Friday, April 22, 2016

Foreign Workers Permits, Triple-D jobs and Market-based System

I don't really want to get into the semantics and polemics of the Triple-D jobs in Malaysia that the people in power insists, Malaysians do not want to do. The 3 "D"s in Triple-D are DIRTY, DANGEROUS and DULL.

This blog has 2 parts.

Here's Part 1. This widely held view that Malaysians eschew Triple-D jobs is too simplistic. Those of us who have traveled to more advanced economies in the Western world and East Asia will testify to have seen Caucasians, Japanese and South Koreans do Triple-D jobs in their own countries. And, you can watch a popular show hosted by Mike Rowe called Dirty Jobs to see for yourself that people in advanced economies are quite happy to do Triple-D jobs.

So, the more appropriate question would be to ask why is it that Malaysians appear not to want to do Triple-D jobs? 

When I wanted to earn some extra cash during my university student days I applied for a Triple-D job in a woodyard. This was in a Western country. Dirty jobs are dirty jobs wherever you are! I was quite happy to do the jobs for a few reasons-
  • Yes, ok, I needed the cash-la.
  • There were lots of safety equipment given. Ear plugs to protect your hearing. Safety glasses to protect your eyes. Breathing mask to protect your nose and lungs. Safety boots to protect your feet. Safety harness to protect yourself from falling. The list goes on. AND .... the boss briefed me on the do's and don't's of the work.
  • The pay was very decent.
Malaysians are not bodoh. We look at the people doing Triple-D jobs all over our country and we have all been exposed to all sorts of information and images of what people who do Triple-D jobs do in advanced economies. More often than not, we don't see similar equipment being used by people doing Triple-D jobs in Malaysia.

Even with the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), many Malaysian employers involved in Triple-D enterprises are lax and stingy. 

And the pay is usually too crappy.

These are structural issues that the people in power should be addressing in order to engender a virtuous cycle for Triple-D jobs that will attract Malaysians. 

There is no need for people in power to talk about institutionalising the importation of 1.5 million foreign workers and, then, to childishly do a volte-face when there is some push back from various segments of the Malaysian polity. People in power within a purported democratic framework should be mindful that Malaysia is an open, international and competitive economy. Arbitrariness in policies is one of the greatest sins in global competitiveness.

People in power must be big hearted and mature enough to go beyond the complacent assurance that their rural and Sabah and Sarawak vote bank will keep them in power and, that, therefore whoever is unhappy with the policies can just go and choke on their nasi lemak.

Now for Part 2.

There is a swirl of earnest discussion in the United States for the past 5 years or so, on the issue of migrant workers with low skills and those with high skills. This blog post, of course, focuses on the low-skills aspect of the matter.

The discussion focuses on the need for the U.S. to introduce a market-based system that operates like an auction system. Employers who need low-skilled foreign workers will each put in price bids based on their respective budgets. The highest bidder will secure their quota of foreign workers.

You can find one scenario for the proposed market-based system here.

Here's Adam Minter of Bloomberg's observation- A better system for Malaysia -- and other immigrant-dependent economies -- is to replace quotas altogether in favor of a market-based system in which employers in specific industries bid on permits to hire foreign workers. Permits would naturally flow to employers who need workers most, and the government could adjust the number made available based on economic circumstances. Done right, such a system would ultimately help local workers and boost wages, while demonstrating why economic immigration is so important. For now, Malaysia looks unlikely to take this path. But if its officials hope to justify their foreign-labor policies, they'd best consider letting the market do the talking for them.

Yes, the people in power should do the right thing and implement a foreign worker programme that lets the market do the talking!

As for the matter of looking into the structural issues involving getting more Malaysian involvement in the Triple-D jobs, can the people in power, especially those responsible for Human Resources, look into this a bit more.

I would like to do more studies into this matter but my day job obligations beckon and, so I have to leave it here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"First they came ..."

"First they came ..." is a famous statement and provocative poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazi's rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Sourced from here.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 -Martin Niemöller-

Friday, February 26, 2016

Singapore introduces daily cleaning duties for students

It appears that Singapore has decided to adopt the methodology similar to the Japanese educationists that will require students to be empowered with responsibilities to look after their own school environment.

I had felt that this would have been a good thing for the Khidmat Negara programme when my son was involved in it. The toilet and showers in their barracks were in a poor state and the canteen was in shambles after meal times. Each time, it was left to the contractors or administrators to deal with the matter. I felt that it would have been excellent if Khidmat Negara had modules similar to the Kemahiran Hidup or Living Skills subject taught in Malaysian schools but, this time, involving basic and useful matters such as plumbing, painting of walls, doors and windows and assorted cleaning and maintenance skills. This will foster civic mindedness and good citizenship.

Here's the BBC report for your edification.

Friday, February 12, 2016

We can do it too, if we try

Visitors to Japan are almost always amazed at the civic mindedness of the Japanese. This video documentary gives us a glimpse of how that mindset might be created.

It is not rocket science. I very much believe that it can be done in Malaysia too. We just need to try and try harder to create better citizens. We have to believe that we can do it.

So, how about it, Malaysia's educators?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

When the great Truth is abandoned


When the great Truth is abandoned, the teachings of benevolence and righteousness become fashionable.

When wit and cunning are highly esteemed, the adepts in hypocrisy become fashionable.

When discord reigns in the family, the teachings of filial piety and fraternal love become fashionable. 

When chaos prevails in the country, the loyal ministers become fashionable. 

-Tao Te Ching Chapter 18, Cheng Lin translation (1995)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Crowdfunding - Some thoughts

Crowdfunding has morphed into many forms. Many crowdfunding initiatives have charitable or socio-political objectives. Such types of crowdfunding are not the focus here. It is the "investment-based crowdfunding" exercises that I wish to examine.

Malaysia is one of the jurisdictions that has established investment guidelines on crowdfunding. As such, the current swirls of discussion on the matter of crowdfunding is highly relevant.

On 21.12.2015 the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) published a survey update on crowdfunding some key observations that I set out further down in this post.

Disclosure-Based Regulations (DBR) versus Merit-Based Regulations (MBR)

I have always maintained that Malaysia still needs a large degree of Merit-Based Regulations (MBR) largely due to the rustic mindset of many investors. The retail investor is still indolent and very susceptible to market noise. That is why Malaysia's regulators need to maintain guidelines and regulations that require regulatory scrutiny and some degree of regulatory prescription.

HKex has an excellent paper that critically examines DBR versus MBR and there is, therefore, no need for me to delve too much into it. Read the paper here if you are interested to understand these policy principles in greater detail. 


In the past decade we have witnessed the Securities Commission (SC) make attempts to institute the Disclosure-Based Regime (DBR). Officially, the SC has shifted from the MBR to the DBR as stated in a guidance note here.

But, with everything said and done, we have IOSCO reminding regulators and investors alike that while DBR still holds as the prevailing principle, I would submit that there is clearly a need for some degree of MBR-type prescription especially when the IOSCO has flagged the ever-present issue of "information asymmetry" which may be loosely defined as-

A situation in which one party in a transaction has more or superior information compared to another. This often happens in transactions where the seller knows more than the buyer, although the reverse can happen as well. Sourced here.

IOSCO's timely survey findings on Crowdfunding
  
Here are excerpts of what IOSCO's report says-

The goal (of the report) is to achieve a balance between promoting crowdfunding and ensuring investor protection and market integrity.  Some of the regulatory measures described in the Crowdfunding Report include-
  • Customizing entry, registration, or licensing requirements;
  • Setting disclosure requirements for issuers and funding portals;
  • Limiting the services  that may be provided  by  crowdfunding platforms;
  • Requiring the appointment of a third party custodian to hold investor assets;
  • Imposing measures to favour the channeling of resources into local businesses;
  • Addressing crossborder issues.
The report also seeks to raise investors’ understanding of crowdfunding, e.g., that crowdfunding may differ from investing in more traditional securities products. In addition to take note of risks common in traditional finance such as conflicts of risks, data protection and fraud, it suggests that investors pay attention to certain key aspects, including:
  •  Information asymmetry: Risk of default or high failures is often associated with start-up businesses. The risk of fraud may be high in case of internet offers. Investors should review disclosure and education materials to further their understanding of the essential features and main risks of the crowdfunding offer and see if third party custodians are being used.
  • Platform failure: There is risk of platform failure for crowdfunding portals. Portals should be evaluated based on their credibility and soundness, including if it has the proper IT systems, back-up facilities and procedures to ensure continued service.
  • Investing limits: Investors should consider if the investment amount is appropriate for their net worth.
  • Rescission, cancellation: Investors should be informed of and understand the investment terms including cancellation or rescission rights.
  • Illiquidity: As restrictions could be put on the resale of crowdfunding securities, investors should pay attention on warnings and information regarding liquidity and the availability of secondary market.
  • Suitability: Investors should consider that a crowdfunding offer may not be suitable and consistent with their investment objectives and risk profile.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Crowdtasking: Disrupting conventional ways of earning a livelihood

Here's a great new business model that leverages on the principle of crowdtasking along the lines of Uber. The Age Melbourne carries the report here and here's a snippet-

Is your mouth watering at the thought of gelato? Just realised it's your mother's birthday?  One Sydney company will take care of that for you. With just the click of a button you'll have ice cream in your hands, and flowers in your mum's. 

Get acquainted with ASAP, the service that will deliver anything from food to forgotten wallets.  The premise is simple. Text your (legal) request to 0437 825 625, they will reply with a quote, then it's up to you to accept their offer. The wait is usually about half an hour per task. 

It's fascinating and highly encouraging to see another step in conventional concepts of earning a living. People no longer need to resign themselves to a career that requires them to be an employee and be enslaved to an employer. Or, for those who wish to run their own business, they no longer need massive capital to start-up or, incur huge franchise fees.

Crowdtasking business models are leveraging on the incredible pervasiveness of smartphones and apps. This connectedness, it turns out, has unlimited commercial possibilities.

The thing that really makes me happy for the our current generation is the great flattening of untethered income earning opportunities. What I mean is the great democratisation of opportunities to earn a living.

You could be a retiree, a university student, a stewardess, waiter, shop assistant or, executive who can just sign up to offer your time, your effort and, your motor vehicle. Immediately you are part of the network that offers a solution. And, you get paid for it.

An enlightened economist once told me that being employed is a modern form of slavery. My corollary to that insight would be that crowdtasking is a form of emancipation.

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!

"YOU HAVE BEEN SAT TOO LONG HERE FOR ANY GOOD YOU HAVE BEEN DOING. 
DEPART, I SAY, AND LET US HAVE DONE WITH YOU. 
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 first...one 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: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/champion-open-debate-and-discourse-on-islamic-law-noor-farida-ariffin-and-2#sthash.8GFgCVrh.dpuf