailand, among other countries in the region.

This approach to the Malaysia visit would mean downplaying – or simply not even discussing – serious regression in Malaysia’s domestic politics, including the recent sentencing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail for sodomy, the highly flawed 2013 national elections that barely kept Prime Minister Najib tun Razak in office, and the increasingly shrill, anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rhetoric and legislation of the Najib government, hardly the kind of sentiments a supposed leader of political moderation should be espousing. According to this logic, if President Obama were to bring up such unpleasant issues as the Malaysian government’s crackdown on opponents over the past year or its unwillingness to reform pro-Malay policies that have entrenched a culture of graft and self-dealing at many Malaysian companies, that would sink the visit.

Under Najib, Malaysia and the United States have, on a strategic level, moved beyond some of the acrimony of the Mahathir and Abdullah years, and have made progress on a wide range of military-military and diplomatic cooperation. Najib definitely deserves some credit for this rapprochement, though growing Malaysian fear about China’s South China Sea policies are probably the main driver behind closer strategic ties with Washington.

But simply ignoring the disastrous Najib policies on human rights, political freedoms, and economic liberalization would not be a wise move by Obama. For one, it would play into the narrative that Obama cares little about rights and democracy promotion, a narrative that has gained significant force not only in Washington but also among many Southeast Asian activists and young people in general. And ignoring Malaysia’s opposition politicians, who won the popular vote in the 2013 national elections and enjoy their strongest support among young Malaysians, would be alienating the biggest growing pool of Malaysian voters. As in other countries in the region, like Cambodia and Indonesia, these young voters are increasingly favoring opposition parties or new figures like Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, breaking from long-ruling, autocratic parties. The United States should be cultivating these young voters who will prove critical to the region’s democratization. This new generation will eventually power the Malaysian opposition, in some form, to the prime minister’s office. It would be a shame if the United States president had ignored them, and their party leaders, before then.

Rosmah’s Gifts and Ethics

April 28, 2013

Rosmah’s Gifts and Ethics


Recently Caretaker FLOM, Rosmah Mansor, said that she accepted all the gifts offered to her by foreign dignitaries because it would be rude not to accept them and what was a poor FLOM supposed to do?

“When people give you something, of course it’s not nice to reject it,” Rosmah wrote in a self-titled biography launched yesterday by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“And when I’m given the gifts, I wear them. Why would you want to just keep them in a safe when the items were given sincerely, are beautiful and can be used? It’s a waste if they’re just kept in a safety deposit box,” the wife of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak added. (from Malaysian Insider here)

Well clearly there is another way to handle these situations. The Daily Beast is reporting that the Sarkozy’s used to lavish their friends with expensive gifts. The Obama’s received from the Sarkozy’s over $41,000 worth of bags, towels, etc. Hillary Clinton received three Hermes scarves.

How does the United States handle this? It’s simple. Sitting elected officials are not permitted to accept gifts from anyone. There are Ethics Committees in all branches of the US government that regulate what employees of the US government are allowed to receive and not receive. For example here is a snippet form the Senate Ethics Committee website:

No Member, officer, or employee shall knowingly accept a gift except as provided by the Gifts Rule.

A Member, officer, or employee may accept a gift, other than cash or cash equivalent, having a value of less than $50, provided that the source of the gift is not a registered lobbyist, foreign agent, or private entity that retains or employs such individuals.  The cumulative value of gifts that may be accepted from any one source in a calendar year must be less than $100.  Generally, gifts having a value of less than $10 do not count toward the annual limit.  See Senate Rule 35.1(a)

The White House/Executive branch has similar rules outlined in detail here. It’s clear why such rules need to be in place. When you are in the seat of power, small (or large) gifts from foreign and domestic agents can be used as leverage in any sort of negotiation that comprise the integrity of the relationship. The onus should be on the public servant to want to defend his integrity to the fullest degree.

Which takes us back to Rosmah’s absurd statement. It speaks for itself when you’re talking about a party which is propped up by patronage and corruption. Accepting a few Hermes scarves, Rolex watches etc. is practically a non-issue when you think about the billion of dollars squandered away in no-bid contracts, flawed procurements and under the table deals.

The need for greater transparency in these dealings is essential. But fundamentally, people must elect leaders who they believe have a strong ethical compass that would make them think twice about these types of transgressions.–Din Merican