Tuesday, December 25, 2007

MERRY CHRISTMAS! EVERYONE

"...Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10,11

Believe! This is the week of Christmas — and it is so important that we believe God and receive Christ.

When the angel Gabriel spoke to the virgin Mary over 2,000 years ago and said she would have a Son even though she was a virgin, she did not doubt — she believed. She said “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary believed God — and she received God’s promise, the Christ child.

When you celebrate Christmas this year, focus on Christ — the wonderful son of God who came to earth to be our Savior. Believe in Him as the Son of God; receive Him in to your heart if you have not done so already. And let’s pray that:
  • Millions of people across the whole world will believe in God and in Jesus Christ as the Son of God
  • People everywhere will receive Christ as their Savior and Lord
  • Your own friends and family will all welcome Christ as their personal Savior

When Christ came to be born on earth, people had a simple choice — would they believe in Him as Savior?

Would they receive Him into their lives?

Would they welcome Him?

Our choice is the same today.

Let us celebrate the birth of Christ into the world — and into our hearts. Merry Christmas!

Please pray for all the people who are lonely this Christmas.

For many people, Christmas is a time of great joy.

Other people may be alone, and afraid, and not have anyone to spend the holidays with.

Please pray that others would come around them and show them love.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rights come with responsibilities

By ANIZA DAMIS, 10 December, 2007

IN the past three months, some Malaysians have suddenly found a passion for demonstrating. Some of these walks have resulted in arrests and allegations of criminal activity. But does this mean walking is bad altogether?

In observance of International Human Rights Day tomorrow, ANIZA DAMIS speaks to founding former Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tun Musa Hitam about the rights and responsibilities that come with freedom of expression, and how we should try to allow it.

Q: Is peaceful assembly a right?

A: Peaceful assembly relates to the right to free expression, the right that is given to human beings to express their views. It also relates to freedom of the press, where you are given the right environment, the opportunity, and the freedom to express yourselves through the media. That can be extended to the electronic media and the Internet.

Expression comes in different forms. It also relates to the right to demonstrate your feelings, by word or by act.

Freedom in a democratic society is quite clear. People do have a right to demonstrate and they must be given the right.

But such freedoms have been, and indeed have the possibility of being, exploited and used for objectives other than the democratic right and wishes of the people who want to express themselves within a democratic environment.

One has always to be aware of that potential. In some countries, there is the existence of anarchists. Anarchists don’t believe in anything, they just want to destroy.

If you realise the potential and accept the possibility of abuse and misuse, yet still demand the freedom to express yourself, then you would be suited to this form of democracy.

We have had experience of violence, like May 13, 1969 and the (1974) Baling demonstration against the low price of rubber, which I had to handle myself. And we also have the experience of Memali, which had very strong religious fervour, which I also handled. We’ve also had demonstrations related to education that resulted in arrests.

These experiences are always evoked whenever you talk about demonstrations.I believe this could be used as a basis in handling demonstrations, but it need not be used as excuses not to allow people to express their views.

Q: Is the right to peaceful assembly an absolute right?

A: No. Nothing is an absolute right in this world.

Q: Why is it that we have never experimented with peaceful assembly?

A: During the time I was with Suhakam, I tried my very best to get organised demonstrations accepted, organised in the sense that all parties assume responsibility together.

I am an adviser to the government of Maldives on government reforms. Maldives had been under one president, President Qayyum, for 28 years.After 28 years, the president said: “We want reforms.”

I was appointed adviser.Almost immediately, he lifted one-man-rule and gave freedom to political parties, as never before in 28 years. He allowed freedom of expression.

My God! They went to town with it! They started jabbering and cursing the president, and it ended up in riots. There were lots of riots. The president was getting angrier and angrier.

One day, I said: “Mr President, why don’t you try this: allow them to demonstrate, but keep the police away. Put them on standby alert. If possible, don’t let them be seen.”

He was a little hesitant but I said: “Why don’t you try?”

There is no better treat for criminal elements, especially anarchists, and those in politics who would benefit from violence, than the highly visible presence of police in or around the area where the demonstration is taking place. This will give them a definitive target. They carry stones and throw them at the policemen, they jeer at them and provoke them.

I said: “If you keep the police away and let the demonstrators shout themselves out for two or three hours, maybe everything will be all right. Please, why don’t you try this once, just once?”

And, you know, they did.

On my next visit, I got feedback on the demonstration. They were angry, they threw some things at some shops, and they shouted themselves hoarse. After that, they dispersed. Nobody got arrested. The point is, it can be done.

In Malaysia, I am very clear on the sort of orderly demonstration that I am suggesting.

People must apply for permits, but the application is not for the purpose of restricting demonstrations.Once approved, you need to comply with certain very strict procedures. You must be responsible for orderliness by appointing a list of marshals to be identified and identifiable. You must ensure cleanliness. Certain sites or routes must be determined. All this is so that there is accountability and responsibility.

Traffic and regular police will be there to ensure orderliness. At the same time, they must also make known that there will be riot police at hand, in case anything goes wrong.

This agreement must be signed and sealed. If necessary, pass a law, or a by-law that relates to it. Then, people will get used to this culture.

Of course, it might not work. The authorities or the demonstrators might create trouble deliberately.

But try this. Some experiments I tried during my tenure as Suhakam chairman showed that it could work.

Q: So what’s happened since you left (in 2002)?

A: They didn’t allow it.

Q: Why?

A: Don’t ask me. I’m not in the government! When I had some influence and power, I could get it done.

Q: Is this something that Suhakam should do?

A: They should. A minor criticism about Suhakam is that, as of now, they don’t want to touch on these sensitive things.

They don’t have to shout or make statements, they could go on a quiet trial, get things prepared. They could and should start activating this section of Suhakam to contribute to the orderliness and acceptability of demonstrations.

If something happens, have a system of inquiry. Find the guilty one. This should be included in the by-laws.

Why can’t we have such a system? I feel all this needs dialogue and an exchange of views of all stakeholders.

Q: The system right now is, if you want to assemble, you have to apply for a police permit.

A: And almost automatically it’s refused. So, you stop there.

Q: So, if it’s refused, the assembly is illegal?

A: Yes, it’s illegal.

Q: Some people feel there is a biased allocation of permits.

A: There are biased allocations, in so far as the applicants are concerned. In so far as the government is concerned, they say they are not biased.But therein lies the problem.

Again, we’re back to where we started. If you have a focused examination of the situation, the ways and means, and formed a methodology or systematic approach, maybe it might work.

The point I am trying to make is that it has never been tried. It is just dismissed automatically as something that is going to be a sure disaster.

Psychologically, when you say “demonstration", you are sure there is going to be violence. It is in the psyche of the people, in the psyche of the police to begin with, and in the psyche of the demonstrators. They are ever ready for the police to attack them, and the police are ever ready to be attacked.

You cannot be like that.

I do know that even in the most developed countries, there have been riots. But the issues are different. In France, how many times have they had riots? How many times have they used tear gas and water cannons? They have. The issues there are much more serious. But the system works.

In Malaysia, recently there were two demonstrations, both ending up the way they did. Which was bad. On TV it was very bad.

But I say, well, if you were to have orderliness, maybe it would not be that bad.

Again, what I am trying to say is, “Try, lah!”

The law needs to be adapted. If you accept the principle of expression of views in terms of demonstrations to be positive, then work on it.

Governments always think, “No, it has always caused violence, it is sure to cause violence.” So the people think demonstrations are violent. Either they run away or get involved, ready for violence.

I am trying to change the mindset. I know I may sound idealistic, but I am saying it based on my conviction and my experience.

Q: The government believes if you are unhappy, you should make an appointment with the government and tell them what’s wrong.

A: Let’s talk about the Indian problem. Incidentally, we’re all Malaysians. Their problem in this country is genuine.

Of course, we have a party that claims to be representing the Indians, but obviously, they feel that they are not satisfied with the representation, and that the representation of the Indians are considered by them not to be effective. Obviously, they are desperate. And I know, in many cases, they have genuine grievances.

Once they (irresponsible elements) take over there is no accountability, no responsibility and no legal legitimacy. And then, they were prepared to go to the absolutely ridiculous, criminal and irresponsible act of telling the world that we, Malaysia, commit ethnic cleansing.

My point is that, try my method. Try, lah!

Q: Is the use of force justified in dispersing peaceful people?

A: If you had rules and regulations which include an investigation into a situation where violence takes place, immediately Suhakam, or whoever, must start an inquiry. Then the blame game can go there. Not here, in the newspapers or the blogs.

Q: In an illegal rally, is it justified to use force?

A: No, not by anybody.

The police will tell me, in many cases it is true, that they are provoked. But, like in the Maldives, they (anarchists) love to see the police. They have a target because, as the police, you represent the government.

So, you take action, and then there’s a reaction.

Q: Is Malaysia ready for peaceful assemblies?

A: Yes! Come on, we have been independent for 50 years.In the old days, after the demonstrations by the Indians, there would have been retaliation immediately.

Q: By whom?

A: By Malays, maybe. No way could the Indians have avoided retaliation.

I know there are rumours of plans (of retaliation). But the point is that now there is maturity, lots of talk in the press and the blogs. I think it’s healthy.

Q: So, what should the government’s next step be?

A: I just told you! Get organised! Or ask Suhakam to do it. Come up with a working paper, start with that.

It’s not that this has never been attempted — we did — but this was in Tun Dr Mahathir’s time. This is Abdullah’s time, he’s more liberal, more open. People ask him to impose the ISA, he said it could be used but under specific circumstances. It’s so comforting when he says it; as against the old days.

It’s necessary to make this comparison between the old days and the present.I was at parliament speaking to the members of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Good Governance. Lim Kit Siang was chairing my speech. I got up and said: “What a nice sight. In the old days, there was no place, even in this international forum, for opposition leaders.” They all laughed.

That’s change. I’m telling you, we are mature. Provided, that is, and I always have this qualification, that there is economic progress going on.

Of course, everybody has complaints. Malays have complaints. But the Tamils are such a minority and they don’t form an important force, so people don’t seem to pay too much attention to them. But they need this attention.

This is a question of attitude. I am so happy that the prime minister actually directed the MIC to look into the matter. But they should not have been told by the prime minister. It should have been an on-going thing. Maybe they need to have a good, fresh look at themselves.

Q: You said earlier that rights come with responsibility. What if demonstrations impinged on other people’s rights?

A: I’m telling you, try my way. If advance notice is given, and routes are determined, orderliness is ensured, people are going say: “Look, there’s a demonstration. It’s going to pass through here. Come, let’s watch.”

It’s never been tried.

Every day, it comes out in the newspapers, businessmen saying: “This is not good for business, we lose a lot.”

I know the tricks. The TV saying every day that Ini bukan budaya kita (this is not our culture).

I’m sorry for ridiculing this, but where is there a budaya (culture) of violence anywhere in the world? Do you think violence is a French budaya? Indonesians? Filipinos?

These are partisan expressions. It’s not an accusation, it’s a fact.

If you follow my suggestion, Malaysia might be one of the first developing nations to try this.

Then, if the demonstrators don’t observe the regulations, impose severe penalties. Again, include this in the law. Have a system of inquiry ready.

This is a non-partisan view. Don’t anybody dare tell me that I’m anti-government, or anti-Umno.

I am saying this in the national interest, with pride and an awareness that Malaysia needs much better orderliness and guidance as far as this is concerned.

Q: Do you think the concept of the right to freedom of expression in Malaysia is a middle class idea?

A: No. What about those people in Baling? They were not middle class. They were poor smallholders.

You cannot dismiss people. We should not recognise them in order to arrest them. That’s negative.

The right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in our democratic institution. That right also gives the right to the government to refuse.

The thing at issue is not that the rights are not there. The rights exist. It is the application of the right and the administration of the right that I am taking issue with.

This matter is an everyday affair, it is of interest to all political parties. They have one common interest, they want to express themselves on the one hand, and, in spirit, the government wants to allow them.

Q: Should the possibility of a riot justify depriving people of the right to be heard?

A: You say “the possibility". Once I accept this, the government authority will say: “There is a possibility of a riot.” Full stop. Rejected.

The possibility of a non-riot, non-violence, has never been looked at.

The rules and regulations to establish orderliness have never been tried. Tried — that’s the point.

It could fail. But try it.

This government and administration is very liberal and tolerant. But what is happening is that, the anti-government forces are pushing the government to see its limits.

So the survival of liberalism and tolerance depends on the ability of all to contribute. It is in the interest of all to see that this liberalism and tolerance survive. It is in the interest of all.

Q: If the government doesn’t come up with a system, what would this say about human rights and about us?

A: The government has the right to say no. The government has a right to refuse. But if it does, I’ll be disappointed.Try, lah!


© Copyright 2007 The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

When Nazri says, ‘don’t worry’, start worrying!

The People’s Parliament
We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers - Emmeline Parkhurst

December 7, 2007

Malaysiakini reports him as saying that ‘there is no law against the fast-track appointment of Zaki. We are not doing something unconstitutional or illegal’.

Nazri said that Zaki is a ’straight fellow’ and that the ‘only reason we roped him in was due to his past performance and his character’.

‘We roped him in’?

Who is ’we’?

UMNO?

His past performance and character?

Could Nazri tell us how the past performance and the character of the seven other more senior Federal Court judges is lacking such that ‘they’ had to ‘rope him in’?

What performance and character, specifically?

Perhaps Nazri is alluding to that referred to by Kim Quek in a Malaysiakini article entitled ‘Judicial rot : From one nightmare to another?’

I quote Kim Quek :

‘Just as the nation is heaving a sigh of relief at the exit of the scandal-ridden Ahmad Fairuz as chief justice, in comes another dubious candidate poised to take his place.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s sudden announcement of the appointment of Zaki Azmi to the second highest post in the judiciary – President of the Court of Appeal – must have jolted and dismayed many who have cherished hopes of judicial reforms following the reluctant retirement of Fairuz.

…In fact, when Zaki was appointed a Federal Court judge in September, he was instantly recognized at home and abroad as the person planted to the highest court to succeed Fairuz, whose request for a six-month extension of service beyond his mandatory retirement on Oct 31 was not accepted by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Such instant recognition of Zaki’s mission came from his deep involvement with Umno as a key party player. He was chairman of the party’s election committee, deputy chairman of its disciplinary board of appeal, party legal adviser etc.

As Umno’s legal man, he was involved with the party’s myriad of scandalous financial misadventures that were bailed out by the government in the heydays of Mahathir’s crony-capitalism during the last Asian financial crisis. One prominent example is the RM3 billion loan scam in the disastrous acquisition of Philippines’ National Steel Corp (NS) by Umno’s financial proxy Halim Saad. When the shares of NS became scrap, four top Malaysian banks were made to stomach the entire RM3 billion losses. And Zaki was then a director of the investment vehicle - Hottick Investment Ltd of Hong Kong – which borrowed the RM3 billion and embarked on the acquisition of NS.

Apart from acting as Umno’s nominee, Zaki also has held directorship in scores of major companies including some of the most well known names such as Berjaya, Metacorp, Pan Global, SP Setia, Malaysia Airports, Hume, Matsushita Electric, Pharmaniaga etc. Zaki was reported by Bernama on April 21 this year to have said that his 58% owned Emrail Sdn Bhd, a railway specialist company, had only the government as employer, and that he was earnestly soliciting contracts in the northern and southern portions of the double-tracking project to turn the cash-strapped Emrail around.

Such political and business background would already have made him a poor candidate for any judicial appointment, Zaki is battered by yet another serious handicap – the question of his moral integrity arising from his controversial marriage and divorce from his second wife Nor Hayati Yahaya, who was half his age.Zaki married Nor Hayati in a ceremony conducted by a kadi from Thailand in a textile shop in Perlis in March 2005. They separated three months later. In the messy divorce that ensued, it was revealed that Zaki burned the original marriage certificate to hide the marriage from his first wife. Further, the marriage was ruled by the Syarah Court as illegal.

Following the revelation of Zaki’s marital trouble, he resigned as deputy chairman of Umno’s disciplinary board, for which he commented: “Considering that members of the disciplinary board are of the highest integrity, I have made this decision following reports in the media ….” (New Straits Times, 9 Aug 2005)’.

See also Sisters in Islam take on this sordid affair in an article entitled ‘Deception and Dishonesty in the Practice of Polygamy’ :

Tan Sri Zaki Azmi with his second wife, Nor Hayati, deliberately burnt their original marriage certificate to keep their union a secret from his first wife (NST, 5 August 2005). Now that he is facing problems with his second wife, he is seeking to get their marriage declared null and void as a way to resolve the matter. In other words, to claim that the second marriage did not really exist and that he had in effect, deceived his second wife about the legality of their union. When a prominent senior lawyer and public figure chooses to use his access to knowledge and expertise in law to effect deceit in his existing married life, as well as to evade responsibility and problems in his subsequent marriage, this demonstrates a startling lack of respect not only for his chosen life partners, but also to the family as instituted in law and religion. What can Malaysians expect when leaders of our community display such blatant lack of deference to the integrity of family life and the institution of marriage? Why have laws on polygamy in the first place, when they are used not to protect rights and interests of contracting parties, but as a way to avoid duties and responsibilities?

Kim Quek’s questions below sum up just how nonsensical Nazri’s attempt to calm public concerns is :

‘The question we must ask now is: If Zaki is morally unfit to serve in Umno’s disciplinary board, how could he be considered morally fit to be a federal court judge, not to mention his lightning elevation to the No.2 position, and anticipated imminent rise to the top job in the judiciary?Is this country so poor in legal talent and integrity that we have no choice but to appoint some one so glaringly unsuited for such important judicial position arising from his multiple conflicts of interests and questionable integrity? If not, then why did the prime minister make such a move? If it is not to advance the prime minister’s and Umno’s interests, then what motivated such an appointment?’

Whilst I could be wrong, my sense is that if no effective date has been fixed for Zaki’s appointment to take effect, then His Majesty has not as yet assented to Zaki’s appointment as President of the Court of Appeal. It seems unimaginable that His Majesty would sign an appointment letter with dates blank.

And if I am right, then the announcement by the PM that Zaki has been appointed when in fact the Agong has not is an act most mischievous on the part of the PM.

Kim Quek seems to share some of these concerns. This is what he says :

‘Knowing that the King and the Council of Rulers had previously declined to accept nominees deemed inappropriate to fill the vacancies of the President of Court of Appeal and Chief Judge of Malaya respectively, as well as having turned down Fairuz’ request to continue as chief justice, the suddenness of PM’s claim of royal assent – particularly in reference to Zaki’s controversial promotion – came as a surprise to many people. Did the Agong also assent to Zaki’s appointment? If so, why couldn’t Zaki’s date of appointment be also decided alongside with Hamid’s? Or was there a problem of royal assent?’

These concerns also raise the question as to the sincerity on the part of the government in the setting up of the Royal Commission of Inquiry to look into the judiciary following the VK Lingam video expose. Media reports have it that the names of nominees have been submitted to His Majesty for approval.

People, start worrying.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Zaid: Fresh thinking needed

Giam Say Khoon
The Sun

The government should manage demonstrations properly and not use force, as this will not help to solve the real problems at hand, said Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

Zaid, the Barisan Nasional member of Parliament for Kota Baru, said he expected ethnic and religious issues to be among the serious issues to be discussed in the next general election.

He said that among them would be the issues raised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25.

He said this in his talk on the issues to be expected in the next polls, presented in the Rotary Club’s weekly meeting today.Zaid observed that peaceful demonstrations were part of the democratic process.

"It is actually a small thing to me and I wish that after 50 years of independence, we will be able to manage this thing quite easily. To demonstrate and protest in a peaceful way is part and parcel of a democratic country," he said.

He added that the police could have told the people which road to take and how the organiser should control and limit the crowd so that the demonstration can be properly managed.

"But our response has always been 'No', even the Bar Council has abandoned the walk to celebrate International Human Rights Day (Monday, Dec 10).

"I was part of the walk last year and the year before. It was just a walk. We were just walking around the Lake Garden and it was good exercise," he said.

Zaid also said sensitive issues such as the demolition of temples must be handled with care, and overlooking that would risk provoking extreme reactions from the people who were affected by it.

He said "using force and power", the Internal Security Act or revoking the protesters’ citizenship would not help the situation or address the real issues faced by the people.

"We have to remember that we are a multi-cultural and multi-racial country and if we, all the time, see it as a Malay, Chinese or Indian issue, we are not going to see the real problem.

"Somebody said the Malays are worse than the Indians as only 2.9% of the Indians are poor, compared with 8% of the Malays who are poor. It is not going to help to say who has the problems. So why are we are still responding to the issues in such a negative way, why do we need to remind ourselves and start comparing ourselves as Chinese, Indians and Malays?" he asked.

"Let's not talk about race and religion. Let's just see things as what they are, economic issues and the sensitivity of the people.

"Zaid said the nation needed a people-oriented government, which he described as one which would listen to even the most ridiculous demand from the people.

"Some even said we need new faces in the cabinet and I think so too," he added.He said he was often asked why he joined the BN, and his reply was that the BN concept to get all the people together was a wonderful concept although it was not easy to achieve.

"You have a wonderful model and you just need to think, to adjust and change from within. So I criticise the BN because I want it to become better," he said, adding that the BN should be driven more as a coalition and not by one party or Umno.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I disagree with the country’s leaders-Gerakan MP

By Dato’ Dr Toh Kin Woon
State Legislative Assemblyman for Machang Bubok, Pulau Pinang (BN-Gerakan)

Several major marches and pickets, all peaceful, have taken place in our country over the last few months.

There was the ‘Walk for Justice’ organised by the Bar Council. This peaceful march called for a complete review of the country’s judiciary system with a view to restoring its independence, and hence put into effect the separation of powers so important for justice. This was followed by a march to the palace organised by Bersih, a broad coalition of political parties and NGOs, calling for free and fair elections.

The most recent, this time to hand over a memorandum to the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur , was organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, in short. Although the stated objective of this last demonstration was to demand compensation for the exploitation of Indians from the British government, it was in effect to highlight the socio-economic and cultural plight of the Indians, especially their lower strata.

To all these must be added the numerous pickets called by the trade unions for higher salaries just to meet rises in costs of living so burdensome to the workers.

All these marches and pickets, especially those organised by Bersih and Hindraf, drew tens of thousands of people. And this, despite the authorities warning the public not to take part as these assemblies were all so-called “illegal”. Participants were threatened with arrest should they take part in all these illegal assemblies.

These marches drew flak and condemnation from almost all Barisan Nasional leaders. Their criticisms centred on their illegality, potential threat to peace, the possible destablisation of the economy including frightening away foreign investors. I disagree with the views of our country’s leaders.

Instead of condemning, one would have thought and hoped that they should have been more concerned over the grievances, frustrations and disappointments that have brought so many thousands to the streets in the first place and to seek fair and just solutions to them.

Is it true that there are lots of defects in our country’s judicial system? If so, what are they? What must we do to overcome these so that we can restore its independence, and give real substance to the separation of powers in order to strengthen our country’s democratic institutions?

Likewise, what are the shortcomings in our country’s electoral system, especially pertaining to the electoral rolls, election campaigning, access to media, etc? And on Hindraf, what are the grievances, frustrations and unhappiness of the lower strata of the Indian community, and that of all the other communities, pertaining to housing, education, health, jobs, equity and religious freedom?

Until and unless these and many more issues concerning our country’s judicial and electoral systems as well as social justice for the poor are looked into seriously and satisfactory solutions found, the discontent that has brought thousands to the streets over the last several months will remain. To me, it is this discontent and unhappiness that will be a greater threat to our country’s peace and stability, rather than the marches, pickets and demonstrations.

To be fair, the government did finally agree to the setting up of a royal commission of inquiry to look into the Lingam case that triggered the outpouring of dissatisfaction over the state of our judicial system. The terms of reference of this soon to be set-up royal commission have, however, not yet been announced. Hopefully, its scope of work will include getting to the bottom of why our judicial system has declined so precipitously over the years.

A truly democratic society that allows peaceful marches, an independent and just judicial system, free and fair elections, equal respect by the state for all religious faiths and social justice for the poor are, among others, the key pillars of democracy, peace and stability. Without these, no amount of coercion, including the threat to use the obnoxious Internal Security Act (ISA), can bring us the lasting peace and security that all Malaysians desire.

Finally, I find it extremely disturbing that a backbench Barisan Nasional MP who took a divergent stand on Hindraf should be so severely rebuked and chastised by a couple of BN leaders. This clearly does not augur well at all for intra-BN democracy.

The message sent seems to be that all BN elected representatives are expected to be meek and passive followers of the views of their leaders and that no space is provided for independent views, including those articulated by the larger civil society. I wonder how such a stance by the leaders can attract people who want to seek changes from within!

The writer is a member of Penang State Gerakan Party and Chairman state Economic Planning, Education, and Human Resources Development, Science, Technology and Innovation.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Indian Discontent in Malaysia

Zafar Anjum
Asia Sentinel, 26 November 2007

The country’s “third race” airs its grievances

The harsh reaction by Kuala Lumpur’s police Sunday to a protest organized by the Hindu Action Force, a pressure group established to further the cause of Malaysia’s 2 million Indians, turns the spotlight on the country’s third largest ethnic group and the problems it has faced for decades.

Tensions have been inflamed recently with the accelerated destruction of Hindu temples by the government. Although many have been built without permits on government land, they have been in place for decades. Three have been bulldozed this year to make way for road construction and a housing development and another three are due for demolition over the next few months.

The Kuala Lumpur police set up road blocks for three days in advance of the demonstration and charged the group’s leaders with sedition. As they had on Nov. 10 against the pressure group Bersih calling for election reform, the police confronted an estimated 10,000 Indian demonstrators with water cannon and tear gas. Some police were armed with submachine guns, weapons they rarely carry openly, as helicopters hovered overhead.

This demonstration was notably more aggressive than the Nov. 10 one, which was multiracial and led not only by Bersih, a good-government organization, but three opposition parties. Defying an order that the protest was illegal, the protesters Sunday, many of them swinging motorcycle helmets as weapons, threw cans and bottles.

Disobeying an order to disperse, they gathered outside the city’s gleaming Petronas Towers, with police chasing them down side streets. Scores also gathered at the huge, Batu Caves north of Kuala Lumpur, which is filled with Hindu statues and other objects of worship.

The Hindu Action Force, three of whose leaders were arrested Friday and charged with sedition in advance of the protests, sought to present a petition to the British High Commission asking Queen Elizabeth to appoint a Queen’s Counsel to represent the Indian community. Hundreds of police from Malaysia’s Federal Reserve Unit and the General Operations Force were stationed in the vicinity of the British High Commission in an effort to thwart their progress. In August, the group filed a US$4 trillion class-action suit against the British government in London, asking compensation for being brought to the rubber plantations. At issue in the protest is the odd niche that Indians, some 7 to 8 percent of the population, occupy in Malaysian society. Brought to what was then British Malaya to work in rubber plantations, they occupy the bottom rung of modern society at the same time their numbers are over-represented in medicine, the law, civil service, the police and information technology.

Ananda Krishnan (worth $4.6 billion in Forbes' list of Malaysian billionaires), of Sri Lankan descent, is the second richest tycoon in Malaysia. He owns pay TV operator Astro All Asia Networks and telecom major Maxis, among other businesses. Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia, is one of Malaysia's most successful entrepreneurs. Born in Kuala Lumpur of Indian descent, Fernandes revolutionized budget air travel in Asia and has been called the "Asian Branson."

The Indians’ presence in Malaysia, however, is much more complicated than that. Migration started in the second half of the 19th century when the British brought Tamils and Telugus from the south of India as indentured laborers, primarily to work on rubber plantations, rail lines and the ports. A second wave, mostly from Northern India, came to man the police force and become civil servants. That included Tamils from Sri Lanka and Indians from Kerala – including the father of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has always been somewhat coy about his Indian roots. Yet a third stream came as traders, Anjum writes.

Yet another wave of Indian migration arrived starting in the 1970s, according to Anjum. In particular, as Mahathir pushed the dream of Malaysia as an IT hub, they were sought after to develop the country’s information technology base, with Malaysia formally signing a Memorandum of Understanding with India for manpower recruitment on a contract basis in 2007. Today, Malaysia’s overseas Indian population is the largest outside the United States.

But outside the legions of professionals, the rubber and palm oil plantations of Malaysia’s interior are still home to some of the poorest residents of the country, their health stunted by malnutrition and their lives marked by lack of upward mobility. In 2000, Time Magazine reported that Indians had the lowest share of the nation's corporate wealth: 1.5%, compared to 19.4% for Malays and 38.5% for Chinese. The highest rate of suicide of any community is among Indians. Gangsterism and violent crime is largely associated with Indians. Some 15% of the Indians in the capital are squatters.”

While some blame Malaysia’s racial policies as the barrier to Indian social wellbeing, with Malays betting on the country’s affirmative action policy and the Chinese being formidable in commerce and business, others blame the Indians themselves. The Malaysian Indian Congress, the ethnic-based party that represents the Indian minority in the ruling coalition, is widely looked upon as ineffective if not corrupt.

Race is the big divide in Malaysia. During his 20 years as prime minister, Mahathir sought to uplift Malays, guaranteeing them a large share of business opportunities. The Chinese, the biggest minority, were supposed to lose their disproportionate share of the country's economy. But the real losers were Indians. Due to their colonial legacy, they are generally seen as providers of cheap labor in plantations and construction sites, their political and social mobility has been thwarted.

Amarjit Kaur, professor of Economic History, at the University of New England in Australia, attributes this partly to caste distinctions. She writes in The Encyclopedia of Indian Diaspora: "The underperformance of the Indian working class may be attributed to the fact that Indian workers were drawn from the less favored caste groups. Thus they continue to be weighed down by the low self-esteem that usually characterizes members of groups belonging to the lower castes and is worsened by lack of the interaction between the well-off and the less well-off Indians.... The marginalization of working-class Indians is reflected in their poor performance in business, equity ownership and employment in professional sectors and the civil service. The disadvantaged position of the majority in the Indian community has contributed to a sense of dispossession and disadvantage among many Indians in Malaysia."

Sarala Sukumaran, 40, a Malaysian Indian entrepreneur who runs an IT firm, says: ""I know many Indian families who want to get out of Malaysia. There are two main reasons behind the backwardness of Indians. One is that we are a minority here, and two, the politicians who represent us do not promote our cause."
Sukumaran is a third generation Malaysian Indian. Her grandparents came to Malaysia in the 1930s to work in the plantations in Penang.

“I feel that we are not aggressive enough as a community in terms of unleashing our entrepreneurial potential. That's why our evolution has been very slow. Comparatively, look at the Tamils from Sri Lanka,” she said. “They have a more close-knit community feeling, they help uplift each other and they are certainly doing much better than the Indians."

After the racial riots of May 1969, Malaysian leaders emphasized the establishment of a united nation and a national culture transcending ethnic identities. The dominant culture in this set-up is Malay with some elements from other cultures supporting it.

Even some new Indians, want to get out. "Being non-bumiputras in Malaysia, we can never settle down here," says Nishant Upadhyay, 30, an instructional designer. "We know that getting a permanent residency is next to impossible so we are looking at opportunities in countries like Singapore and Australia where we can easily settle down and start a family."

Many Indian IT professionals have still not gotten over the mistreatment of 300 Indian citizens in March 2003 in Kuala Lumpur, which was widely reported in the Indian press. Security agencies reportedly interrogated them rudely in a search for illegal immigrants, but all the Indians possessed valid residency documents. Subsequently Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then the deputy prime minister, apologized for the incident.

But there are frequent reports of abuse of Indian workers and Bumiputra politics disadvantage Indians in education and work opportunities. Local university seats and scholarships are awarded under a racial quota system, and even after getting a degree, many say that discrimination is commonplace. Indian doctors, for instance, complain that they are often excluded from lists of approved doctors whom civil servants or company employees can patronize.

The conversion of rubber plantations to housing estates and golf courses also has displaced plantation workers who have drifted to urban centers. As a result, urban Indian ghettos have emerged and crime has escalated.
Many Indians blame government policies for their backwardness, a charge rejected by mainstream politicians.

Says Malaysian politician Shahrir Abdul Samad: "The Indian community problems are more than just equity. Most of their problems are social problems, such as gangsterism. I admit Indians are among the poorest in this country, but their participation and achievements in many other fields are amazing."

Indian Malaysians discover themselves in a bind. Most have resigned themselves to their plight while discontent simmers within the community. But how long can Malaysia afford to allow 8 percent of its population to feel alienated?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Guyana's Head of State condemns Samling

"There will be consequences for Samling"
Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana, condemns the Malaysian loggers' illegal activities

Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana, publicly condemned Malaysian logging giant Samling for illegal logging and announced that the corporation might be seriously penalized for its breaches of the South American country's forest laws. According to recent press reports, the Guyanese Head of State disclosed that the alleged breaches of forestry procedures involve collusion between Samling's Guyanese subsidiary Barama Co. Ltd., some concessionaires and staff of the Guyana Forestry Commission.

"Based upon preliminary investigations it seems as though there was a system among the three groups to defraud the government", according to Staebrok News, a daily appearing in Guyana's capital Georgetown, in quoting President Jagdeo. The offenders might be penalized with revocation of their licenses, suspension or a fine. Meanwhile, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) asked for a temporary suspension of Forestry Commissioner James Singh and the appointment of independent investigators.

Illegal exploitation of 408'000 hectares of tropical rainforest

Barama is illegally exploiting 408'000 hectares of tropical rainforest from Guyana in addition to its legally held 1.61 million hectares of forest concessions. Since 1991, the Malaysian loggers have been benefiting from a Foreign Direct Investment Agreement that grants them large tax exemptions and other privileges. The controversial company enjoys the support of international banks such as Credit Suisse, HSBC and Macquarie Securities which sponsored its public listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange in March 2007.

Samling, which has its operational headquarters in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, has a long track record of illegal and unsustainable logging. In recent years, the company was forced to cease its involvement in logging activities in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea because of non-compliance with local regulations. Only the Sarawak State Government continues to lend Samling unlimited support despite unsustainable logging practices and numerous unresolved conflicts with indigenous communities.

It's time to say good-bye to Samling

In March 2007, 37 non-governmental organizations from 18 countries asked investors to shun Samling. It is high time that international banks, institutional investors and timber retailers start to divest themselves of all their ties with Samling.

Monday, October 15, 2007

You can’t kill Confucius

Asia Sentinel, 12 October 2007
by Yenni Kwok

An ancient sage makes a comeback to serve the Communist party’s purposes in China

“Serve the people, don’t betray them,” urges one line printed in posters that are plastered all throughout Beijing.

These “Eight Honors, Eight Shames” posters are the latest political propaganda and ‘theoretical musings’ of President Hu Jintao, expected to be written into the Chinese constitution in the upcoming Communist Party Congress later this month.

Confucius
Make no mistake, however. These Communist-like sayings, which include calls to love the country, help each other, be disciplined, and dissuasions not to harm the motherland, sacrifice ethics for profits and wallow in luxuries, are in fact Confucian in spirit.

Confucianism is indeed back in vogue in China. The recent birthday of the great philosopher was celebrated with much pomp across the country. Ceremonies paying homage to Confucius, said to be born 2,558 years ago, were held in various temples even in far-flung provinces, as far as Sichuan and Fujian, Guangxi and Jilin.

The biggest celebration was in his birthtown, Qufu in Shandong province. A record number of 3,500 people attended the colorful celebration in late September, broadcast live nationwide by the state-run television. Leading the procession at the Confucius Temple were party cadres and officials from the national, provincial and city governments. The VIP list included the descendants of Master Kong, as Confucius is also known, and academic-turned-TV celebrity Yu Dan, whose commentary on the master’s works, Notes on the Analects, sold for 4 million copies within four months.

“We know China is a communist country, but all our beliefs are also based on China’s traditional culture,” declared Hou Duanmin, vice mayor of Jining City (which also administers Qufu) amidst the fanfare that included 1,500 students’ reciting lines from the master’s classics and a mass performance of ancient ritual dance. The festivity reached its climax with burning incense at the altar, in front of the looming statue of the philosopher.

Such reverence to the ancient philosopher was unthinkable even 10 years ago. “The situation has totally changed,” says Tu Weiming, Confucian philosopher and professor at Harvard University. “It has something to do with the economic vibrancy of China; the Chinese voice has become more audible. The big question now is the new search for cultural identity.”

The revival of Confucianism coincides with the growing interest in Chinese traditional heritage. Earlier this year, Starbucks was evicted from the Forbidden City after a TV anchorman, writing in his blog, declared its presence there was “a contamination to Chinese culture.” Last December, a group of scholars urged non-Christians not to celebrate Christmas. “Western culture is growing from a gentle wind and light rain into a heavy storm in China,” the group said in their posting on a Confucianism website.

According to Professor Tu, China faces two options in its search for an identity. “The cultural identity could lead to national pride, but this can become more chauvinistic and more nationalistic,” he says. “Another option is the cultural identity that is based on an open, pluralistic countenance that exhibits a very high level of flexibility.”

An example of the former is the 19900s debate over Asian values. Confucianism, which traditionally emphasizes regimented social relations including ruler-subject and father-son ones, enjoyed a brief revival in Southeast Asia. As the East and Southeast Asian nations basked in the success of economic prosperity and faced mounting social challenges (not unlike China of today), Lee Kuan Yew, the patriarch of Singapore, championed the shared values of the “Confucianist sphere of influence,” dubbing them “Asian values,” a spurious notion at best, since many of the countries scattered across Asia from Japan to India hardly share anything beyond the same hemisphere. After the financial crisis in 1997, Asian values disappeared into oblivion. In an interview with Newsweek in 2001, Lee acknowledged that “Confucian” values had become obsolete under the demands of global economy.

Nonetheless, the travesty of Asian values also underlined one interesting aspect of Confucianism: until recently, it flourished largely outside China. In the early 1900s, Chinese intellectuals blamed Confucianism, the political dogma of imperial rulers, as the culprit of China’s malaise. It took a further blow during the Communist rule, denounced for its ‘feudalistic values’. During the Cultural Revolution, Confucian temples, including the one in Qufu, were smashed and desecrated by the Red Guards. In a more bizarre episode, following his downfall and mysterious death, Lin Biao, the heir apparent of Mao, was condemned as “that traitor who sold our nation” and “a close follower of Confucius.”

During those decades, however, Confucian thought survived overseas and in the periphery of mainland China. New Confucianism movement, which believes the Chinese thought should incorporate Western ideas such as democracy, first emerged among the academics in Hong Kong and Taiwan and later thrived in the United States. The Boston Confucians, with leading figures including Professor Tu of Harvard University, Robert Neville and John Berthrong of Boston University, played a major role in introducing the thought in the West.

It was during its venture overseas that Confucianism evolved through its encounter with Western thinkers. Professor Tu, who says he is influenced by both Confucian philosophers and Christian theologists like St Augustine and Søren Kierkegaard, has introduced the Confucian idea of ‘salvation’. (This isn’t the first religious encounter; the Neo-Confucians of the Song and Ming dynasties drew greatly from Buddhist thought).

Confucianism has made a comeback in recent years just as the more affluent China faces growing social ills, from land disputes to environmental devastation, to corruption scandals to child slavery. It’s not only the leaders who are worried, common folks too. “Our world is like a cherry tree growing pumpkins,” sighs a 34-year-old man called Pang Fei, who opens a private Confucian academy in Beijing. “The world has become so complex that we don’t understand it anymore.”

“Without goodness a man cannot for long endure adversity, cannot for long endure prosperity,” the master said in the Analects, written from the spring and autumn era to the Warring States period – a very turbulent time in Chinese history. Confucianism, with its notions of harmony, virtue, benevolence and righteousness, gives some hope for guidance in this confusing time, and some people may argue that with its emphasis on governance and social relations, it shares some traits with Communism.

Hu and his premier Wen Jiabao may also see it that way. In their quest for ‘harmonious society’, these senior Communist cadres have no qualms to dig into Confucian tenets. But hasn’t history shown whenever Confucianism got co-opted by the government, it can be detrimental on the school of thought? “Yes, it could have negative effects,” Professor Tu admits, but he rejects that Confucianism is all about the status quo and authoritarianism.

“There is a major distinction what is practical, and what is ideal,” he says. “You have people who want to support the government, give up their own idealism and are very practical. Then, you have public intellectuals: they are politically concerned, socially involved and culturally sensitive [which are the embodiment of Confucian values]. They envision themselves as the public conscience.”

The scholar believes these public intellectuals may lead to democracy. “One vision of democracy is public reasoning,” he says. “All these discussions will have a direct impact on policy formulation, allowing people’s participation in the political process. But one important criterion for this is freedom of expression. Unless that happens, the public reasoning is distorted.”

And so is the true potential of Confucianism.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Malaysian Experience: A Case Study of Non-independent Judiciaries in Asia

GUEST COLUMNISTS - Malaysia Today

REFLECTIVE NOTE 5

Niseko Kutchan

Introduction

On the surface, Malaysia appears to be a dynamic and progressive South East Asian nation well positioned to achieve great economic heights in the future as other Asian nations within the region continue to produce healthy GDP growth rates. Blessed with an abundance of natural resources and multi-cultural diversity, a superficial overview of Malaysia would suggest that the government has done remarkably well to promote racial tolerance where so many others have failed, and in the process improved the nation’s economy, symbolized by the Petronas Twin Towers and ultra-modern Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Without doubt, the person responsible for Malaysia’s increased recognition on the global scene was the very vocal ex-Prime Minister Dr Mahatir Mohammed, who served from 1981 till 2003. Dr Mahatir and his counterpart Lee Kuan Yew were leading exponents of Asian values, and claimed that the Asian ‘way’ of achieving greater economic prosperity required ‘stable’ governments instead of adopting liberal democratic policies. This reflective note will examine the historical background of Malaysia’s judiciary and developments which led to its current non-independent state, as described in “Constitutional Values in Turbulent Asia” by Lee (1).

Malaysian Legal System – From Rule of Law to Rule by Law

Akin to Australia, Malaysia was colonized by the British empire, and its legal system duly absorbed much of the form and shape of the common law. When Malaysia achieved independence in the 1960’s, it coincided with the Cold War. As such, communist ideology was rampant in the nation, especially among its Chinese residents. At that time, because Malaysia was still under significant British influence (2), it sought to permanently eradicate communism. The Internal Security Act (ISA) was specifically drafted for this purpose by warranting arbitrary detention without trial for persons involved in communism. Although the draconian ISA shook the very foundations of rule of law itself and encouraged the rise of authoritarianism, Western democracies such as America turned a blind eye as long as the government supported its cause by promoting anti-communistic rhetoric (3). As a result, the ISA still remains in force today, albeit for different purported reasons such as protection of ‘national political stability’ and ‘racial harmony’. In fact, it is used by those in power to quell political dissent and limit freedom of expression. Therefore, it can be said that the ISA and other related laws altered Malaysia’s legal and political climate permanently and provided ripe conditions for dictatorial leadership. Although legislative motives were often ulterior, the Malaysian judiciary gave it the benefit of the doubt and did not proceed to rule the ISA unconstitutional. This was to come at a great cost to the independence of Malaysia’s judiciary, as explained below.

Transformation of the Malaysian Judiciary

Tun Salleh – ‘Calibration’

The Malaysian judiciary did not appear to waver against the tide of authoritarianism in the country until the infamous incident of 1988, where the highest judicial officer of the land, Tun Salleh, along with two other senior Supreme Court judges were suddenly removed from office (4). Dr Mahatir was a central figure in the debacle which stemmed from an action challenging the validity of his narrow win over an-intra party rival during the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) (5). The personal stakes were high for Dr Mahatir and he could entertain the possibility of losing while his case approached its trial date before a full Supreme Court led by Tun Salleh. Acting swiftly by applying political pressure and cunning, Dr Mahatir was able to manipulate the Article 125 of the Malaysian Constitution to architect the removal of Tun Salleh. Judicial officers brave enough to allow an appeal by Tun Salleh were subsequently ‘mysteriously’ dismissed, and replaced by cronies of Dr Mahatir. As such, it is apt that renowned QC Geoffrey Robertson described the episode as one of the most despicable manoeuvres in modern history (6).

Anwar Ibrahim – ‘Validation’

Just when commentators thought that Malaysia had seen its most controversial legal and political episode of the century culminate in the Tun Salleh case, Dr Mahatir pulled another stunt that attracted even more public and international outcry when he had his then deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim sensationally removed from office in 1998. Ironically, Anwar was hand picked by Dr Mahatir to as his successor, but the two disagreed over how to respond to the economic crisis that gripped the nation in 1997. Many believed that Anwar sought IMF (International Monetary Fund) assistance at the chagrin of Dr Mahatir because the latter was embroiled in rampant corruption and IMF monetary aid procedures first required transparent accounts. Dr Mahatir was growing wary of Anwar’s increasing popularity, especially among the Malays, and eager to protect himself and his cronies. As such, he had Anwar sacked by the day and detained by night, invoking the ISA before Anwar could rally any support. The events that transpired after resembled a legal circus, with Anwar being charged with sodomy (7), adultery and corruption. Adding insult to injury, Anwar was physically abused while in custody, refused habeas corpus and ultimately given a ten year concurrent sentence by Paul Augustin J despite glaring factual inconsistencies that would not satisfy the balance of probabilities, much less prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. Naturally, Augustin J was keen to avoid the same fate that befell Tun Salleh. In response, Anwar’s supporters held large rallies that were quelled by force and even Al Gore (then the US Vice President) brought up the issue and praised the ‘brave Malaysian people who took to the streets’ during an APEC meeting in Kuala Lumpur, further souring US –Malaysian relations.

Future of the Malaysian Judiciary

Both cases illustrated above show that the Malaysian Judiciary has lost its independence. Anwar’s case is particularly disturbing as it represented a blatant violation of human rights, and in a sense validated the efforts of ‘under-the-table’ political dirty work which set the wheels of judicial ‘non-independence’ in motion since 1988. While Dr Mahatir continues to trumpet Asian values and claims that dual-party systems are not tailored for developing countries, he has perverted the meaning of Asian values to effect his own political survival. In the process, as observed by Lee, a non-independent judiciary has been created and this cannot bode well with the confidence of foreign investors who expect disputes to be adjudicated in a just fashion. I believe that the incorporation of Asian values into common law should only manifest in stricter laws and harsher penalties (i.e. corporal, capital punishment, length of jail sentences) and not in a completely biased way of construing the law to the benefit of those in power. To this end, at least there is integrity within the judiciary where fair trials are afforded. The future of the Malaysian legal system does seem bleak and will only serve to drive investors away to other rivals within the region, thus reducing the competitive edge of Malaysia to its detriment.

Conclusion

If Malaysia intends to achieve sustained economic progress, it needs a revamped judiciary. That seems highly unlikely without a change of government because the current system does not facilitate the opportunity for change. Many Malaysians want to avoid a repeat of the 1969 racial riots and bloodshed at all costs and are thus tentative to push for reforms, fearing national ‘instability’. This may have led to educated Malaysians migrating away from home, causing a brain drain. As such, this is a condition other emerging Commonwealth nations can learn from and try to avoid because they share a similar colonial past. The independence of Singapore’s judiciary must also be questioned, but it will experience lesser adverse effects because its demographics and geographical region is smaller so easier to control. However, this does not present a sustainable method of progressing indefinitely as people at the grassroots level will eventually begin to think critically. When enough people share the same sentiments, they will be emboldened to effect change.



END NOTES:

1. H.P. Lee, “Constitutional Values in Turbulent Asia” (1997) 23(2) Monash Law Review 375.
2. The British still had economic interests such as petroleum in the nation.
3. H.P. Lee, “Constitutional Values in Turbulent Asia” (1997) 23(2) Monash Law Review 375.
4. Ibid.
5. The leader of UMNO will naturally become the leader of the nation under Malaysian law to reflect local racial demographics.
6. H.P. Lee, “Constitutional Values in Turbulent Asia” (1997) 23(2) Monash Law Review 375.
7. Homosexuality is outlawed in Malaysia.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Negate Not The Hard Work


No clear punitive action is taken against the guilty in any AG’s report. For this, the CID can play an important role.

HAVE you ever worn a flak jacket? In January 1964 when I was flying navigator in an Auster spotter plane over the Tawau-Tarakan border drawing Indonesian fire and radioing their positions back to our “artie”, I did wish I had one on. But, thank God, the Indonesian fire was feeble and a flak jacket was unnecessary.

A couple of weeks or so ago, I was under fire, again a feeble one, from a coterie of three government MPs because of my Aug 12 column The fence that eats the rice which alluded to what a very senior ACA officer had told me about police corruption.

These MPs, including one self-proclaimed “good Muslim”, obviously did not read my Aug 12 column and my Utusan Malaysia Sept 3 reply to one Baharuddin Idris with any understanding, or else they wouldn’t have opened their traps the way they did.

But, never mind, they gave a number of my friends a good laugh over how awash they were.

The “good Muslim” alluded to my position in Genting Berhad as proof of corruption and lack of integrity and revealed his ignorance that Genting is a large conglomerate with interests spanning diverse non-gambling activities such as an oil field and four power stations in China, two power stations in India and one in Sepang. It has struck gas in Irian Jaya and the Natunas in Indonesia. It’s prospecting for oil and gas in Morocco.

Diversified interests

It has large plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, a housing development complete with a golf course and a hotel in Kedah; the list is long.

Muslims in the Genting Group are engaged only in its many non-casino businesses. The revenue in 2006 from these non-casino operations alone totalled RM3.2bil – nothing derisive by any standard!

So you see, my friends, how difficult is the fight against entrenched corruption? You sometimes get flayed even by government supporters! The fight has always been fraught with the danger of malefice. In one of my early columns on corruption, I wrote how a police clerk in Klang suggested in the mid-1970s that I should be shot for being a pain in the neck to the corrupt. Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and I were branded as closet communists by followers of a powerful politician awaiting corruption charges in the mid-1970s – despite the irony of it.

A top judge reportedly told a group of friends in Mecca that the whole thing was a Jewish conspiracy to get rid of a forceful Malay leader and that I had lent myself to it because I was a member of the “Free Mason” movement. And to think that I didn’t even know I was!

Our three MPs can do better by joining in the fight against corruption, for it is the right thing to do. For these MPs, it would also be falling in line with their party leader, the Prime Minister, who has again reiterated that he wanted the police force to be cleansed of wrongdoings and that he would continue the fight against corruption. Or are they not with him here?

Our relative freedom of expression means that it would be wrong for me to make an unjustified statement and, if I have done so, I will apologise unreservedly. That is also the right thing to do but, as it stands, I have no reason to disbelieve my source of that information on the police – a top ACA officer. We’ll wait and see.

But, have you noticed that since my column of Aug 12, there have been no public altercations between the IGP and the Deputy Minister of Internal Security? Coincidence perhaps, but this is as should be since they are the same Minister’s right-hand men.

And Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz suddenly announced that the Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) – still draft, mind you – was ready for feedback from several NGOs and he could see the Bill coming before Parliament at the end of the current session. Coincidence again, maybe, but we can wait awhile to see how closely it will hew to the effectiveness envisaged by the Royal Commission.

My house was burgled on Sept 5. I lost a DVD player, three speakers, some DVD discs and a bunch of keys. But I wasn’t really crestfallen because the moment I rang up the police to report, patrol cars, the investigation officer, the dog and forensic teams and several high-ranking officers swarmed my house. They were certainly on the ball. Three beautiful fingerprints were lifted, hopefully not my maid’s. Even the IGP contacted me. I felt nostalgic for my old PDRM.

At first, the heavy police presence worried my neighbours who thought that I was being arrested for being a pain-in-the-neck critic! When they got the true picture, relief and envy followed that the police had shown me so much concern. To all the officers concerned, thank you for your confidence-building response!

Poor Nurin Jazlin – after being kidnapped for 28 days she was found killed in an unspeakable way by a sexual pervert in PJS 1/48. How the little one must have suffered from pain and fright, not comprehending why her life could change so quickly, so horribly!

I have said before that there are predators out there in the guise of men, and we tempt the fates if we are so cavalier about our children and grandchildren’s safety. It’s not safe out there for unaccompanied children. That message should be driven home to all parents and teachers.

Monitoring immigrant workers

The lack of control over the legal (let alone the illegal) immigrant workers’ movements quite rightly worries some enforcement officials. We must realise that many of the males are deprived of normal opportunities for sexual gratification.

While not saying that one of them is the weirdo responsible for the latest child-murder, I do hope the Internal Security Ministry will find a way through this.

Fifteen years ago when there were many foreign construction workers in the Subang Jaya area, their employers consented to placing them in a camp supervised by several retired senior police officers who registered and controlled their egress and ingress. This can still be done and made mandatory after a proper study to ensure the workers’ comfort and to iron out potential problems. The workers can be transported to their places of work as is done, I believe, in Singapore.

The Nurin case brings to mind the case of five-year-old Nazrin @ Yin which had a happy ending. In my Sunday Star column of April 22 Finders not keepers, I wrote, “If we do not show such people (kidnappers) that their act of depriving a family of its member is a serious crime ? our streets will be even less safe in a short while.”

Another issue that gripped our attention recently is the annual litany of apparent malfeasance exposed by the Auditor-General’s Report.

Nothing resolved

I could feel the disgust of friends as they flayed the Government for allowing the apparent malpractices exposed in annual AG’s reports to go on year after year ostensibly without proper resolution. No clear punitive action was taken against the guilty following last year’s no-less-damning report. Tan Sri Ambrin Buang and his auditors have done well again but lack of enforcement and Cabinet follow-ups may again negate all the hard work.

The ACA DG has announced that his agency had commenced investigations and that we should see the results soon. Good for him. It’s about time our faith in the system is restored. If there are plausible reasons for some of the outlandish purchases, then we should be informed to dispel our bad perception of government’s governance.

But the CID also has a role if it wants to play it. If the allegations smack of criminal breach of trust, cheating or any of the penal code offences, it’s the department’s duty to investigate without waiting for a report to be lodged. Explanatory statements made to the auditors and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee by ministry and departmental officers are admissible in evidence.

Wilful malfeasance must be adequately punished so that others will be sufficiently deterred. The AG’s report bears out the perception that in government spending, we sometimes do not get our money’s worth!

And if, as suggested by Datuk Shahrir Samad, it is not that the civil service has not improved but that “the new ways of implementing projects – the direct negotiations and turnkey method” are the culprits, then the rules must be tightened to restore the image of the public services.

One Race, Two Sets of Views

The Star Online
Insight: By JOCELINE YAP

What do the “three pillars of the Chinese community” or the so-called “banana Chinese” have to do with where the Chinese vote will go in the next general election? Quite a lot, actually.

CORPORATE figure Rita Sim wears several hats but the one she seems to wear rather passionately these days is that of executive director of the Chinese vernacular newspaper Sin Chew Daily.

Sin Chew is the top-selling Chinese paper in the country. It not only makes money, but it is the most powerful voice in the stable of Chinese papers.

Even Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein courts the paper because he needs Sin Chew's cooperation to air policies on Chinese schools.

Today, 95% of Chinese children attend Chinese schools. More importantly, said Sim, the Chinese media (six in the peninsula and eight in East Malaysia) is part of what is known as the “three pillars of the Chinese community”.

The other two pillars are the Chinese schools (1,291 SRJKs and 60 independent schools) and the Chinese organisations or hua zong (7,000 registered clan, guild and business groups).

According to Sim, who is also deputy chairman of the MCA think-tank Insap, anyone who wishes to understand the Chinese social and political sentiment has to first understand the Chinese who subscribe to the concept of the three pillars (G1) for the simple reason that they make up 85-90% of the 6.5 million Chinese in the country.

Insap director Fui K. Soong
The remaining 10-15% are, for want of a better term, referred to as the English-speaking group (G2).

The G2 encompasses those who are not Chinese-educated; they speak English and include a large number of Christians, the peranakan and also those who are part of the Lions and Rotary Clubs set.

Sim and Insap director Fui K. Soong have done quite a bit of research on the two groups.

“People often talk about the Chinese as though they are one homogenous entity but they are not,” said Soong.

The two groups are quite distinct although they overlap in some traits and issues.

But what distinguishes the G1 from the G2 is that the latter does not subscribe to the three pillars concept even if some of them have begun sending their children to Chinese schools.

To the G1, Chinese education is part of their socio-cultural life and even their identity as a race. Chinese associations and Chinese media also form part of that identity.

But the G2 who send their children to Chinese schools do so for largely pragmatic reasons. They think these schools offer a better standard of teaching and that it is useful to learn an additional language.

The G2 are more likely to read English and Malay papers than Chinese papers and their social life and networking do not revolve around the traditional Chinese associations.

The G1, said Sim, are distinguished by their relative sense of self-sufficiency. They do not depend on nor do they demand too much of the government. Many run their own businesses, mostly small and medium scale enterprises or SMEs.

Fair treatment

Hence, political stability and a good economic environment to work and live in are very important to the G1 and they expect the powers-that-be to provide that climate for growth.

“They want the government to be fair and not to interfere too much in their businesses. Basically, this group wants to be left alone.

“They think they can take care of themselves as long as there aren't too many barriers or interference,” said Sim.

That is why schemes like the Northern Corridor Economic Region and even the Iskandar Development Region, to some extent, do not excite the G1. They think the NCER, which is about logistic and infrastructure building, benefits the GLCs rather than SMEs like their own.

Rita Sim - Deputy Chairman: MCA think-tank Insap
The G1 also see many issues from their own narrow perspective. For instance, the crackdown on pig-farmers in Malacca was not just about the authorities regulating pig-farms but a threat to Chinese business interests.

At the height of the pig farming issue in Malacca, Alor Star MP Datuk Chor Chee Heung could not walk into a coffeeshop in his Kedah constituency without being bombarded with comments.

It was taking place down south but Chinese businessmen in Kedah were riled up as though it was happening at their doorstep.

“One day, I walked into the coffeeshop and I thought ‘die, man, I'm going to get it’. They saw it as a move against the community,” said Chor.

The downside about people in this group is that they tend to live in their own ethnic bubble – they attend Chinese schools, read Chinese papers and, as Soong noted, some of them probably know more about what is happening with political personalities in Taiwan than, say, Umno or PAS.

The Chinese-educated have long labelled the English-speaking group as “bananas,” meaning they are yellow outside (Chinese), but white inside (pro-Western culture). Or, as the Hokkiens would put it a little more explicitly, the G2 folk “chiak ang moh sai” (have eaten too much Western s**t).

There's no denying that the G2 are more open to Western ideas and ideals.

“Their ideas of governance, democracy, role of the media and even elections are influenced by the West, namely Britain and the United States. They like to say these are universal ideals even though half the world does not subscribe to the way the Americans and British think,” said Soong.

And given that the general election is looming on the horizon, the question most asked is how these two groups will vote.


Soong said the G2 are issue-oriented. They are influenced by issues and their votes swing from one election to another. They are mostly middle-class, articulate and prone to take issues to the press and in recent years into the Internet.

Incidentally, Gerakan's base lies mainly with this group.

The Chinese, it is often said, are quite inscrutable about their politics but not this group. They are not afraid to air their political views or who they will vote for.

“They are so articulate about their grievances that people think, ‘oh dear, the entire Chinese community is upset’.But actually, their views reflect mainly those in this English-speaking group,” said Soong.

The G2 have been the most critical of the ruling party in recent years.

The Christians in the G2 are particularly concerned about the issue of Islamic state.

According to Soong, the survival of the common law and the secular state is very important to this group because it guarantees their modern lifestyle and for the Christians, the freedom to practise their faith.

“Their fears about the Islamic State is very real and emotional because they see it as a threat to Christianity. The fear comes from deep in the gut,” she said.

The G1 have their own grouses but their concerns are somewhat more diverse.

“At least 30% of them are hardcore opposition supporters at anytime. This group, even if you sent them to heaven and back, will still vote for the opposition, especially the DAP,” said Soong.

Within the G1, there are also about 25% hardcore MCA supporters who will sink or swim with the party.

Of the remainder, 10% are deemed indifferent to politics and elections, leaving about 35% who are known as the swing voters.

They are the ones whom political parties woo like crazy during elections because their votes can determine the result. The swing voters are also very issue-oriented and would react to things like controversial statements from Umno leaders.

Chinese schools issue

The G1 are generally uncompromising when it comes to Chinese education. The MCA and Gerakan took a beating at the polls during the 1980s because this group felt the government was unfair to Chinese schools.

Many of them now feel that their struggle for Chinese education has been vindicated with the rise of China as a global powerhouse.

They point out that even the US News magazine recently reported that learning Chinese would rank 12th among the 50 things to accomplish in one's lifetime to improve one's quality of life.

The Chinese schools issue has not been this stable in decades, something many credit to the confluence of two key politicians.

On the one hand, there is Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, the first MCA president to really understand the community's convictions about Chinese education, hence, his commitment to the issue.

On the other is Hishammuddin who has been more open to Chinese schools than any other education minister in history.

Economic opportunities are another top concern while recent years have seen a rise in concern about crime and public security.

This group's fear about the Islamic State has less to do with its potential impact on their respective religions than on how syariah law will affect their economic interests.

But the issue of fairness underlies the concerns of both groups.

As Chor put it: “Whether it's education, business or local services, the Chinese just want fair treatment.”

If there is anything homogeneous at all about the Chinese, it is about fairness for everyone.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Fair polls involve more than just ballot boxes, says Suhakam chief

The Star, Sunday September 9, 2007

KUALA LUMPUR: Free and fair elections involve more than just ballot boxes, voter registers and campaign posters, said Human Rights Commission chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman.

He said for an election process to be "free", citizens must have the right and opportunity to choose without intimidation from any party.

"Each voter should be able to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation, violence, administrative action or fear of retribution," he after delivering his keynote address at the Human Rights Day 2007 conference themed "Human Rights and Election on Sunday.

Abu Talib touched on several concerns, which dampened the electoral process, including the electoral rolls system, which he described as one of the most criticised aspect, especially when it came to allegations of phantom voters.

"Measures which have been taken by the EC such as checking one's registration status through the commission's website and the likely use of indelible ink in the next election are highly commendable.

"However, there should be better coordination between the National Registration Department (NRD) and the EC so that dead voters are expunged from the electoral roll as soon as the death certificate is issued," he said.

He said all eligible voters should also be automatically registered.

Abu Talib also noted that most polling stations were not disabled friendly, which served as a deterrent to the physically challenged from exercising their voting rights.

He said access to the media remained a serious problem with opposition parties, and urged the EC to consider a mechanism of assuring fair distribution of media access for all candidates and political parties.

On the same note, he also called for a balance to be struck between security, civil rights and freedom when drafting laws pertaining to the Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, Internal Security Act, the Police Act and Societies Act.

"There are cases where opposition parties were refused police permits to hold political ceramah. In two cases the application for registration of political parties were rejected by the Registrar of Societies on grounds of threat to public order and national security."

Abu Talib also stressed that there should not be an unfair use of public resources for campaign, citing a recent by-election campaign in which the Government announced allocation of funds and development projects in that constituency to gain political leverage.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Malaysia Constitutional Monarchy: A Symbol of Identity, Continuity, Unity and Strength

PUBLIC LECTURE BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS RAJA NAZRIN SHAH, RAJA MUDA OF PERAK DARUL RIDZUAN, AT THE KHAZANAH NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SEMINAR ORGANISED BY KHAZANAH NASIONAL BERHAD ON SEPT 3, 2007, IN TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA MEMORIAL, KUALA LUMPUR

50 YEARS OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND NATIONHOOD

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi WabarakatuhSalam SejahteraBismillahi Rahmani Rahim
Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dan Rahmat dari Nya juga, Beta dapat berangkat untuk menyampaikan Titah Utama sempena Seminar Pembangunan anjuran Khazanah Nasional Berhad.Khazanah Nasional Berhad telah mengambil inisiatif menganjurkan seminar dan siri pidato umum sempena negara menyambut ulang tahun kemerdekaan kali kelima puluh. Khazanah kali ini, memilih mengadakan Seminar di Memorial Tunku Abdul Rahman, sebagai penghormatan dan usaha untuk mengingatkan warga akan jasa bakti seorang putera bangsa yang telah dinobatkan taraf sebagai Bapa Kemerdekaan. Inisiatif Khazanah amat dihargai malah harus dicontohi oleh badan-badan koperat dan niaga yang lain. Bahawa dalam memenuhi tanggung jawab membangun dan mengembangkan ekonomi negara, entity perniagaan turut bertanggung jawab menyemaikan rasa patriotisme warga terhadap negara bangsa. Bahawa usaha bina negara tidak hanya terbatas kepada aspek pembangunan material tetapi turut mengandungi elemen bina semangat dan suntikan roh.

1. I am delighted to have this opportunity to address such a distinguished audience, at such a stellar event, and on such a lovely evening. I believe that Khazanah Nasional Berhad has performed a great service to the Malaysian public by embedding this national development seminar into its 2007 Global Lectures. What more fitting way can there be to celebrate our fifth decade of nationhood than by seeking, in Khazanah's words, to "add depth, self-reflection and a renewed sense of direction of where Malaysia is heading or should head into the future". I hope that my contribution this evening will amply serve the three purposes that have been set out.

2. As an after dinner keynote speaker, I try to follow three rules. The first rule is that as it has been a long day for most of you, I should try not to speak too long or be too weighty. The second rule is that as you have all just had dinner, I should try to say nothing that will give you indigestion. The third rule is that as it will soon be your bedtime, I should try not to say anything that will keep you up all night. I will try my best to follow these three rules. I cannot, however, promise not to break any of them. The subjects that I will speak on this evening - that of development and nationhood - are ones that are difficult to treat in a routine and light-hearted manner. What we are speaking about is the essence of our collective welfare and existence for the next fifty years, and this is never a trivial matter.

Introduction

3. For all of our remarkable successes, we cannot afford to underestimate the problems and challenges we will face in the future. They are onerous and taxing, and we must be prepared for the occasional setback. Many countries have failed or are failing at dealing with them. We also cannot underestimate the effort and perseverance that is needed. We must be prepared to continue to make sacrifices, delay self-gratification, and live well within our means. We must be ready to admit that we do not know everything and to be committed to learning from others.

4. The costs may seem high, but then so too are the payoffs. Realising a developed, unified and integrated Malaysian nation is a tremendously pleasing prospect. Once we have shown the ability to manage our affairs and lift ourselves to the full potential that the Almighty intended, we will be able to make the world around us a better place. We will have gained the moral authority to speak and be heard. Moral authority does not come from might or 'divine right' but from a job well done.

Development

5. In short, national development and nationhood are not very good subjects to debate about just before going to bed. They have a tendency to ignite passions, fuel debates and stir action. They overturn existing ideas. They exert pressures, create tensions and give rise to controversies. They set into motion the wheels of change, both small and great and positive and negative. All of these will entail disruptions to the existing order. To a large measure, this cannot be helped. Throughout history, we have witnessed titanic struggles between progressive and reactionary elements of society. In many ways, they are critical antecedents to the process of national transformation.

6. And this is the way it should be. What is development after all, but the instigation of progressive, creative and beneficial change! It is change in the way the economy generates and distributes value and wealth. It is change in the way public institutions serve their constituents. It is change in the way the citizenry think, behave and act. Great leaders are defined precisely by their ability to lead their countries through these transformative changes. Those who can do this and do this well are remembered.

7. Development entails change, and rapid development entails rapid change. Which countries have developed as a result of a strong opposition to change? Which countries have risen to global prominence by seeking to stay the same? The answer is none. No country has developed by avoiding change. No country has garnered influence by clinging to the past. Every country that has developed has done so through constant internal change and renewal.

8. What this means is that if we have a love for the ordinary, the orthodox and the status quo, development will elude us. If we are unwilling or unable to learn and to improve the way we live, the way we think and the way we behave, development will be impossible. Once our bellies are full, it is easy to become self-satisfied and over-confident. Malaysia has accomplished a great deal in the developing world. It is an upper middle income country. It has a high development index. It has started to export capital and create employment in other countries. But there is a great deal more that we can and must do. After all, our per capita income is still less than twenty percent of the average developed country.

9. The desire for stability is, of course, perfectly understandable. Wholesale instability rarely ever contributes to the national good. Stability, however, must be managed in a productive tension together with change. It should not be at the expense of positive and reformative change. This again brings into sharp focus the role of leadership. Good leaders are able to strike a consensus and implement change even in the face of stiff resistance.

10. There are those who simplistically argue that we can 'solve' all our problems by returning to some past era. This kind of selective thinking is not only erroneous but solves nothing. It is mere escapism. Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the more visionary and thoughtful US presidents, once said that "eternal truths will be neither true nor eternal unless they have fresh meaning for every new social situation". I agree. We should appreciate the past but our hope must look to the future, in the "new social situations" that emerge. If there is one lesson of history, I believe this is it.

11. If we truly aspire for development, then our 'talk and walk' cannot be cheap. Our sights and standards must be set high, and they must be kept high. There will be those who will seek to lower them. Our policy cannot be to 'aim high and fly low', much less to 'aim low and fly lower'. There will be those who will try to convince us that we should do so. As far as the Malaysian people are concerned, good enough must not be good enough. Only good is good enough. We need to breed a culture of real excellence.

12. We must be careful to distinguish between fact and fiction, and between what is authentic and artefact. We must be clear that development is not purely linked to how much money we have or how many modern buildings and highways we can construct. Per capita income can be a very deceptive indicator of development. There are countries today with per capita incomes that are more than twice that of Malaysia but whose female citizens are prevented from achieving their full potential. There are countries with the finest state-of-the-art buildings that money can buy, ones that can even change their shape every day, but where unemployment and poverty claim up to 20 per cent of the population.

13. We have been tremendously fortunate. The level of economic activity in this country has, for most of the last five decades, been high, while unemployment has been low. We have created a market for foreign workers, both for the skilled and unskilled. This is as much a land of opportunity for them as it is for us. And we have used our resources to good effect. As you all know, we have an excellent track record in eradicating poverty -- from 52 per cent of all households in 1970 to less than 6 per cent in 2004. Efforts are now being made to wipe out the scourge of absolute poverty altogether. But we need to do more.

14. Of all the enemies of development, probably none is greater than apathy and indifference. For the past fifty years, this has colloquially been known as the 'tidak apa' attitude. Every level of leadership in government, every educator, captain of industry, parent or private citizen who does not care about high standards being set and maintained is infected with this deadly virus. And they condemn this country to a state of mediocrity. Things cannot just be biasa. They have to be luar biasa.

15. Indifference and apathy cause us to seek to achieve only the bare minimum. In economics, this is known as satisficing behaviour or behaviour that is sufficient to keep stakeholders content but no more than that. It does not believe in or reward those who strive, compete, take risks, innovate, sacrifice and achieve. Instead, it encourages those who mark time, avoid work, shirk responsibilities and worship the commonplace. If Malaysians are absolutely serious about development, they cannot be complacent and indifferent. If they are, then they are a part of the problem and not the solution.

16. No country has ever achieved development without making hard choices. We need to understand that quality development involves making bold decisions and being committed to follow-through despite difficult opposition. It means rejecting sub-standard thinking and conduct. It means using the best information available to make the most rational and efficient public policies.

17. There is nothing particularly mysterious or magical about development. It is the result of a chain of cause-and-effects that are the result of right incentives, right penalties and right governing institutions. It requires active voluntary participation from all segments of society. There has to be broad and collective interest in performance and improvement. It thrives in an open and information-rich environment. It is a major, if not the, key product of education, which transmits not only knowledge and skills but also creates positive and productive values and behaviour.

18. In short, development is transformative, forward-looking, dynamic and engaging. It leads to the creation of a vibrant population, one that is open, inquisitive, creative, inclusive, but, at the same time, socially and psychologically resilient and secure. If any of the above characteristics are not present in society, it should be a primary cause for worry. Great pains should be taken to understand the causes and consequences. More than that, it should be a spur to massive action.

19. When development efforts fail, as they sometimes will, the answer is not to give up or slow down. It is to shore up public confidence and proceed to correct matters. The first response to developmental failure should be to take responsibility. Every person who occupies public office has a fiduciary duty to discharge. A fiduciary duty imposes an obligatory trust that requires the highest possible standards of duty to care. That duty is not optional and a violation of that trust is something that must be considered extremely grave.

20. There is only so much that laws can do to regulate behaviour. There must be social conditioning as well. The Japanese concept of 'giri', which roughly translates as a moral duty or burden of obligation, still permeates much of society, although it is said to be on the decline. Giri governs all types of relationships, including those in authority, peers, clients and subordinates. Those who hold high public or private office will often resign to take responsibility for a failure or disgrace even though they themselves may not have done anything wrong. They place their office and the trust that is placed in them ahead of themselves.

21. The second response to development failure is to understand what went wrong and to analyse what can be done. The late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas believed that intellectuals played a constructive role in development by defining problems and offering solutions. I agree. But in today's environment, intellectuals are only one source of public policy analysis. In addition, private think tanks, industry groups, non-governmental organisations and community groups contribute to an active, healthy and informed debate in policy space. The diversity of opinions on any subject is just as important as a well-developed understanding of the issues.

22. The third response is, of course, to take concrete and committed action. In order to promote development, political, economic and social institutions must be dynamic learning organisations. They must have the ability to internally adapt and innovate without having to wait for some external stimulus such as a crisis or an executive order before something is done. The problem with crisis-driven change is it often leads to hasty and ill-advised decisions that either cannot be followed-through or which have poor results.

23. As anyone who has ever been in a position of authority knows, there can be strong resistance to change even where a problem is widely recognised and the need for a solution is clearly apparent. Apart from the apathetic or just plain lazy, there are those who are antipathetic or openly hostile to change because their livelihood or interests are threatened in some way. It would be easy to dismiss the latter's perspectives as illegitimate and ride roughshod over them. This, however, would not be the mark of a developed country. It would violate the spirit of inclusiveness. We must treat each other with civility. We must seek to understand and give due respect to each other's interests and, as far as possible, attempt to negotiate mutually agreeable outcomes.

Nationhood

24. Allow me to now make some remarks on nationhood. In the course of nation building, it is not unusual to create certain myths or narrow interpretations of fact and experience. These represented realities or 'imaginings' act as a kind of lubricant to reduce unnecessary friction and conflict among social groups. Useful as these are, they gradually become worn out and become less effective over time. Thus, I am intrigued by the question that Khazanah has incisively asked in its concept paper, namely, "Are we what we imagine ourselves to be or are we living parallel realities between our existing state and what we think we are?"

25. I wish I had more time to delve into this question in depth. Suffice it for me to observe that there seem to be many Malaysians who do believe that reality, or at least their perception of it, differs from the conventional descriptions of nation. The reason for this is not hard to comprehend. Development, as I have said, entails change. As the basic needs of a country's citizens are met, as they become more educated, urbanised and sophisticated, as they are empowered by information technologies, it is inevitable that their thoughts and aspirations also change. This has happened and is happening in other countries.

26. We should take this positively. Social change is no more than the result of our success in transforming a closed and traditional society to an open and modern one. The opening of the Malaysian mind is a major achievement on our part and we should not want to turn back the clock no matter how inconvenient or more complex it now becomes. It is highly doubtful that we can ignore them in any case. Globalisation is whittling away at traditional concepts of nationhood. More than just markets, foreign influences are instrumental in shaping values, beliefs and attitudes. We will need to carefully manage these influences. We will need to greatly strengthen core values, beliefs and social cohesion.

27. So what do we do? I have spoken many times on the importance of upholding the Federal Constitution in keeping the nation united and cohesive. I do not wish to belabour the point but without this founding document and the rule of law, as some have suggested, there may not be a seminar like this in fifty years time. Left unattended, the pressures are likely to have built to such a point that the entire concept of nationhood is brought into question.

28. Development does not just relate to standards of living of ordinary citizens. It also encompasses public and social institutions. These include the executive, legislature, judiciary, public service, corporate sector, society and, yes, even the monarchy itself. Let me take the last of these as a specific case in point.

29. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy which operates on the basis of parliamentary democracy. The monarchy in Malaysia is an integral part of the country, a symbol of identity, continuity, unity and strength. It is a symbol of identity because it is a national institution, one that distinguishes this country from all others. It is a symbol of continuity because the monarchy in Malaysia is an old institution and provides a sense of historical significance to the people. It is a symbol of unity because it is a focal point for citizens of all races, religions and political persuasions to rally around. And it is a symbol of strength because it exemplifies the virtues of justice, mercy and honour. Contrary to some opinion, the Malaysian monarchy is not all form and no function.

30. Before I go further, allow me to make a short digression. Over the last five centuries, many monarchies around the world have disappeared because Rulers took their status as a divine right rather than a responsibility. They did not bother to re-evaluate and reinvent their roles as guardians of the welfare of their subjects and, not surprisingly, did not retain the public's acceptance and trust. Monarchies came to be closely associated with autocracy, megalomania, tyranny, cruelty and feudalism. This despite the fact that in the past 100 years, leaders of all kinds, communist, socialist, democratic, republican, militaristic and even religious, have arisen who have displayed these qualities and a lot more besides. Regardless, modernisation and progress have become intimately linked with democracy and pluralistic political processes even though the reality is that the relationship is less than perfect.

31. The monarchies that have survived - and I include Malaysia's among these - have done so because they have evolved in line with social progress and contribute to public life. They have evolved by accepting the reality of, and placing themselves above, partisan politics. They contribute to public life by redefining their role as that of helping to uphold justice, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between contending parties, in much the same way as judges serve society. They function as the voice of reason, moderation and good governance, especially if there is extremism or chauvinism. In this way, the monarchy strengthens the institutions of governance and enhances, rather than detracts from, the democratic process.

32. For the monarchy in Malaysia to continue to function effectively as one of the main national axes around which society pivots, it must remain fresh and vital by fulfilling the role expected of it. It is an often overlooked or under-appreciated fact that the monarchy in Malaysia is supposed to play a productive role by being a healthy check and balance in the system of governance. The Federal Constitution mandates the monarchy to be the guardian of the just rule of law, an impartial arbiter in the democratic process and an overseer over the pillars of state. Some believe that the Rulers are supposed to do so only in a purely ceremonial sense, but I would argue that this contradicts the true spirit, if not the letter, of the Federal Constitution.

33. While the monarchy is required to act on the advice of the executive, it must also uphold the principles of good governance and the rule of law, with credibility and impartiality. To do otherwise would be to undermine its integrity, as well as that of the Federal Constitution. What this means is that for the monarchy to effectively discharge its responsibilities, it will need to have avenues for genuine and in-depth consultations with the executive. This should pose no problem, however, given the common and unswerving aim of advancing the interests of the nation. This unity of purpose will also help ensure that the relationship will be cooperative and not marred by open confrontation.

Conclusion

34. As we celebrate our fiftieth year of independence, it is only natural that we would want to reflect on past struggles and achievements. It is normal to reminisce, to feel nostalgic and, most of all, to be thankful. On more than one occasion, we have walked very close to the edge of the cliff without falling off. Things could have turned out very differently for the country if it were not for the Almighty's guiding hand and blessing.

35. Tomorrow you will have a full day of discussions on Malaysia's economic, human capital, social and international development. You will hear from some of the best thinkers and doers Malaysia has to offer. I believe there has to be a good balance between reflecting on past glories and assessing future challenges. I would encourage all of you to look forward as much as backwards, and be as much prescriptive as descriptive. I look forward very much to reading the summary of discussions and conclusions, and I bid you all a very good evening and a pleasant rest.