Saturday, October 31, 2015

The structural regression of Malaysian manufacturing

The economists at the ADB has given a cogent analysis of the structural economic challenge now being faced by Malaysia. This has been bothering me for the longest possible time. Perhaps the part of the analysis set out below that annoys me the most is the view that the present structural deformities could have been avoided if Malaysia's economic planning had been more objective and less dogmatic. This may be one of the matters haunting the likes of Dr M and, if it isn't, it should. Not the least reason being the fact that he had a good 22 years of dominance to get it right. Structural economic deformities are not things that happened overnight. It is a slow and debilitating accretive process that could have been treated.

Malaysia’s manufacturing sector is reversing to a state reminiscent of its post-colonial stage of development. Regrettably this situation was avoidable.

When the Federation of Malaya gained independence from Britain in 1957, economic conditions were ripe for rapid and sustained growth. Its primary export sector was showing immense potential for expansion. Primary commodities — particularly tin ore and natural rubber — accounted for a third of Malaysia’s GDP and over 75 per cent of exports by 1970, a legacy of its colonial past.

But manufactured exports accounted for less than 10 per cent, raising concerns that heavy reliance on a few commodities left Malaysia vulnerable to terms-of-trade shocks from swings in commodity prices. There was little economic diversification up to the 1980s, with already undersized manufacturing focused on little more than processing agricultural and mining output.

Several terms-of-trade shocks in the early 1980s — followed by global recession a few years later — did ultimately balloon fiscal and current account deficits, setting the stage for radical reform. A new National Development Policy was introduced in 1990, easing the affirmative action strictures of the pro-ethnic Malay New Economic Policy (NEP) and placing wealth creation ahead of wealth redistribution. The Promotion of Investment Act of 1986 extended generous incentives for private investors and relaxed regulations on foreign direct investment (FDI), allowing for full foreign ownership of export-oriented companies. Massive FDI inflows ensued.

These reforms opened Malaysia’s gates to the global production network and it succeeded in developing a vibrant and competitive electronics sector. Manufacturing grew sharply from about 12 per cent of GDP in 1970 to over 30 per cent by the mid-1990s. The share of electronics in manufactured exports soared from below 50 per cent in 1980 to peak at more than 70 per cent in 2000. But its share has fallen to below 50 per cent again in 2015.

While Malaysia had an early start in electronics, it could not build on this technological advantage. As wages started to rise, skills remained weak. After the Asian financial crisis (AFC) struck in 1997, FDI in Malaysia never recovered and domestic investment slumped as well. Since 2006, Malaysia has been a net exporter of capital, a process many suspect is driven more by capital flight than outward FDI.

Although a net labour importer, Malaysia remains a net skills exporter, with growing numbers of professionals migrating to Singapore and other welcoming industrialised countries. With these developments, Malaysia’s good fortunes have reversed in recent years, both in manufacturing and across the economy.

Like its early post-colonial phase, Malaysia is moving back to processing its agricultural and mineral resources. The only difference now is that the commodities themselves have changed. Rubber and tin have shifted to palm oil and petroleum. Petroleum refining and palm oil processing accounted for almost 19 and 12 per cent of manufacturing output in 2012, respectively — with both of these industries now bigger than electronics.

While developing countries are often encouraged to process agricultural or mineral outputs before exporting to increase their value, Malaysia appears a rare example of an upper-middle-income country — aspiring to high-income status — that is stunting or even reversing its previous successes in manufacturing.

This manufacturing retrenchment has been demonstrated by the overall contraction of this sector’s share of GDP, which fell gradually to 24 per cent in 2008 to remain roughly at that level ever since.
Why should we care about Malaysia’s manufacturing contraction? The main concern about petroleum refining and palm oil processing is that they are capital-intensive and generate few jobs. Despite their importance in overall output, just 14,400 workers are employed in petroleum refining, compared to the nearly 200,000 workers employed in electronics. Furthermore, agro- and petrol-processing industries generate relatively low-productive, low-skilled jobs and so wages are also low. The largest share of manufacturing workers are plant and machine operators who have an average annual salary of around US$4000 when per capita incomes average US$11,000.

Malaysia may be experiencing ‘premature deindustrialisation’, having transitioned to a service led economy before it has fully reaped the benefits of industrialisation. But unlike many other countries with similar experience, Malaysia’s case appears to be driven more by policy than technological disruption, trade or globalisation. There is growing recognition that many of the country’s problems — including the slump in private investment — are rooted in the distortions resulting from the design and implementation of the NEP and its subsequent incarnations. The government-linked corporations spawned to serve racial economic redistribution now crowd-out private investment in most sectors of the economy, including manufacturing.

If Malaysia is to realise its aspirations and enjoy living standards associated with high-income countries, it must arrest this structural regression and revive private investment in manufacturing. But regenerating manufacturing is unlikely without an overhaul of current policies. And while Malaysia may still reach the technical threshold of high-income status in a few years — assuming an economic crisis can be averted till then — this will still mean little to the welfare of workers in manufacturing if it continues its journey backwards.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

16 September 2015

This time around, Malaysians should celebrate our diversity.

Bersekutu bertambah mutu. The English translation has always been published as, "Unity in diversity".

This is Malaysia's motto.

To give it meaning on 16th September 2015 and beyond we, Malaysians, will be mindful that we share a common past, a common destiny and a common future.

Malaysians are many things. We are, all at once, Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Ibans and all suku kaums. We are at once, Sabahans, Sarawakians and people from each of the other 11 states and territories in Semenanjung Malaysia. And, yet, we are Malaysians.

I know it sounds corny and cliched. But, hey, when we commemorate key dates in out nation's history, all Malaysians should just let it out and celebrate our greatness at being a showcase of how diverse people can live under the same sky and the same land with a common past and a shared destiny.

We must shed our cynicism and leave aside, on 16th September 2015 and for some time after, our differences of opinion.

And, by the way, going by events in our local current affairs, Malaysia certainly has a robust democracy. 

We are transitioning. Even the most die hard cynic cannot deny that Malaysia's constitutional system has created a lot of space for civilised dissent. Let's, at least, celebrate Malaysia's federal constitutional system.

Friday, September 4, 2015

In the name of God, go!


Oliver Cromwell addressing the Rump Parliament. April 1653.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Foreign workers v Malaysian workers: The Importance of the Minimum Wage

Malaysia seriously needs to review the very liberal policy on the importation of low-skilled manual workers.

This is an economic policy issue. It's not an issue for the Immigration Department or Home Affairs to decide willy nilly.

Young Malaysians who are entering into the workforce are accused of being choosy and selective and spoilt. Is that true?

As with all other countries, anywhere in the world, many young Malaysian men hate studies and they find the need for further education appalling. Is that a bad thing? Do we abandon them?

Young Malaysians will make their own choices. No amount of legislation can change the decision of a young Malaysian to not pursue further education.

So, where do they go to make a living? They will invariably migrate from smaller towns and hamlets into larger towns and cities. 

After they arrive they discover that with their low skill sets, they can only get factory jobs and logistics work as drivers and delivery staff. They can also get jobs in food and beverage outlets.

The wages they receive in those jobs are in the RM5.00 to RM6.00 per hour band.

Work in "dirty jobs" sectors like construction and waste disposal is not much better than that wage band.

Young Malaysians can handle that kind of pay for the first 2 to 5 years of working life. Every Malaysian will have some relative or friend who can provide some room and board during these early years. 

What happens when the young Malaysian want to settle down and start a family?

How much does it cost to get married, start a family and start a home?

This is where the policy on Minimum Wage becomes important.

There are many critics of the Minimum Wage. All of these critics are, of course, employers. Most of them are in labour intensive sectors such as property development, manufacturing and plantations. These are "dirty jobs" sectors that choosy and selective and spoilt Malaysians are accused of avoiding.

Consider this; what if the Minimum Wage is imposed at, say, RM10.00 per hour instead of the current prevailing market rate of RM5.00, or less.

Of course, business owners will experience profit margin compression during the transition. And, there will be many reverberations and percolating implications.

But, this is where the Malaysian Government needs scenario planning and econometric simulations to consider these possibilities and come up with a slew of possible policy responses.

Regardless of the political convulsions that are taking place and issues of serious corruption and abuse of power at the highest levels of the Malaysian government, issues such as economic policy planning to address issues of concern to Malaysian workers and their livelihood must constantly be addressed.

I am against the liberal policy of importing foreign labour. There is adequate human capital at all levels of skills in Malaysia that can handle Malaysia's capacity and economic output.

I believe a sensible start to an inquiry into the matter of the Malaysian workforce must start with a putative position on a Minimum Wage that allows a young Malaysian to dream of a decent start to his or her working life.

A sensible Minimum Wage will give the average Malaysian a sense of dignity in living and it is a starting point for the average Malaysian to consider whether his or her current skill set is adequate or, needs improvement through further vocational training or tertiary education. It is merely a starting point in a Malaysian's journey as a good and citizen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's the economy, stupid...

To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister: At the end of the day... in the fullness of time.... when the cows have come home... 

And, to reissue the phrase that so parenthesised Bill Clinton's 1991-1992 successful run for the Presidency of the U.S., a whiteboard writing attributed to James Carver: It's the economy, stupid.

It's the economy, stupid, that affects our perception.

It's the economy, stupid, that decides whether we be happy or suffer a feeling of malaise.

And, the economy is in terrible shape. Stupid.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri

To all my Muslim friends I wish you Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. Maaf zahir dan batin.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

End race-based parties, says Ku Li

This call by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah as reported by the Malaysian Insider may not see immediate progress. But, it is a necessary reminder to all Malaysians.

We seem to have forgotten that since 1957, the call has always been for national unity and community harmony.

We need for common space where Malaysians have a chance to interact with each other regardless of race or religion.

Having colour blind political parties is a necessary precondition.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dr M wants PM powers to be reduced

I read the the Malaysian Insider's reported expiation by Dr M with a deep and resigned *sigh*. The man now says that the Prime Minister's position contains "too much power".

In our own Malaysian history, we have had anecdotal evidence from the late Professor Hugh Hickling about a conversation he had with Tun Abdul Razak on the Internal Security Act. Hickling, who was the person tasked with drafting the ISA, said that he had a moment to raise his concerns with Tun Razak about the sweeping powers of preventive detention to be written into the legislation. In response, Tun Razak purportedly told Hickling not to worry because he, Tun Razak, knew where the boundaries were.....

Preventive detention under the edifice of ISA was used with degrees of controversy by Tun Razak's successors.

This lesson is never learnt.

During his long and distinguished time as Prime Minister, Dr M had amassed tremendous powers in the Prime Minister's Office. During that time, Dr M was often more presidential than prime ministerial in his approach to public office. 

Of course, the man knew where the boundaries were.....

Recently, Dr M, who has taken the new guise of street fighter extraordinaire, has reminded us of Lord Acton's much maligned dictum that, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely".

I have been wondering whether this is some form of karma in Dr M's odyssey.

The shitty thing is that if this is, indeed, Dr M's odyssey, then, we idiot Malaysians are the unfortunate souls who happen to be in the rickety vessel; being tossed, turned and buffeted until we are blue in the face and nauseated. 

As the cotton farming slaves used to say in the pre-Civil War American South, "Ain't nothin' we can do about that".

Or, is there?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

I wrote a blog post on 24 July 2009 that earned me a private chat with Tengku Razaleigh. In recent weeks events have taken a turn that many Malaysians hope, will lead to a near unanimous cry of support for Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to restore Malaysia to its roots and ideals as envisioned by our Founding Fathers at the time of Merdeka. I set out below the blog post which was originally posted here-

I feel compelled to delve a little deeper into the motivations of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in the context of the current swirl of political and institutional turmoil in Malaysia. The political turmoil is obvious to all.

Less so, is the institutional turmoil.

Who will guard the guards themselves?
Before 1987 (a year I seem to re-visit constantly as the zeroth point from which the timeline of Malaysia's current political and institutional turmoil commences), the no-brainer principle was that Malaysia's Federal Constitution contained (I say it in the past tense in light of recent mind-numbing judicial pronouncements from the Federal Court) features of the separation of powers doctrine where the Executive branch of government would be audited by the Legislature and, if there is any legal action, by the Judiciary.

Tunku Abdul Rahman accepted this as did Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn. All three gentlemen read law in England (not that the jurisdiction nor geography is of any relevance in the context of this point but, that the knowledge and skills acquired are).

Their successors have taken a different view. Whether knowledge and understanding of the law should have any bearing on this attitudinal shift is moot. I just like to highlight this.

The issue of institutional turmoil is very real. The MACC's handling of Teoh Beng Hock is the most recent and, glaring example.

So, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves?

If the Legislature can no longer audit the Executive and, if there is scepticism whether the Judiciary has the necessary independence on issues involving Executive action, then, what is left in the context of orderly constitutional government?

It is no wonder that new Malaysian political leaders have exhibited less and less respect for Malaysia's constitutional institutions in the past two decades.

Where do we go from here?

This is the issue that haunts Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. It is an issue that haunts me. It is an issue that should haunt all Malaysians.

Trying to understand Ku Li
I have never met Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. But, I believe his actions in forming Semangat '46; his subsequent return to UMNO; and, his refusal to accept Zaid Ibrahim's invitation, can be considered in other ways.

Many Malaysians, particularly those that are partisan with Pakatan Rakyat are exasperated with Tengku Razaleigh's decision to rebuff Zaid's invitation. Many have said that Tengku Razaleigh is not relevant anyway or, that he, too, carries political baggage. That, with the greatest of respect, is nonsense and, an unfair trivialisation of Tengku Razaleigh's continued importance within Malaysia's polity.

In the hotchpot of Malaysia the citizenry practises a Babel-like habit of talking at cross-purposes. This is not so much due to multi-lingualism but, more to do with endless politicking and political spin.

In such a milieu, many of us are thankful when a respected personage in the form of a Sultan, a political leader or, eminent Malaysian, makes a timely public statement that is sensible and wise and, has the effect of soothing ruffled feathers and, injecting a dose of wise perspective on a issue that threatens to tear the socio-political fabric.

For me, Tengku Razaleigh is one such person.

His political stance is always principled. But his motivations can be exasperatingly enigmatic to many.

After writing the previous post my mind wandered back to Adlai Stevenson whose political position in the raucous American political process, in this case the Democratic Presidential Primary of 1959, was at issue.

The Adlai Stevenson parallel
Stevenson was the Democratic Presidential Candidate in 1952 and 1956. In both attempts he lost to the Republican Party's Dwight Eisenhower.

Despite two debilitating defeats, Stevenson was a much-respected and popular leader within the Democratic Party. It also helped tremendously that the grande dame of the Democrats, Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was an overt supporter of Stevenson's. This was the case in 1959, when the Democratic Primaries was in full swing and approaching its climax in the Los Angeles Democratic Convention.

Stevenson had hardly campaigned throughout the Primaries. But, party rules permitted members to draft a candidate who would be eligible for contention as a candidate of the party without having to undergo the bruising battles in the Primaries.

To borrow the phrase from my previous post, the eager politician in this story was John F Kennedy. Stevenson was the reluctant politician.

Kennedy's political machine was understandably alarmed at the prospect of a last-minute draft candidate in the form of Stevenson that threatened to undo and destroy more than four years of tremendous groundwork.

Everyone knows that Kennedy took the Democratic nomination and went on to defeat Richard Nixon in what was the slimmest majority ever for a presidential contest...until Bush versus Gore in 2000.

Where I'm leading to after the necessary contextual digression, is this insightful passage in a seminal book on American politics, The Making of the President 1960 by one of the best biographical-journalist-author that I have come across, Theodore H. White. White's passage describes the mindset of Stevenson in the context of American public life and its politics:

If this happy and placid man gave political calculators an impression of total schizophrenia, the reason was a simple one - Adlai Stevenson was and, I believe, remains torn in attitude to the two great systems of power that mesh in the unity of the American Presidency. Stevenson's attitude to public affairs approaches a nobility rarely encountered in the political system of any country; but his attitude to politics - the grubby, rooty politics of noise and deals and cruelties and chicaneries - is one of contempt. Yet public affairs and politics are linked as are love and sex. Stevenson's attitude to politics has always seemed that of a man who believes love is the most ennobling of human emotions while the mechanics of sex are dirty and squalid.

This seemed to be the quality of his reflections. "Deep down," said his closest friend during the winter months of 1959-1960, "he wants it. But he wants the Convention to come to him, he doesn't want to go to the Convention." 

It is my fervent hope that the stars will align themselves in favour of the ascendancy of Tengku Razaleigh to lead Malaysia.

If ever there was a need to transform Malaysia, now is the time. 

This feeling that many Malaysians have may best be expressed in an extract of Tennyson's epic poem, Ulysses-

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Friday, May 8, 2015

IGP needs to dial it down

One of the wise words that came from a judge in a singing competition somewhere in East Asia to a contestant seems appropriate to be directed at Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police. The judge said simply, "Less is more".

I have always had a healthy respect for our men in blue. Although many may have different experiences, I have found the Royal Malaysian Police to be reasonably responsive when I made the occasional calls to report on vagrants and their furtive presence in my neighbourhood.

I also count a few men in officer rank as friends.

The IGP has been so combative in directly engaging all manner of issues with his detractors that he appears to be providing some form of distraction, often not positive, for the Malaysian public. 

In publicly responding to issues spat out by detractors or, any issue, I fear the IGP is falling into the trap of becoming a participant in Malaysia's raucous political space. This is not good.

Responses and pronouncements made by the IGP via social media tools may, at first blush, appear to project an image of a senior law enforcement officer having the dexterity of flowing with the times.

However, the IGP should pause and consider what damage of perception he is doing to Malaysia's highly stable and highly respected DUE PROCESS as enshrined in all our laws.

The IGP needs to realise that the Royal Malaysian Police, being a law enforcement agency, is part of the due process of law in Malaysia.

As such, the IGP should, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, keep a dignified silence and allow a more orderly and, I emphasise, LESS PERSONAL response to criticism directed at his post or, at the Royal Malaysian Police or, any issues of public importance.

I am calling for the IGP to maintain the dignity of the position. 

Malaysians are tired of having to cringe every time our most senior law enforcement officer rolls up his sleeves and puts on verbal and written knuckle dusters in responding to negative comments.

And, I also wish to point out that there are very good and compelling reasons why there is a good market for well trained Publicity Officers, Public Relations Officers and Communications Officers. The IGP should discuss how to respond with fellow officers with such training before responding....and also do some counting Mississippi...two Mississippi....three Mississippi...four Mississippi....

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A common destiny for Malaysians

This month saw the passing of Malcolm Fraser of Australia and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Both men were giants in their time.

Events such as these must, of necessity, compel thinking Malaysians to reflect on the changing fortunes of countries like Australia and Singapore and compare them with our own changing fortunes in Malaysia.

Just as the great historians, Will and Ariel Durant liked to ask, we have to also ask the same question of ourselves, HOW HAVE WE PROGRESSED...AS A NATION?

What made Lee Kuan Yew tower above his contemporaries in the realm of political leadership was his ability to gather around him a cohort of like-minded colleagues to plan, strategise, visualise and exhort their countrymen to pull together and share a common vision and work towards a common destiny.

Of course, there was dissent. Such are the vagaries of human communities anywhere. That made the sheer willpower and charisma of Lee Kuan Yew and his cohort all the more impressive.

Actually, whenever I consider Lee Kuan Yew's political life, I am often drawn to that one pivotal moment in the PAP party assembly in the 1950s when Lee was pitted for PAP's leadership against the charismatic, Hokkien speaking orator, Ong Eng Guan. It was Toh Chin Chye who, as the Chairman, gave his casting vote in favour Lee that decided the course of contemporary Singapore history under Lee Kuan Yew's iron-willed leadership and relentless vision of material progress.

Did Toh Chin Chye ever rue his casting vote? 

But, as usual, I digress...

One of the common refrain of Lee Kuan Yew's during the torrid decades of the 1950s and 1960s, when Lee and his cohort had to fight the threat of Communists, racial unrest and political rivals was the need for law and order. Yes, it was to quell and hammer down dissent. He was consistent in declaring without apology, that law and order was needed in order for Singapore to develop and progress.

This hearkens to the time when we had a strong and charismatic leader in Dr M. Love him or hate him, Dr M gave us a direction in which we could chart our course as Malaysians. We could go with the flow or, we could go against it. Either way, there was direction.

In recent years what we have experienced as Malaysians is an exhausting drama that has no script.

Everyone is an anti-hero.

There is no sense of direction. No leadership.

There are plenty of swirls and eddies that makes us nauseated.

When we try to sit down and focus on our work, we are distracted by rubbish political nonsense that does nothing to help with our work.

There is plenty of religious strife, racial polemics and corrupt practises.

But. Where is the common destiny for all Malaysians?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Voices of Reason

Here is a collective voice of reason from a distinguished group of Malaysians-

We, a group of concerned citizens of Malaysia, would like to express how disturbed and deeply dismayed we are over the continuing unresolved disputes on the position and application of Islamic laws in this country.
The ongoing debate over these matters displays a lack of clarity and understanding on the place of Islam within our constitutional democracy. Moreover, they reflect a serious breakdown of federal-state division of powers, both in the areas of civil and criminal jurisdictions.
We refer specifically to the current situation where religious bodies seem to be asserting authority beyond their jurisdiction; where issuance of various fatwa violate the Federal Constitution and breach the democratic and consultative process of shura; where the rise of supremacist NGOs accusing dissenting voices of being anti-Islam, anti-monarchy and anti-Malay has made attempts at rational discussion and conflict resolution difficult; and more importantly, where the use of the Sedition Act hangs as a constant threat to silence anyone with a contrary opinion.
These developments undermine Malaysia’s commitment to democratic principles and rule of law, breed intolerance and bigotry, and have heightened anxieties over national peace and stability.
As moderate Muslims, we are particularly concerned with the statement issued by Minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, in response to the recent Court of Appeal judgment on the right of transgender to dress according to their identity.
He viewed the right of the transgender community and Sisters in Islam (SIS) to seek legal redress as a “new wave of assault on Islam” and as an attempt to lead Muslims astray from their faith, and put religious institutions on trial in a secular court.
Such an inflammatory statement from a federal minister (and not for the first time) sends a public message that the prime minister’s commitment to the path of moderation need not be taken seriously when a minister can persistently undermine it.
These issues of concern we raise are, of course, difficult matters to address given the extreme politicisation of race and religion in this country.
But we believe there is a real need for a consultative process that will bring together experts in various fields, including Islamic and constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways.
We also believe the prime minister is best placed with the resources and authority to lead this consultative process. It is urgent that all Malaysians are invested in finding solutions to these longstanding areas of conflict that have led to the deterioration of race relations, eroded citizens’ sense of safety and protection under the rule of law, and undermined stability.
There are many pressing issues affecting all of us that need the urgent leadership and vision of the prime minister, the support of his Cabinet and all moderate Malaysians.
They include:
i) A plural legal system that has led to many areas of conflict and overlap between civil and shariah laws.
In particular there is an urgent need to review the Shariah Criminal Offences (SCO) laws of Malaysia.
These laws which turn all manner of “sins” into crimes against the state have led to confusion and dispute in both substance and implementation. They are in conflict with Islamic legal principles and constitute a violation of fundamental liberties and state intrusion into the private lives of citizens.
In 1999, the Cabinet directed the Attorney-General's Chambers to review the SCO laws. But to this day, they continue to be enforced with more injustices perpetrated.
The public outrage, debates over issues of jurisdiction, judicial challenge, accusations of abuses committed, gender discrimination, and deaths and injuries caused in moral policing raids have eroded the credibility of the SCO laws, the law-making process, and public confidence that Islamic law could indeed bring about justice.
ii) The lack of public awareness, even among top political leaders, on the legal jurisdiction and substantive limits of the powers of the religious authorities and administration of Islamic laws in Malaysia.
The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law enacted, including Islamic laws, cannot violate the Constitution, in particular the provisions on fundamental liberties, federal-state division of powers and legislative procedures.
All acts, enactments and subsidiary legislations, including fatwa, are bound by constitutional limits and are open to judicial review.
iii) The need to ensure the right of citizens to debate the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in this country. The Islamic laws of Malaysia are drafted by the executive arm of government and enacted in the legislative bodies by human beings.
Their source may be divine, but the enacted laws are not divine. They are human made and therefore fallible, open to debate and challenge to ensure that justice is upheld.
iv) The need to promote awareness of the rich diversity of interpretive texts and juristic opinions in the Islamic tradition. This includes conceptual legal tools that exist in the tradition that enable reform to take place and the principles of equality and justice to be upheld, in particular in response to the changing demands, role and status of women in the family and community.
v) The need for the prime minister to assert his personal leadership as well as appoint key leaders who will, in all fairness, champion open and coherent debate and discourse on the administration of Islamic laws in this country to ensure that justice is done.
We especially urge that the leadership sends a clear signal that rational and informed debate on Islamic laws in Malaysia and how they are codified and implemented are not regarded as an insult to Islam or to the religious authorities.
These issues may seem complex to many, but at the end of the day, it really boils down to this: as Muslims, we want Islamic law, even more than civil law, to meet the highest standards of justice precisely because it claims to reflect divine justice.
Therefore, those who act in the name of Islam through the administration of Islamic law must bear the responsibility of demonstrating that justice is done, and is seen to be done.
When Islam was revealed to our Prophet saw in 7th century Arabia, it was astoundingly revolutionary and progressive. Over the centuries, the religion has guided believers through harsh and challenging times. It is our fervent belief that for Islam to continue to be relevant and universal in our times, the understanding, codification and implementation of the teachings of our faith must continue to evolve.
Only with this, can justice, as enjoined by Allah, prevail. – December 8, 2014.
1. Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Rahim Haji Din, former secretary-general, Home Ministry
2. Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, former secretary-general, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
3. Tan Sri Dr Aris Othman, former secretary-general, Ministry of Finance
4. Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican, former director-general, Health Ministry
5. Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, former secretary-general, Ministry of Finance
6. Tan Sri Dr Mustaffa Babjee, former director-general, Veterinary Services
7. Tan Sri Nuraizah Abdul Hamid, former secretary-general, Ministry of Energy, Communications and Multimedia
8. Tan Sri Dr Yahya Awang, cardiothoracic surgeon and core founder, National Heart Institute
9. Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail, former Court of Appeal judge
10. Datuk Abdul Kadir Mohd Deen, former ambassador
11. Datuk Anwar Fazal, former senior regional adviser, United Nations Development Programme
12. Datuk Dali Mahmud Hashim, former ambassador
13. Datuk Emam Mohd Haniff Mohd Hussein, former ambassador
14. Datuk Faridah Khalid, representative of Women’s Voice
15. Datuk Latifah Merican Cheong, former assistant governor, Bank Negara
16. Lt-Gen (Rtd) Datuk Maulob Maamin
17. Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, former ambassador
18. Datuk Ranita Hussein, former Suhakam commissioner
19. Datuk Redzuan Kushairi, former ambassador
20. Datuk Dr Sharom Ahmat, former deputy vice-chancellor, Universiti Sains Malaysia
21. Datuk Syed Arif Fadhillah, former ambassador
22. Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, former director-general, Malaysian Timber Industry Board
23. Datuk Zainuddin Bahari, former deputy secretary-general, Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism
24. Datin Halimah Mohd Said, former lecturer, Universiti Malaya and president, Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE)
25. Hendon Mohamad, past president, Malaysian Bar
- See more at:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Treat sedition suspects as guilty until proven innocent, Umno MP says

The Malay Mail Online reports as follows-

Individuals charged under the Sedition Act 1948 must be made to prove their own innocence, an Umno lawmaker said today when calling for the colonial-era law be made stricter. 

In making his suggestion to shift the burden of proof, Tanjong Karang MP Datuk Seri Noh Omar said the nation’s peace was of greater importance than an individual’s civil liberties and legal rights.
“The burden of proof should be on the person who’s charged,” Noh Omar said during the debate of Budget 2015 in Parliament here today.

I was planning to write that the report above, if accurate, really and seriously points to the dire need for legislators to be better schooled in the type of constitutional and legal framework that Malaysia has adopted.

Unfortunately, I have to negate that entire line of thought because online biodata shows that Noh Omar actually read law at Thames Valley University which is now known as the University of West London. He actually has a law degree, for goodness sake.

I'm now going to crawl into a cave to perform omphaloskepsis...

picture sourced here

Friday, October 10, 2014

A nugget

One of the great pleasures of reading is that ever so often you happen upon a well turned phrase, a piece of witticism or a curling remark that gives you a rush of delight. 

In this case it came about when I chanced upon a speech that the late great Malaysian jurist, Tun Mohamed Suffian had given in 1986 at the launch of a book, The Judgments of HRH Sultan Azlan Shah with Commentary

Here's Tun Suffian's passage that gave me so much delight. He was describing Sultan Azlan Shah's demeanour when he sat as a Judge on the Malaysian Bench-

"At work on the Bench he was a good and patient listener, seldom interrupted or asked questions and thereby gave the impression of agreeing to what was being said. It was a good way of curbing prolix counsel, for the experienced judge knows that with some counsel the more you try to steer them away from  tedious repetitions and irrelevancies the more persistent and garrulous they become; all the while you are thinking of the reserved judgments still to be pondered and written and the long list of trials and appeals to be disposed of. It was only after Raja Tun Azlan Shah had delivered judgment that counsel realised to his dismay that the Lord President's reticence meant he was only listening, but not necessarily agreeing."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Malaysian Education and Vernacular Schools - A Story of the Elephant and the Blind Men

As usual, the recent eruption of viewpoints on the matter of vernacular schools in Malaysia is being reduced to polemic. 

One group is calling for its abolition or something stupid along those lines.

The self-anointed defenders are calling for its absorption into mainstream education on the premise that it is the constant need for funding of vernacular schools, which are private, that keeps such schools at the margins of the Malaysian polity.

The problem with contemporary politics in Malaysia is the poor quality of thought and, the awful method of delivery of viewpoints that is devoid of persuasive articulation. Both sides of the divide for any issue are unable to frame the issues coherently.

My small contribution to the matter of vernacular schools is as follows and, my point is that we need to examine the reasons for the shift in enrollment of students by the non-Malays from mainstream public schools to private, vernacular schools.

Without the benefit of statistics (because I'm too lazy to look it up) I believe that up to the mid-1980s, enrollment in mainstream schools was still relatively high. 

What caused non-Malay parents to shift the preference from mainstream public schools to private, vernacular schools?

I believe it had something to do with the decline in quality and standards in the mainstream public schools and the increase in myopic thinking by headmasters since the early 1980s.

I am not a fan of vernacular schools. I strongly believe that mainstream public schools is the best choice. My children attend mainstream public schools.

But, while the quality of students in mainstream public schools in wealthier suburbs are high, I hesitate to give full credit to the schools. Most, if not all, parents send their children for private tuition.

What about students in poorer suburbs? What if their parents cannot afford private tuition fees? What happens to these students?

I very much believe that the key challenge is for the government to focus on increasing the quality and standards of education in mainstream public schools.

I am a proud product of the mainstream public school system that existed in the 1950s through to the early 1980s. I believe that most of the political leaders of today are equally proud products of the system.

Let us focus on what we can do to increase the quality and standards of the mainstream public schools.

If we continue to debate on the symptoms we will never get to the true cause.

source here.

Otherwise, our fate will be to be like the blind men in the story.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

And, we thought it was a good joke...

You know how we like to say about makan places with food and dishes that makes us want to go back to eat again and again and, we tell each other that the cook adds some addictive substance?

The joke turned out to be true here.

This Hotel Allegedly Blocked Your Wi-Fi Hotspot

I'm quite curious to know if this happens in Malaysia too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

SPM Forecast Results - A clear case of over legislation

This is a clear case of over legislation. Let me be categorical about this-

Firstly, when a private college - emphasis on the word "PRIVATE" - chooses to rely on a student applicant's SPM forecast results that private college is taking a risk. It is, if you will, a BUSINESS RISK. It is a risk in the sense that if that student applicant's actual SPM results falls below the minimum requirements set by the private college the private college will have a vacant position.

It is a BUSINESS RISK in the sense that the number of places available with each intake is, theoretically, finite. So, if a student applicant proves to be below par and, therefore, needs to be ejected, there is a vacancy. Proportionate fees collected by the private college will need to be refunded causing a loss of revenue.

Secondly, when a student applies to a private college using the SPM forecast results, that student is also taking a FINANCIAL RISK and OPPORTUNITY RISK in the sense that if the actual SPM result falls below the private college's minimum entry requirements that student may NOT receive a full refund of the fees paid because time has elapsed and he or she has consumed the teaching services provided by the private college.

The opportunity risk comes in the form of having lost the time and opportunity to have done something else - like join Raleigh International to enrich the student's life through charitable and welfare work...for instance.

This type of transactional relationship is rooted in a private contract between the private college and the student applicant.

It is a free market exchange in the PRIVATE SECTOR that eases the burden on the PUBLIC SECTOR public universities.

All Malaysians understand the need fore private colleges to be licensed and regulated to ensure that there are no scam colleges and, that all academic curriculum offered is in line with Malaysian academic requirements.

But, in the matter of the MOE's notice to private colleges to disregard SPM forecast results the MOE has clearly over legislated.

It is very odd that to date, the MOE has not offered any reasons at all on the basis and intent behind the notice.

Will the Ministers (it is plural because there are apparently 2 Ministers in charge of the education portfolio) or any one of them step up to explain this odd decision on SPM forecast results?

Or, will they abdicate their responsibility and push forward a nameless official with an impassive expression who will drone inanities and irrelevancies on this matter in the vain hope that journalists and parents of students will just tear their hair out and just curl up and shrivel themselves to death - a death caused by exasperation with the Malaysian Ministry of Education which, in recent times, has started to resemble Monthy Python's Ministry of Silly Walks?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

SPM Forecast Result - A worthless piece of paper?

The Ministry of Education is reported to have issued a notification to private institutions of higher education that SPM forecast results are no longer acceptable as admission requirements.

For decades the SPM forecast results has formed a first impression of sorts to enable private colleges to issue conditional offers to Malaysian students.

It is an efficient and effective introduction of an applicant student's academic standard to a private college.

Why is the MOE changing this tried and tested methodology?

I will leave the expletives aside for the moment.

MOE must explain this irrational, myopic, stupid and unnecessary action.

Has MOE got nothing better to do?

I seem to recall sufficient objective events that should be occupying MOE's full attention such as appalling PISA and TIMSS scores and...the matter of UPSR exam paper leaks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Selangor MB Matter : Constitutional Implications?

The Selangor Menteri Besar fiasco has quite rightly brought into stark relief, once again, constitutional processes that were often taken for granted by the citizenry and, politicians, if I may add.

Many constitutional scholars and observers have had to revisit the Perak MB episode. Others have dug deeper into episodes from the United Kingdom from where the Westminster constitutional model originated.

For some reason, no one has brought up the numerous little scrapes of the recent past where the menteris besar of various Malaysian states have had to endure testy relations with their respective state palaces. Names like Ghazali Jawi and Othman Saat probably rings no bells any longer with Malaysians of younger vintage.

Drilling down on past constitutional episodes

Back to Westminster history, no one has brought up the quite incredible episode of Queen Victoria's great sulk in 1839 when she quite clearly expressed her great discomfiture with having to deal with Sir Robert Peel who was a new leader of the Tories and had, at the time, gained ascendancy over the leader of the Whigs, Lord Melbourne who had so endeared himself to the young Queen.

The Queen had, in fact attempted to persuade the great Duke of Wellington, an ex-prime minister himself, to succeed Lord Melbourne as the new Prime Minister. The Duke had begged off due to his advanced years.

And, so, the constitutional impasse was resolved when Sir Robert Peel backed off in favour of Lord Melbourne who remained as Prime Minister.

It was only in 1841, when parliamentary elections proved beyond doubt that the Tories had won a clear victory was Queen Victoria persuaded to reluctantly accept Sir Robert Peel as Prime Minister.

The constitutional episode of 1839 gains added significance when one considers that the Westminster model was pretty much founded by Oliver Cromwell a few years after the defeat of King Charles II's forces in 1650, some 190 years before that.

Naturally, there are different interpretations the 1839 episode. That is why history is so interesting.

Stay with me....

You might already be rolling your eyeballs several times by now, wondering where all this is leading to.

Well, much has been said by constitutional scholars about constitutional conventions and practises and, how, HRH The Sultan of Selangor's unorthodox approach to the Selangor MB issue goes where no monarch has gone before.... (pardon the Star Trek reference).

With the greatest respect such a view is akin to the difference between how we mere mortals look at the growth of plant life in still life snapshots while Sir David Attenborough sees it with the stop motion camera technology that, when speeded up, gives us an idea of the dynamics of growth in plants.

Constitutional matters must, of necessity be seen from a historical perspective. And, the history of constitutional monarchy has shown many, many episodes where the palace and the parliamentary executive has had differences.

Some context

The key perspective is to note that ever so often, wisdom, civility and oodles of patience has resolved matters without tearing the flimsy fabric of constitutional monarchies.

As I have said in an earlier blog post, this Selangor MB fiasco started off as an internal party problem which, led to a dubious tactic of procuring the unnecessary resignation of an elected state assemblyman which, led to an unnecessary by election which, led to the election of a new state assemblyman which, led nowhere....

Instead, the sitting MB did not do the expected thing which was to accept his fate by tendering his resignation as required by constitutional convention.

To the voters of Selangor, nothing in this sorry episode has cast any redeeming light on any of the main players from Pakatan Rakyat. None of them have benefited from the ill conceived and ill considered plan to oust the sitting MB.

In this cacophonous sea of confusion HRH The Sultan of Selangor has had to carry out an unorthodox procedure to canvass for suitable MB candidates to succeed the outgoing chap.

The monarchical "constitutional initiative"

Now, why didn't HRH The Sultan just do the formal constitutional thing, which is to just sit back on His throne and let the politicians do their thing; and, by so doing satisfy the constitutional convention that scholars so crave?

If I may hazard a viewpoint; one key reason must have been that the loose alliance between PKR, DAP and PAS did not have a consensus on the ouster of Tan Sri Khalid as the MB. Nor did they have consensus on the choice of his successor.

Everyone can pull out their Casio calculators and produce any number of scenarios of how the Selangor State Assembly will vote on the choice of another MB. But there is one unavoidable fact. The loose alliance that is Pakatan Rakyat no longer had consensus on the matter of the MB.

From where I stand, HRH The Sultan has exercised a constitutional initiative that was unusual but, still within the provisions of the Selangor State Constitution to resolve the MB imbroglio.

This has led to the appointment of Azmin Ali who will be the 15th Menteri Besar of Selangor when he is sworn in on 23 September 2014.

How to prevent further monarchical "constitutional initiatives"

My humble suggestion to all political players is that to prevent HRH The Sultan or any other state monarchs from exercising this "constitutional initiative" in future, stop screwing around with your petty power plays and start instituting your own party culture and discipline so that all your elected representatives speak and act in unison.

PKR's peculiar and populist habit of taking in what I call "helicopter candidates" has created a "diva culture" that is not consonant with a successful political party. Such an ad hoc approach to electoral politics never translates well into administrative politics.

Unless such matters are addressed fully and squarely, my crystal ball tells me that we may witness further recurrences reminiscent of the disastrous and cacophonous Arab Council that Lawrence of Arabia tried to set up.

Praise for the dignity of the key players

With everything having been said and done, I must applaud first HRH The Sultan for having acted with wisdom. What He did to resolve the MB fiasco is almost like Alexander the Great drawing his sword to cut through the Gordian Knot.

Kudos also to the grace with which Wan Azizah has accepted the decision of HRH The Sultan. As everyone in Malaysia knows by now, in the dung heap that is PKR's internal politics, Wan Azizah is the radiant flower.

source here

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A dominant 50-years of humourless narrative for Malaysia

There was a time, as old timers like to remind us, when there was no need for political correctness. You could call your friends using mock tones with nicknames without worrying about inciting anger and being accused of being racist.

In many ways Dr M changed that banter with his humourless narrative. And, sadly, in the past 50 years it has been Dr M's narrative that has proven to be dominant and prevalent.

Here's a thought; Has Dr M robbed Malaysians of our sense of humour?

So, when the grand old man hurls remarks about Malays being lazy, he sets off the exact reaction he wanted. 

When he legitimised Perkasa with his patronage he set off a different set of reactions.

Dr M's genius is his constant ability to drive the narrative in Malaysia. 

So, are Malays lazy? That is the stupidest question one can ask.

Are Chinese hardworking? Another stupid question.

We've all seen lazy and stupid Chinese. We've seen incredibly hardworking Malays.

But to take Dr M's remarks at face value and, to react to it, we are allowing ourselves to conform to his narrative.

Should we conform to that narrative? Can we avoid that narrative and begin our own?

Now Dr M has begun a movement to destabilise the sitting Prime Minister. 

It as if Dr M is chasing another superlative. In his time as Prime Minister he had 4 Deputy Prime Ministers.

In his retirement he has seen off one Prime Minister and he appears to have set himself (or, has he?....mindgames, eh?) to see off another.

This is the greatness of Dr M. His shadow writs large in the Malaysian psyche. With a twitch of a hint of a sneering half smile and an elusive glint in his eye, the grand old man can have us go into a catatonic state. Lady Gaga can only hope to have that kind of charisma! All the twerking that Miley Cyrus can muster cannot even come close to the effect that Dr M has on Malaysians.

sourced here.

You may recall the opening scene of the movie Troy where, Brad Pitt as the mythical Achilles, having smote the giant of a man who challenged him stood before the enemy and cried, "Is there no one else?"

Here we have Dr M making his moves on the current Prime Minister. 

Will the sitting Prime Minister be deft enough to duck the coming blows and brickbats and survive this attempt to unseat him?

I, for one, as with all Malaysians, am sitting on my couch with a packet of kuaci watching events unfold with the type of awe-filled fear and anticipatory sensation I used to have when watching the black and white Pusaka Pontianak (1965), quavering like Aziz Sattar and fearing the worst for Ahmad Daud's character.

Dr M is, as the characters in Korean dramas like to say, "a scary person".
 sourced here.