Thursday, August 30, 2007

On Malaysia’s 50th Birthday


by Mat Salleh
Asia Sentinel, 30 August 2007

On the occasion of the country’s first half-century of independence, we look at Malaysia’s promises and problems.


On Malaysia’s 50th birthday, problems sown a generation ago continue to nag at the fabric of a nation that is precariously divided along racial lines. Despite decades of economic success, the divisions represented by racial preference in law through the New Economic Policy that favors ethnic Malays, the bumiputras remain, as does an authoritarian ruling structure, despite its nominally parliamentarian framework and antecedents.

The economy, growing at a 5-6 percent clip over the better part of this decade, should continue to improve steadily, with China increasingly replacing the west as a destination for its raw materials exports – particularly the tropical hardwoods that are being smuggled out of Malaysia’s side of Borneo.

But beyond that there are almost as many questions as answers for the country. Its struggle with its identity came to the fore recently when Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in July declared that Malaysia was an Islamic nation rather than a secular one, stirring deep concern on the part of its minorities, who make up almost half the population.

Sharia law appears to be creeping out of the northeastern corner of the country it had been boxed into for decades, most recently in the highly publicized case of Lina Joy, a Malay woman who attempted to change her religious affiliation to Roman Catholic and was told the decision would be up to the sharia courts, which only once in the country’s existence have ever allowed anyone to leave Islam. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s stern attention to keeping the country secular does not seem to be matched by the efforts of his weaker successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Attracting capital and expertise is increasingly difficult, partly because of China, which seems to be sucking lots of the oxygen out of Southeast Asia even as it presents a lucrative market for exports, and partly because of questions over corruption and the inability to break what amounts to an ethnic Malay business cartel.

The economy could use additional momentum. Despite Mathathir’s attempt to create a high-tech corridor to rival Silicon Valley, Bangalore has stolen a march on Malaysia. Part of the reason for that goes back to the NEP. Malaysia is not educating its citizens equally. Educational privilege is accorded to the bumiputras.

The country, which continues to control the news media through licensing and the fact that all of its major newspapers are owned by its political parties, is also trying to figure out what to do about the Internet, where a proliferating corps of bloggers has grown increasingly vitriolic, and SMS texting, which delivers up often-irresponsible messages about racial confrontations.

Racial Scars

Many of the seeds of Malaysia’s problems were sown when the country was bequeathed its freedom by the British after 148 years of colonial life. To some extent, it is a miracle that it is a country at all, given the fact that the Islamic 60 percent of the population believe it is a sin to eat pork or pet a dog, and the Chinese 25 percent believe they can’t live without pork on the menu (Indians make up the balance). Racial tensions have bubbled up occasionally, particularly in May 1969, when riots resulted in the deaths of as many as 1,000 people, the majority of them Chinese.

The raw scars of that 1969 violence have left Malaysia in thrall to the idea that similar violence could be imminent. In October 1987, racial tension grew to the point where Mahathir cracked down with what was called Operation Lalang, arresting more than 100 persons and revoking the publishing licenses of the Chinese-owned Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh newspapers. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang and several members of the Democratic Action Party were jailed along with leaders of Parti Sa-Islam, the largest opposition Islamic party, and others. The resulting trauma has kept all sides on their toes and when things start to look like they are about to get out of hand, parties tend to back away.

Beyond that, however, Malaysia is a lucky country. Its wealth of natural resources, starting with tin and rubber, were extended by exploitation of its energy reserves, which today produce 720,000 barrels of oil and condensates a day plus 5.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The country’s proven recoverable reserves total 3.0 billion barrels of high quality crude plus 75 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. With the world currently in love with bio-gas, Malaysia, with 4.2 million hectares of oil palm, should be a major beneficiary.

In short, despite a leadership, especially under Mahathir, addicted to massive – and massively expensive projects to demonstrate its developed world ambitions, it is so rich in natural resources that it can’t be looted fast enough to cause the population of 24.8 million citizens to demand change. The Barisan Nasional, the country’s ruling coalition of ethnic parties, has remained in charge since independence. The coalition includes the United Malays National Organisation, the Malaysian Chinese Association, the Malaysian Indian Congress and Gerakan, a Chinese dominated smaller party.

The racial millstone around Malaysia’s neck is a direct consequence of the 1969 riots, which exploded out of ethnic Malay grievances against the wealthier Chinese. It is the New Economic Policy, an affirmative action policy designed to deliver up the ownership of at least some of the means of production to the country’s bumiputras, or sons of the soil. The NEP was designed to “eliminate the identification of race with economic function” by transferring wealth to ethnic Malays.

Although the NEP officially ended in 1990, it was succeeded by a National Development Policy in 1991 that continued many of the same affirmative action policies, supposedly until bumiputras attained a 30 percent share of the country’s wealth.

The Gilded Class

The country is learning the universal lesson that affirmative action programs, once started, are devilishly hard to get rid of. And, as other countries also know, they tend to create a rentier class skimming off contracts and ownership without the benefits trickling down to the poor whose condition created the problem in the first place.

Earlier this year, a report by a prestigious think tank challenged the NEP, saying that ethnic Malay ownership of public corporate equity is far higher than previously believed and above the 30 percent goal that the original program specified. That uncomfortable finding forced the head of the think tank to resign but it did raise questions over how Malaysia will ever wean itself away from the NEP and how much the program has distorted its economy. The NEP has been criticized for creating a cosseted Malay elite while doing nothing for rural Malays. It is also criticized as markedly unfair to ambitious minorities who may be shut out of universities and government jobs.

Still, over the last 35 years the country has undergone an undeniable economic transformation that has largely lifted everybody’s boat. The question is whether the NEP is responsible through the program of giving equity preference to bumiputras in government-linked companies. There are about 40 listed GLCs, as they are known, accounting for as much as 35 percent of the total capitalization of Malaysia’s markets. Petronas, by far Malaysia’s biggest company, is fully government-owned. The government holds a majority of the equity in seven of the top 10 listed companies, with so-called golden shares in Malaysian Airlines, Telekom Malaysia, and Tenaga Nasional, the power utility, among others. By and large, these companies are headed and run by Malays. They have often been run very badly.

There is also the question of so-called Ali Baba companies, so nicknamed because in Malaysia many private enterprises observe an unspoken rule that a Muslim – an “Ali” in local parlance will occupy a top position in the company and that Malays will get a certain number of positions while the “Baba” a nickname for the Chinese – will often form the corporate backbone. Multinationals doing business in Malaysia also know that high-powered Malays must have seats on their boards of directors. That has allowed rent-seeking Malays to take directorships and other posts with companies in exchange for equity – which adds to a false picture of how much equity these sons of the soil really own.

Bumiputra companies also receive the lion’s share of large government contracts. They are guaranteed 30 percent of the initial equity ownership in new market listings and privatizations. Companies involved in privatizations must offer employment to bumiputra individuals and a minimum of 60 percent of government procurement, contract work and other related projects must go to bumiputras.

The real question is whether 30 years of preferential treatment has done much good for rank-and-file ethnic Malays. Many people, Malay, Chinese or Indians complain among themselves that the NEP resulted in a gilded superclass of bumiputra executives who do little but collect their salaries and stock options and let others do the work. Worker-bee bumiputras, some say, remain at the lower end of the economic scale.

There is a long list of economic disasters. The Perwaja Steel scandal cost the treasury some US$800 million, while the Bank Bumiputra scandal of the early 1980s cost US$1 billion. An unsuccessful attempt to corner the tin market cost some US$500 million and the failing Proton national car cost as much as US$2.5 billion plus far more in lost opportunity cost for Malaysia’s consumers. The current scandal over a huge development at Port Klang, in which a troubled port operator may have piled up as much as US$1 billion in debt is the latest bad news.

But it is not all bad news, of course. Under the goad of Mahathir the economy was transformed. Although rubber, palm oil and tin remain important, Mahathir was the driving force behind a new export-led economy, primarily in electronics. The country boasts some of the best infrastructure in Asia and it has remained largely open to foreign investment, capitalizing on the country’s links to the west despite Mahathir’s loudly trumpeted Look East policy of the 1980s.

Tolerable Corruption?

Politically, despite the fact that the Barisan Nasional has been in power for 50 years, rivalries within the coalition and with smaller opposition groups have meant that the country is largely open and relatively parliamentarian. Religious and ethnic differences, despite tension, remain under control despite occasional outbursts, particularly by Malay politicians, to “bathe the country in blood” if Malay dominance is threatened. As the influence of Islam rises and minorities feel increasingly threatened, it remains to be seen if the post-Mahathir leadership will demonstrate his same gumption and put a stop to the ethnic posturing before its get dangerous.

Corruption, far below levels in other Southeast Asian countries, nonetheless remains a problem. In a poll of nearly 1,500 expatriate businessmen by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), of 13 countries, Malaysia was ranked seventh. Transparency International’s annual ranking dropped the country five ranks to 44th place in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) from 39th place last year, according to reports announced in Berlin this week. But 44th is a long way from the bottom. There were 163 countries in the poll.

In all, despite the tensions, Malaysia remains an often inventive country that appears determined to continue its rise. The bill for its racial policies will come due and its increasingly well educated citizens are demanding greater accountability from its courts and openness from the news media. But the report card? Compared to its neighbors, the balancing act has been a success.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Datuk Amar James Wong: Malaysia is 44 Years Old

August 31, 2007 Malaysia is 44 years old. The Nation of Malaysia was formed on September 16, 1963; which comprises Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo later renamed Sabah). That is a fact. Malaya gained independence from the British on August 31, 1957; hence Malaya is 50 years old and NOT Malaysia. Therefore August 31, 2007 Malaysians is celeberating the 44th. years the formation of Malaysia. That is a true fact. History doesn't lie!



EVERY year as we celebrate National Day on Aug 31, the debate on the actual age of our nation surfaces and it seems to rage with greater intensity than ever.

The federal government designated this year’s National Day celebration as the 50th anniversary of our/(Malaya) independence based on Aug 31, 1957 when Malaya gained independence.

However, for certain quarters in Sarawak and Sabah, it is inconceivable that Malaysia could be 50 years old this year as the formation of our nation took place on Sept 16, 1963.

The real bone of contention in this argument over the age of Malaysia is the question of whether Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore joined the Federation of Malaya or formed Malaysia, a new nation, with Malaya on Sept 16, 1963.

Those who advocate that Malaysia as a nation was actually born on Aug 31, 1957 cited the formation and expansion of the United States of America as a parallel to the formation of Federation of Malaya and its subsequent expansion when Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore joined the federation on Sept 16, 1963.

This is a classic case of comparing an orange with an apple because USA was formed by 13 former colonies of the British Empire on July 5, 1776 after a bloody war of independence and remained as the United States of America despite its expansion through the addition of other states to its federation.

This is not the case with the Federation of Malaya or Malaya as it ceased to exist as a nation when it joined Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore to form Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.

It must be noted that Malaysia was formed through an equal partnership between Federation of Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore (which withdrew from Malaysia after two years) it was never a formation of the sovereign nation of Malaya and the three states.

Bearing testimony to this partnership is Sarawak’s autonomous authority on land and immigration as part of the list of special rights of the State would retain in the Federation of Malaysia.

An even more ludicrous argument put forward was the claim that Malaysia is actually the alternative name for Malaya citing references of the region around the Malay Peninsular as Malaysia by British Colonial writers in the 1800s and that the concept of the Federation of Malaya when it gained independence was not confined to the Malayan mainland but also the Malaysian regions still under British rule then.

The flaw in this argument is firstly the confusion of Malaysia as a reference to a geographical region with Malaysia as a nation which came into being only Sept 16, 1963.

As for the claim that the Federation of Malaya was formed with the plan of including Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore, there is no documentary proof and even if there was it had nothing to do with the three states as they never planned to join the federation.

During the formation of Malaysia, there was never any mention of the three states joining the Federation of Malaya in any of the historical documents signed by all parties.

To put to an end this polemic on the actual age of our nation and how it was formed thesundaypost traces the birth of Malaysia through the documents pertaining to its formation signed by all parties and interviewed Datuk Amar James Wong, the only surviving member of the Sarawak delegation of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee which paved the way for the birth of our nation.

The Malaysian nation was the brainchild of Tunku Abdul Rahman when he was the Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya. On May 27, 1961 he brought up the subject at a luncheon meeting of Foreign Correspondents Association of South East Asia in Singapore Adelphi Hotel saying “Malaya today as a nation realises that she cannot stand alone and in isolation. Sooner or later she should have an understanding with Britain and the peoples of the territories of Singapore, North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak.”

That speech set into motion a rapid succession of events that culminated with the birth of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.

The book ‘Formation of Malaysia’ published by the Federal Information Department soon after Malaysia was formed stated in the last paragraph of the section Milestones to Malaysia, ‘So in less than 28 months from the time he put forward his proposal, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Malaysia plan is realised, uniting 10,000,000 diverse peoples — Malays, Ibans, Land Dayaks, Melanaus, Dusuns and Kadazans, Muruts and Bajaus, Chinese and Indians — in a new nation dedicated to justice, peace and prosperity, in pursuit of freedom and happiness for all.’

In his report for the Commission of Enquiry to visit Sarawak and Sabah and setting out Terms of Reference for the formation of Malaysia Lord Cobbold stated in article 10 of his findings that the name of the Federation shall be Malaysia.

No one is in a better position to talk about the formation of Malaysia from the Sarawak perspective than Datuk Amar James Wong, the former Deputy Chief Minister of the State.

When thesundaypost interviewed him at his office, Wong was adamant that Malaysia is 44 years old as he involved personally in the negotiations and consultations leading to the birth of Malaysia.

“I remember Sept 16, 1963 very well. I was in Kuala Lumpur when the agreement on the formation of Malaysia was signed. After the signing I flew straight to New York with Rajaratnam, one of the Singapore representatives, to attend the 18th session of the United Nations as representative of Malaysia.’

Referring himself jokingly as ‘the last of the Mohicans’ Wong said he is the only surviving member of the Sarawak delegation to the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee.

“I was directly involved in the negotiations on the rights of the State and you can quote me in stating that we never joined Malaysia, we formed Malaysia.”

Wong who wrote several books on diverse subjects also published a book ‘The Birth of Malaysia’ in 1993 in which he reprinted historical documents pertaining to the formation of Malaysia.

In the first two paragraphs of his introduction he wrote: “Our 30th year of Independence within Malaysia would be a fitting time and occasion to remind all Sarawakians of our great heritage and as to why and how Malaysia came about.

“This is particularly true of the younger generation, especially those in their mid-forties and below, who were then too young when Malaysia was formed, to grasp and understand the implications. But what all Malaysians in Sarawak must know and understand is that — We did not enter Malaysia, but we formed Malaysia together with North Borneo, (now Sabah) Singapore and Malaya.”

Anyone wishing to find out more about the positions of Sarawak and Sabah within the federation should read this book as it contains reprinted historical documents and reports and a chronology of events that led to the formation of Malaysia.

There should never have been any debate on the age of Malaysia as there are ample irrefutable documents that prove that the birth of our nation is Sept 16, 1963.

While Sarawakians and Sabahans rejoice with our fellow citizens in Semenanjung Malaysia in celebrating the Federation of Malaya’s 50th anniversary of independence from British rule, we cannot distort history by confusing it with the birth of Malaysia.

There is more at stake than the quibble over the dates of the birth of our nation for Sarawakians and Sabahans as accepting Sept 16, 1963 as the birthday of Malaysia means the two states formed Malaysia as equal partners with the Federation of Malaya while accepting Aug 31, 1957 implies we joined the Federation of Malaya.

The latter date could mean the rights of the State were temporary conditions granted by the Federation of Malaya while recognising Sept 16, 1963 clearly states that the two states joined as equal partners in the formation of Malaysia and their special rights are entrenched in the agreement on her formation.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

THE CHALLENGE & ACCEPTANCE: THE VERDICT ?

The Challenge


KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 18 (Bernama) -- Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Mohammad Taib has described writers of political blogs, whom he says looked brave in criticising government leaders, as cowards."

Why I say they are coward? Because they are afraid of using (web) addresses in the country but use overseas addresses to slam our country leaders. Is this the character of a man? This is not a man, this is a 'pondan'.

"How dare they say no one can touch them, no one can drag them to court because no laws can be used to take action on them," he told reporters after a meeting of Umno's information chiefs from the divisions nationwide.

Muhammad was commenting on allegations that Umno leaders were afraid to speak up and face bloggers.

He said Umno leaders were not afraid to response to all allegations contained in the blogs but were sure that despite the replies, the bloggers would not take the side of the government.

Umno Youth vice chief Khairy Jamaluddin who attended the function, said he was not afraid to face and have dialogues with political blog writers if they were ready to face him.

"To most of the allegations, I have responded before this and last year. Most of them are recycled and re-written in different styles.

"I'm not afraid... I'd answered all the allegations but were not posted in the blogs. If their minds and attitude are closed, they cannot accept any of our replies," he said.

He said attacks on individuals were not serious and it was up to the victims to sue but more attention should be given to attacks on institutions especially the government and rulers as well as against religions and races because of the sensitivities involved.

Also present at the meeting, held behind closed doors at the Putra World Trade Centre, was Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.-- Bernama.com




Acceptance


Khairy Jamaluddin, the Prime Minister’s son-in-law, said that he is not scared of facing or engaging Bloggers. Muhammad son of Muhammad, the Information Chief of Umno, said that Bloggers are pengecut (literally translated to mean ‘shrunken testicles’) because our websites are all located overseas where the Malaysian government can’t touch us.

Actually, it is the local hosting companies who have their servers in Cyberjaya who are pengecut. The instant I mention Malaysia Today, none of the local boys would dare touch us, especially those companies owned by Chinese. I mean, when you watch those Kung Fu movies from Hong Kong and one brave soul like Bruce Lee, Chan Kwan Tai, Ti Lung, Jackie Chan, etc., single-handedly take on 100 bad hombres, you would expect that Chinese in real life would be very brave indeed. Alas, this is not the case.

Back in the Reformasi days, I was quite active in producing Reformasi VCDs. However, the Chinese VCD manufacturers that I approached all turned me down. They had no problems if I wanted to produce porn movies, even gay movies or sex-with-animals movies, but not VCDs of Anwar Ibrahim or Reformasi. In the end I found one Chinese manufacturer who would do it but with conditions attached. Firstly, I had to pay for the order in full, in advance. This was so that in the event the police raided their factory and confiscated the VCDs I would bear the loss, not them. Secondly, they would only manufacture them late at night, after midnight, when no one was around. I would then have to take delivery immediately before the factory opened the next morning and all the staff came to work. Thirdly, I would have to meet them in a deserted underground car park where they would transfer the VCDs over to me. They would then drive off while I would have to wait a few minutes before I drive off so that they can safely be miles away in case I got caught.

That is how scared the Chinese are. So please don’t get taken in by those Kung Fu movies of one hero facing 100 evil people and beating these 100 people with just one punch. The Chinese are scared shit. They do not dare get involved in anything perceived as anti-government. They will manufacture porn. They will act as pimps and run brothels. They will traffic in drugs. They will assassinate MCA leaders and underworld leaders (most times they are one and the same). They will run illegal lotteries and gambling operations. They will run loan sharking businesses and burn your house down and kidnap your children if you do not pay. They will rob banks and goldsmith shops. This, they dare do. But they will never manufacture anti-government VCDs. And they will never, ever host Malaysia Today on their servers.

So that, Muhammad son of Muhammad, is the reality of the situation. And the fact that when Harakah was charged (I can’t remember whether it was under the Sedition Act or the Official Secrets Act) some years back, the Editor, the licence holder and the Chinese printer were all also charged. Harakah, the Editor and the licence holder all pleaded not guilty and fought the case in court. The Chinese printer pleaded guilty and quickly paid the fine. He did not dare contest the case.

So you see, Muhammad son of Muhammad, it is not Malaysia Today or Raja Petra Bin Raja Kamarudin that has shrunken testicles. It is the Chinese. And recently, when the government said it would detain that Chinese student in Taiwan and withdraw his citizenship because he has been perceived as insulting our National Anthem, the Chinese testicles shrunk even more. The Chinese realise that criticising the government is not tolerated and they run the risk of not only being detained without trial, but of losing their Malaysian citizenship as well. So of course no Chinese would dare host Malaysia Today, not even for any amount of money. As far as the Chinese are concerned, better they suffer shrunken testicles then they lose their freedom and citizenship on top of that. And the Chinese realise it does not matter whether you did or did not really commit a crime. It is whether the government says that you have. And if the government says you have, then you have, even if you have not. That is how it works in Malaysia.

Anyway, forget about the Chinese and Chinese host companies. I don’t want the Chinese to say that Malaysia Today is now a Chinese-bashing website. I know that the Chinese are not as sensitive as the Malays. The Malays are very sensitive and any criticism is viewed as Malay-bashing or Islam-bashing. This is what they accuse Malaysia Today of. The Chinese are more tolerant. I mean, I can even shake my keris above my head and threaten to bathe it in Chinese blood and they will not make any police report against me. But if I wave a Kung Fu sword above my head and threaten to bathe it in Malay blood there will be hundreds of police reports made against me. Nevertheless, this is not about the Chinese. This is about whether Raja Petra Bin Raja Kamarudin has shrunken testicles and is ‘hiding’ behind the safety of a website based in a foreign company which puts us out of the jurisdiction of Malaysian laws.

I know it is frustrating when the government cannot touch me. Well, I am prepared to make your job easier for you, Muhammad son of Muhammad. I am going to allow you to organise another gathering at the PWTC like you did last Saturday. I am prepared to step onto the stage and face your 2,500 Umno members in a gathering organised by Umno and repeat all my allegations live, on Malaysian soil, in the Umno headquarters. I will remove the protection that I now have and throw myself to the mercy of the government to do what it wants to me.

I will repeat my allegation live, on Malaysian soil, in the Umno headquarters, that Umno misused RM600 million of the tax-payers’ money and gave RM3 million to each of the 191 Umno divisions. And to back up my allegation I will table the Minutes of the Umno meeting where the Umno President and Prime Minister said that the RM600 million is for the Umno Divisions and not for the Parliamentary Constituencies. I shall also prove that the 28 Sarawak Divisions were not included in the package because Umno does not have any presence in Sarawak.

I will repeat my allegation live, on Malaysian soil, in the Umno headquarters, that, when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was still just the Deputy Prime Minister, he signed a letter recommending his sister-in-law to become one of the beneficiaries of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program. I shall table the United Nations and United States Congress Reports that implicate Abdullah Badawi in the Oil-for-Food scandal and which state that bribes were paid to Saddam Hussein and/or his government to get this oil quota.

I will repeat my allegation live, on Malaysian soil, in the Umno headquarters, that Scomi, a company owned by the Prime Minister’s son, is the beneficiary of more than RM1.5 billion worth of Petronas contracts. I shall table the list of contracts with the amounts involved. I shall also table the testimony of one of BSA Tahir’s family members that Abdullah Badawi personally knew Tahir and was in fact quite close to him and used to go to his house for dinner. In case you have forgotten, Muhammad son of Muhammad, BSA Tahir is said to have been detained under the Internal Security Act which is a law used against those perceived as a threat to Malaysia’s national security. I will of course expect you, Muhammad son of Muhammad, to explain in what way Tahir is a threat to Malaysia’s national security that warrants his detention under the Internal Security Act and whether his detention is merely to prevent the Americans from getting him whereby the full story of Abdullah Badawi’s family’s involvement in the nuclear component scandal would become public knowledge.

I will repeat my allegation live, on Malaysian soil, in the Umno headquarters, that the house in Perth that the Prime Minister and his then girlfriend, Jeanne Danker, stayed at in December last year is registered in the name of Patrick Lim’s wife. I shall table the title deeds to the house to back up my allegation. In case you did not realise, Muhammad son of Muhammad, Patrick Lim is Abdullah Badawi’s son’s business partner whose company is benefiting from the development of the land around the second Penang Bridge that costs RM2 billion but is being built at a price of RM3 billion through a loan from China. And in case you also did not realise, Muhammad son of Muhammad, Patrick Lim is also the man who is the beneficiary of Terengganu’s RM1 billion a year Wang Ehsan which is being used to finance the Monsoon Cup and pay for the development around Pulau Duyung and that all this is being done on a negotiated-without-tender basis under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Department. Rest assured, Muhammad son of Muhammad, I shall table all the photographs to back up my allegation.

I will repeat my allegation live, on Malaysian soil, in the Umno headquarters, that the Umno Supreme Council made a decision to sabotage Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in last year’s Kubang Pasu division election in violation of the party Constitution and Code of Ethics. I shall table Statutory Declarations or signed Affidavits by some of the delegates to the division meeting plus the police reports they made alleging they were paid RM200 each to not vote for Dr Mahathir. I shall also table another police report by one of the complainants that he was beaten up in his home in front of his family by Umno leaders from his division and that he has identified who they are and that nothing was done on all these police reports thus far even though it is coming to almost a year.

Maybe we can focus on these issues first, Muhammad son of Muhammad. There are certainly many more such as the purchase of the RM200 million Airbus, the sale of MV Augusta for RM4.00, the collapse of Proton and the disappearance of billions of Ringgit of its cash reserves, the Scenic Bridge fiasco, the ECM Libra-Avenue Capital merger, and much more. But maybe I can reserve these for Khairy since he said he wants to meet the Bloggers to engage them in a debate or dialogue.

By the way, Muhammad son of Muhammad, I shall also table the letter you wrote to the late Sultan of Selangor denying you had married his daughter and the second letter you wrote asking for forgiveness plus the marriage certificate from Thailand and other documents related to the matter which I have thus far not published in Malaysia Today. I shall further table documents on the RM800 million loss suffered by the Selangor State government when you badly managed (or maybe purposely engineered) the privatisation of Selangor’s water supply to Puncak Niaga. I shall of course expect you, in turn, to table the Selangor State accounts of those years you were its Menteri Besar to explain what happened to the State’s RM3 billion Ringgit, which seems to have ‘disappeared’.

So you see, Muhammad son of Muhammad, I will not be making all these allegations in a website that is based outside Malaysia in a foreign country. I will be making these allegations live, on Malaysian soil, in the Umno headquarters. I will therefore not be immune from prosecution under Malaysian laws if my allegations are false and without tangible evidence to back up these allegations.

It took you two weeks, Muhammad son of Muhammad, to organise last Saturday’s gathering. Would one month be sufficient for you to organise this next one? In the meantime, I shall be working on all my evidence in preparation of the expected gathering in the Umno headquarters. I shall of course be bringing my team along so that they can personally testify as to the authenticity of all these allegations, documents, etc., in the event my word alone is not good enough. I seek your permission to webcast this coming event live on the internet so that all those not able to present themselves at the PWTC can follow the events in the comfort of their homes or offices.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Democracy and Environmental Rationality

by Ólafur Páll Jónsson

Democracy is hailed as the best form of government, but yet the countries that have been ruled by this best form of government are responsible for the worst consequences in the history of humanity: climate change and other environmental crises threaten the very living conditions of millions of people around the globe and no part of the world will be unaffected. Some people believe that democracy itself is responsible for this severe situation – that democracy as such undermines environmental rationality and plays into superficial and unreasonable preferences while ignoring long term consequences by making environmental decisions subject to procedural standards. In other words, since democracy is primarily about procedures while environmental rationality requires certain outcomes, democracy has no way of guaranteeing environmental rationality.

The Mismatch Problem

Why can the fundamental procedures of democracy not guarantee or encourage suitable outcomes in environmental issues? Stating that democracy is about procedures but environmental rationality is about outcomes hardly does more than hint at an answer to that question.

One reason to think that democracy is not likely to guarantee or encourage suitable outcomes stems from different spatial and temporal frames, namely the long range of environmental effects and the local focus of democratic decision. This is obvious if we consider issues like pollution: we drive cars, produce household waste, and eat agricultural products which are produced using artificial fertilizers. All of these activities pollute. But even if everyone agrees that these factors are partly to blame for the pollution, it is not clear what should be done. The relation between possible action and preferred consequences is rather loose and, as a consequence, it is difficult to form definite preferences and to reach a general consensus concerning environmental actions.

Democratic decisions, on the other hand, have a narrow focus. What triggers the need for a democratic decision is usually something pressing and present: lack of employment, a hope for tax reduction, a need for better roads, etc. Definite preferences are easily discernible in these cases. Furthermore, the relation between available action and possible satisfaction of preferences is relatively tight.

It is easy for people to form definite preferences concerning issues with a narrow focus. As the space of effects becomes larger and less concrete, as is often the case in environmental issues, forming preferences becomes more difficult. Moreover, environmental issues may demand a time frame extending far beyond that of democratic decision-making. A hydroelectric power project supplying energy to an aluminium smelter may require decades of research, whereas the decision to build an aluminium smelter is reached within a short time span based on market conditions and cyclical changes in the metal industry. (Read this Articles)

The clearest example of this mismatch between environmental values and narrow preferences is the struggle against climate change. By now, it has been proven even beyond a reasonable doubt that the climate is changing and that human produced green house gases are to blame. Yet, we still buy big cars, drive everywhere, and generally do little to reduce our impact when such actions would require changes in our everyday life.

The opportunity to invest in forestry to reduce the amount of green house gases is taken as a solution to a personal situation, even if it is obvious that the practice of growing trees is (a) not a solution to the problem and (b) is not sustainable (since suitable land is a very limited resource). What makes investment in forestry such a successful option is that it allows us to do something about the problem without affecting our ways of living. It allows us to respond to the present environmental situation, however ineffectively, without compromising our ways of living.

The conclusion is that while environmental values may be strong in theory, they turn out to be weak in practice because they interfere with other preferences which, even if superficial, are close to hand. I call this the mismatch problem.

Democracy as Aggregation of Preferences

What I have said so far does not really show that democracy undermines environmental rationality. It only shows that democracy, which focuses on peoples’ preferences, tends to do so. But we should take a moment to consider what democracy is – or rather, what it should be.

In his influential book Democracy and its Critics, the American philosopher Robert A. Dahl presents an idea of democracy that fits the common conception of the term in many ways. Dahl suggests the following four criteria for democratic procedure:

1) Effective Participation: Throughout the process of making binding decisions, citizens ought to have an adequate opportunity, and an equal opportunity, for expressing their preferences as to the final outcome. They must have adequate and equal opportunities for placing questions on the agenda and for expressing reasons for endorsing one outcome rather than another. (Dahl, p. 109)

2) Voting Equality at the Decisive Stage: At the decisive stage of collective decisions, each citizen must be ensured an equal opportunity to express a choice that will be counted as equal in weight to the choice expressed by any other citizen. In determining outcomes at the decisive stage, these choices, and only these choices, must be taken into account. (Dahl, p. 109)

3) Enlightened Understanding: Each citizen ought to have adequate and equal opportunity for discovering and validating (within the time permitted by the need for decision) the choices on the matter to be decided that would best serve the citizen’s interests. (Dahl, p. 112)

4) Control of the Agenda: The demos [i.e. those who have the right to vote] must have the exclusive opportunity to decide how matters are to be placed on the agenda of matters that are to be decided by means of the democratic process. (Dahl, p. 113)

Dahl outlines a conception of democracy according to which the main function of a democratic procedure is to pool the citizens’ preferences together and make binding decisions accordingly. In short, democracy is concerned with the aggregation of preferences. Dahl’s criteria are meant to guarantee that the democratic procedure is free from coercion and the unjustified elimination of people’s preferences, that the final decision is enlightened, and that the agenda is controlled by those affected.

Against an Aggregative Conception

The first of Dahl’s four criteria for democratic procedure lists three conditions for effective participation: citizens ought to have adequate and equal opportunities (i) for expressing their preferences, (ii) for placing questions on the political agenda, and (iii) for expressing reasons for endorsing one outcome rather than another. The third condition has little force on its own. The reasons people have certain preferences do not count in the final outcome, and there is nothing in the criteria which says that a procedure would be less democratic if these reasons were ignored. This is not because the requirement as such is foreign to democratic procedure – it should be important – but because it does not fit well into the aggregative conception. Effective participation means that people’s preferences get known, not their underlying reasons. The ordinary person takes part in a democratic procedure by casting her vote according to her preferences, and effective participation means that she understands what options best fit her preferences and that she casts her vote so that it gets counted.

Dahl might argue that if the citizens were not granted equal opportunity to express their reasons for endorsing a specific outcome their influence on the political agenda, or even on the final decision, might be unequal. If someone has a better opportunity to express her reasons for favouring a particular outcome, then she is in a privileged position to argue that some interests, that may be widely shared, are best served by this particular outcome. This would make her influence on the final outcome greater than the influence of others, which would violate the principle that all interests be given equal consideration.

As appealing as this argument may be, it militates against Dahl’s conception of democracy rather than supporting it. This argument undermines the idea of democratic procedure as a pooling of preferences, and supports the idea that democratic procedure is a procedure in which preferences are formed and transformed. This argument also moves the emphasis from voting to the discussion leading up to the final voting.

Political Justification

The conception of political justification that we get from the aggregative conception of democracy is too permissive; too much can legitimately be done. According to the aggregative conception, democratic procedure is primarily about voting, which yields a winner and a loser, and there is nothing within the democratic standards which prevents the winner from violating certain non-political rights, such as religious rights, of those who lose. In most democratic countries, various non-political rights are protected, but from the point of view of the aggregative conception their protection is not a matter of democracy. The protection of such rights is seen (from the aggregative point of view) as an external hindrance to authoritative action, be it an action driven by a simple majority vote or the action of an elected individual.It is interesting to consider the relevance of future generations in this context. As a matter of fact, the preferences of future generations cannot be taken into account in the democratic process as laid out by the aggregative conception, since those preferences have not yet been formed. This fact has severe consequences when decisions about environmental issues are taken, since such decisions usually have consequences which extend far into the future. The example of Kárahnjúkavirkjun (Bakun Dam, in Sarawak) should make this clear. The dam and the damage done by the reservoir will be there for generations to come and future generations will, when time comes, have various preferences regarding the whole Kárahnjúkar (Bakun) project. But those preferences had no weight in the decision to go forward with this project. More on Bakun Project, read here

To account for future generations, it would of course be possible to impose certain restrictions on the democratic procedure, such as a demand for sustainability and respect for certain enumerated rights. But such restrictions would be external to the democratic procedure, i.e. they would be external hindrances to what could be subject to democratic decision and, hence, democracy and concern for future generations would be at odds.

Deliberative Democracy

Because of the above problem (and various others) philosophers have looked for a different conception of democracy, one of which is the so called deliberative democracy. Under this heading are various theories, but common to all of them is a conception of the political process as involving more than self-interested competition governed by bargaining and aggregative mechanisms (Bohman and Reg, p. xiii). A further common underlying idea is a conception of the state as a cooperative venue for the citizens to set themselves goals and to work towards them. Understanding the role of the state in this way raises questions about the legitimacy of state action in general, in particular its monopoly on the use of force. The need for democracy derives from the fact that the citizens must take collective, binding decisions concerning various issues, and such decisions will favour the preferences of some people at the expense of the preferences of others. The basic question then is: How can a state action, which goes against the preferences of some people, be seen by those very people as an action belonging to a cooperative venue to which they belong?

If a state action can only be justified on grounds which are incompatible with people’s basic values and rights, such action will be deemed illegitimate irrespective of its consequences. A ban on smoking in public places justified in terms of a lesser worth of smokers would be illegitimate, whether or not such a ban would be in violation of any rights or fundamental values. The illegitimacy of such a ban derives from an unacceptable justification which depicts some people as having lesser worth than others. However, a similar ban justified in terms of health risk towards non-smokers would be legitimate. According to the aggregative conception, majority vote is usually a sufficiently good justification for action, but according to the deliberative conception, people’s basic rights and fundamental values are assigned such weight that a majority vote may not suffice as a justification for action.

According to the deliberative conception of democracy, the requirement of political justification makes substantial demands concerning people’s rights and liberty and ultimately their sense of selfworth. This means that the protection of various non-political rights, such as religious rights, is inherent in the deliberative conception of democracy. It is not an external hindrance to democratic decisions as seen from the aggregative viewpoint.

Deliberative Democracy and the Mismatch Problem

The mismatch problem derives from the fact that people may have definite preferences concerning local matters, but in matters where the space of effect extends into the distance, either because it concerns remote regions or consequences that will only become relevant decades later, preference orderings becomes much trickier. This leads to the conclusion that trivial local preferences may outweigh fundamental preferences in matters that are more distant and elusive.

Solving the mismatch problem seems to require giving certain interests and preferences more weight than others by constructing barriers that are not part of democratic procedure in the aggregative sense, i.e. hindrances that constrain what issues can be put on the local political agenda, what political and social rights must be upheld, which principle to impose, etc. However, if the situation is viewed from the deliberative perspective, assigning different weight to different interests and preferences need not be foreign to a democratic procedure but may follow from the requirement that persons should be shown equal respect. In particular, showing special concern for the interests of future generations, say by imposing a requirement of sustainability, need not involve factors that lie outside the democratic procedure.

Showing people equal respect will directly involve future generations in so far as they will be affected by the decisions in question. Moreover, showing equal respect to individuals belonging to the present generation may require indirect concern for future generations, since individuals living now may derive their meaning of life from the thought that they may have children one day, and these children may, in turn, have children themselves. In the deliberative framework there are means to take such distant values into account. This is particularly relevant in the case of the environment, especially when it comes to unspoiled nature which is generally regarded as an important source of a meaning of life while being possibly, at the same time, an important provider of raw materials for industry which is driven by the immediate here and now.

The mismatch problem does not support the view that there is a fundamental conflict between democracy and environmental rationality. Why people have thought so lies partly in an unacceptable conception of democracy – the aggregative conception. Once democracy is seen as a deliberative procedure based on the assumption that the state is a cooperative venue for the pursuit of happiness, the appearance of such a conflict vanishes. And in general, the idea that democracy might undermine environmental rationality because the former is about procedures while the latter is about outcomes, is not justified since the deliberative conception of democracy makes substantial claims about outcomes.

References

James Bohman and William Rehg (eds.) Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 1997.

Robert A. Dahl, Democracy and its Critics, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1989.

The author is an assistant professor of philosophy at the Iceland University of Education. He has recently published a collection of philosophical essays called: Náttúrua, vald og verðmæti (Nature, Authority and Value) on the subject of envrionmental philosophy.

*Link edited by YES MINISTER

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Challenges of Democratisation and Good Governance in the Malaysian Public Sector


KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 13 (Bernama) -- For a country to practise a system of good governance, there must be transparency and openness, and a free flow and easy access to information must be encouraged, the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, said today.

He said people are were well-informed are in a better position to make informed decisions and those who are badly informed will rely on half-truths and lies. They will have to depend on non-credible sources of information or they may have to remain ignorant.

"This can cause attention to be directed to frivolous matters, while positive and commendable efforts on the part of the government go unseen, nullifying those efforts," he said in his keynote address at the international conference on "The Challenges of Democratisation and Good Governance in the Malaysian Public Sector" here.

Outlining several points in realising a system of good governance, Raja Nazrin said there was a need to continuously move towards an increasingly open system of governance.

"Eradicating red tape and convoluted bureaucratic procedures will help stave off high economic costs and inhibit any opportunity for illicit payment. The amount of regulation, permits and licences must be reduced," he said.

Raja Nazrin said tendering processes needed to be made more competitive and transparent and "whistle blowers" should be protected against retaliation from those complained about.

"These measures will help towards reducing the opportunities for corruption," he said, commenting the government's move in setting up the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business (Pemudah) early this year, a collaborative project between the public and private sectors which aims to simplify operations and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the public delivery system.

He said that besides according fully with the rule of law and the spirit of law, a system of good governance was "palpably at odds with unprincipled, immoral and unethical behaviour and it cannot exist where there is lack of integrity.

"Attitudes and behaviour based on the principles of integrity were arguably the most important element in good governance, and the absence of it could undermine the legitimacy of public institutions and disrupt policy goals, he said.

"Governance systems cannot rise to become good until and unless the people who are involved rise as well," he said.-- BERNAMA

More story, click here and here

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Challenges And Prospects For Nation-building: A Lesson For The Young And Bright

Keynote address by the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, at the first annual Student Leaders Summit 2007 -- "Celebrating 50 Years of Nationhood" -- on Aug 5, 2007, at Nikko Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

I am delighted to be here this morning to deliver the keynote address at this Summit, dedicated as it is to Youth. All of you in this room are the creme de la creme of the young generation -- those fortunate enough and intelligent enough to benefit from the best education. You are the future leaders of this nation.

This morning, I want to talk to you about the challenges and prospects for nation-building. Nation-building refers to the structuring of a country, with the help of state power, to ensure a strong national identity that is viable in the long run. It is predicated on national unity and is a topic of utmost importance to all of us, not least the younger generation. Fifty years of the national relay race has been run. Soon the baton will be handed to those of you who will run the next lap. The Malaysia familiar to most, if not all, of you is the modern prosperous nation with its increasingly urban population and robust middle class; not the poor and predominantly agricultural society of 50 years ago. When Malaysia gained independence, we were on a par with countries like Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ghana, Morocco and Senegal in terms of per capita income. Today we have far surpassed these countries in economic growth and human development.

However, it is important to be aware that this was a far-fetched vision 50 years ago. The first Merdeka generation, almost overnight, found themselves tasked with an onerous job when Malaysia gained independence. The country was born against the backdrop of a virulent communist insurgency. Poverty was widespread, particularly in the rural areas. There was very little sense of unity and national identity. The states that made up the federation were only loosely integrated. Many people regarded themselves primarily as natives of their state rather than as nationals of Malaya. The enlargement of Malaya into Malaysia in 1963 was vigorously opposed by our neighbours, leading to confrontation with Indonesia. After the traumatic events of 1969, many predicted the imminent disintegration of Malaysian society.

That we have been able to forge a successful nation without resorting to the rule of the gun makes us something of an oddity in a region of coups, civil strife and people power. This has been due in large part to wise leadership, the innate good sense of the Malaysian people -- and a bit of luck. Today, the nine Sultanates, two Straits Settlements and the two states in Borneo have united in a tangible way despite historical separation and physical distance. Development policies and communication channels have managed to fuse together the myriad religions and ethnic groups and forged a sense of belonging and shared destiny. Malaysia is one of the very few countries with a diverse mix of race and religion that have been able to do this. Our peace momentum is also demonstrated on the international arena. Malaysia played a seminal role in the creation Asean and its enlargement from six members to 10, then Asean plus 3. It still has a lead role in the first moves towards a regional architecture, particularly the East Asian Summit.

Our group culture is very distinct from the individualism of the west. We participate actively in one another's cultural and lifestyle choices. We celebrate festivities together, we learn and speak one another's languages, we wear each other's traditional costumes, we appreciate different arts and types of music. A chat over teh tarik is an example of a typically Malaysian pastime that all races and ages take delight in.

However, every coin has two sides. Let us not be naive in thinking it is all a rosy picture. There is still much room for improvement. Interaction between the ethnic groups, to the extent that it exists, remains more of an urban phenomenon. In recent years, ethnic identities appear to have become more explicit. In some instances, what divides us has become more emphasised than what unites us. When the New Economic Policy (NEP) was established, it was to address the problem of economic function being identified along the lines of ethnicity, and the problem of widespread poverty. All quarters of society came to an agreement that in order for nation-building to proceed, certain sacrifices had to be made to help the underperforming groups. But it was not a case where one party was to benefit at another's expense. Distribution was to take place within the context of a growing economy. It was meant to be a situation of give-and-take that would result in economic growth shared by all segments of society. Today, the give-and-take attitude seems to have dissipated. Malaysians are exhibiting signs of polarisation along ethnic and religious lines. Some groups bear grudges against what is perceived as preferential treatment. Others regard preferential treatment as an indisputable entitlement.

Moreover, the impasse at the global level between Islam and non-Islam affects even a moderate country like Malaysia. Matters of faith are topics of immense controversy. They provoke overzealousness and coercive action, and drive Malaysians further and further away from each other. Our diversity was meant to be our unique asset. The Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara institutionalised living together in peaceful, harmonious co-existence. Yet years after Merdeka, we are still grappling with concerns about unity.

So what are the challenges to nation-building that we need to face head on? To me, the challenges are many, but the one that stands out is the need to balance change with continuity. The current phase of nation-building should be in tune with the temper of the times to reflect the new realities of the modern world. We are facing a globalised environment where excellence and meritocracy are the rule of the game.

Opportunities in the global world reward those with ability, regardless of colour or creed. A multi-ethnic country like ours has to be especially watchful. In the absence of a strong national identity, we are prone to polarisation and competition along ethno-religious lines. Therefore, a most expert balancing act is required to maintain socio-political stability while not losing out on global competitiveness.

As I have said elsewhere, to ensure sustained success at nation-building, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he or she has a common home, is presented common opportunities, given due recognition and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed for the long haul.

Managing change is not easy and nation-building does not occur naturally in any society, let alone a pluralistic one. Allow me to suggest three essentials for effective and sustained nation-building.

The first is the Rule of Law and the inviolability of the constitution. The constitution is the supreme law of the country which guarantees fundamental liberties to every citizen. A cleverly crafted document, it clearly provides for adequate checks and balances against excesses through the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- with each protected from encroachment by the other. It has often been said that many a misunderstanding may be avoided if the principles embodied in the constitution are adhered to strictly. Upholding the Rule of Law is paramount. In this connection, I can do no better than to quote the words of Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, a leading jurist, when she delivered the Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture in Kuala Lumpur last month: "Law is the bedrock of a nation; it tells us who we are, what we value. It regulates our human relationships one to the other and our relationships as citizens with the state. Law is cultural. It comes out of the deep wellsprings of history and experience within a country..."

The rule of law is one of the tools we use in our stumbling progress towards civilising the human condition: a structure of law, with proper methods and independent judges, before whom even a government must be answerable. It is the only restraint upon the tendency of power to debase its holders. As we know, power is delighful and absolute power is absolutely delighfful. "We must be the protectors of those who are vulnerable to abuse. We have to stand up and be counted. We have to protect the things that make our nations great..."

The second element necessary in nation-building is economic and social justice for all. All groups in society, regardless of ethnic group, religion or gender, must participate in making decisions that affect their lives and livelihood. They must have a voice and a place in all sectors. They must carry equal responsibilities in making society work. The people we work and play with, the friendships we make, must never be constrained by ethnicity. Preconceptions, parochialism and chauvinism can be eradicated if we interact actively with others of a different ethnic group or religion -- even if it is just one teacher, one man or one schoolmate. In many areas, this is absent and it must change.

The third requisite to nation-building is good governance and a thriving civil society. Institutions of governance must demonstrate and generate norms and behaviour that are fundamentally efficient, productive and just. Only those who are capable, responsible and scrupulously honest should be allowed to serve in positions of leadership. Those who are inefficient, incompetent and, most importantly, corrupt should be held in absolute contempt. There must also be concrete anti-corruption measures and management practices based on efficiency, transparency and accountability. It is also very important that we have leaders who are earnest in maintaining unity, never resorting to religious or ethnic posturing to further their political careers at the expense of peace and security. Should they fail in this respect, they must be held accountable and answerable before the law.

What can you do to help promote national unity? I'm going to assume you are still at an age when you are still idealistic -- that you wish to improve the human condition. That you are patriotic. That you believe in friendship and peace. That you would rather build than destroy. You are in the best position to tenaciously forge this nation. Let me suggest a few ways how you can contribute towards Malaysia's continued success at nation-building.

First, get a copy of the Federal Constitution and familiarise yourselves with it. The constitution is the supreme law of the land. It guarantees the rights of every Malaysian. As such, the integrity of that document must be protected.

Second, study the nation's history, particularly the lives and works of past leaders who have sacrificed so much for this country. One such leader is Tun Dr Ismail. He was an exemplary Malaysian. He envisaged a Malaysia for all without colour lines, without ethnic borders and without any one group feeling a sense of inferiority. He recognised the importance of open-mindedness in addressing day-to-day issues and problems; the importance of listening and learning from others, particularly from those who are more advanced. He strongly believed in the principle of life-long learning, visiting other lands and adopting best practices without losing our core values and our identity as a nation. He had the interest of the nation at heart and went beyond the call of duty in the service of his nation. He put his country above himself and served till the very last day of his life. The leadership, sincerity, sacrifices and integrity of Tun Dr Ismail and other leaders of his generation should serve to inspire the next generation of leaders.

Third, you must take personal ownership over the wellbeing of the country. Do not succumb to indifference and apathy. Hold on to your ideals. Do not give way to cynicism and opportunism. Believe that you can make a difference. Channel your energies in a constructive manner to bring about positive changes around you.

Fourth, participate actively in community service that is geared towards promoting interaction between communities. Volunteer your spare time and energy to work with Malaysians from other walks of life and ethnic groups.

Fifth, be prepared to serve your country to the best of your ability. All of you represent the valuable future human capital this country needs. The outside world knows the value of our best brains, which is why they set out to attract our people, creating a brain drain for us. Do not exacerbate the problem of the brain drain. Also, do not be averse to building a career in public service. I believe all of us have some innate desire to serve. Always think nation first.

More than anything, Malaysia needs a future generation of leaders with unquestionable integrity. In countries where specialised expertise and technical know-how are lacking, they can be imported from elsewhere. But integrity, by definition, is something that cannot be bought or hired. You and the quality of leadership you provide are the key to continued peace and harmony in Malaysia. At a time when new powers like China and India are rising, we cannot afford to lose our harmony dividend. It is the anchor of this nation.

The Merdeka generation after a tough climb managed to make it to base camp. The summit lies ahead and I can guarantee you that it will be an arduous climb. But it can also be exhilarating. It will need climbers who are skilled, courageous, confident and above all, steadfast. To face the challenges ahead, you need a bedrock faith in what you and our country stand for. I wish all of you the very best in your future.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

TOWARDS A DECENT SOCIAL ORDER FOR ALL MALAYSIANS

An excerpt from the inaugural lecture by Raja Nazrin Shah, Raja Muda of Perak, to commemorate the legacy of Professor Syed Hussein Alatas on July 31, 2007, in the Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur. The lecture was titled "Towards a decent social order for all Malaysians."

Before I begin, let us observe a moment of silence in memory of Allahyarham Professor Dato' Dr Syed Hussein Alatas. I invite Muslims in the audience to offer the Al-Fatihah for his soul and the souls of all those who have passed on before us.

2. I am delighted to be able to present this lecture on the legacy of Allahyarham Professor Dato' Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas. For more than five decades, Alatas was one or Malaysia's leading intellectual lights. He was a role model and inspiration to many and i include myself among them. He was more than a pioneering Southeast Asian social scientist. He was a public intellectual whose ideas and influence touched many fundamental aspects of Malaysian life. He wrote on subjects that resonate deeply within society. He was far from the "useless sociologist" that he claimed to be in this matter, at least, he was completely wrong. The many glowing tributes' that have been published since his departure, both within and outside the country, are clear evidence of this.

3. The truth is that Syed Hussein Alatas made a great impact during his lifetime. He continues to do so today through his writtings and through those whom he influenced. Alatas was not only a brilliant academic. He was also a public figure who believed deeply in this country and did what he thought was right even if it cost him dearly. He never hesitated from speaking the truth.

4. Alatas' work has substantial, indeed, profound, implications for a decent social order for all Malaysians. This lecture will focus on three themes that Alatas felt most compelled to write about and which are as relevant today as they ever were.

The first was religion, especially islam and how it was positive force in development; The second was how Asian needed to be mentally liberated from colonial and western patterns of thinking. He was an ardent believer in Asians being able to think independently and creatively for themselves. The third theme was creating the conditions for good governance, particularly the eradication of corruption. He regarded the scourge of corruption to be the most damaging in developing countries.

5. Alatas wrote on other subjects as well, on history on Malaysian politics and in his own field of sociology. The scope of his work was very wide and his output remarkable. He published more than 16 books and over 50 articles and papers during his lifetime.

6. Schooled in the European tradition. Alatas was also equally familiar with the writings of Islamic scholars. This added a dimension to his analysis that was rarely available to most western social scientists. Whether conducting a penetrating analysis, constructing an intricate argument or the pen and his mastery of language meant that he was capable of conveying the most nuanced thoughts and arguments.

7. As with all good scholars, he was fiercely independent of mind. He refused to be subservient to any foreign imposed epistemology or to neglect his intellectual roots. He could take on and take apart western scholars and eastern politicians alike with devastating critiques. At the same time, Alatas was fair-minded. He was not an ideologue. He thought about issues rationally. He was prepared to acknowledge the importance of the contributions of those he disagreed with provided they had merit.

8. He was proudly Malay, passionately Muslim and yet persistently multi-racialist. He believed in non-communal politics, an ideal he shared with his illustrious uncle, Dato' Onn Jaafar. He knew how strong the retrogressive forces at work in society could be. He was a rare breed of man in his day and rarer still in this day and age. I will now turn from the man to the first of his great themes, namely, religion.

Religion, Islam and Development

9. The world view on Islam in the West has been tainted by past prejudices when little was know about it. Exacerbating the current situation are books on Islam written by non-Muslims. I am reminded of the comment by Schopernhauer, "What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than it says about Paul".

10. The tendency to give islam fictitiously antagonistic and anti-modern qualities is unmerited and unwarranted. It would have been all too easy to become angry at the unfair allegations launched at the Muslim world and to repay hatred with hatred. While an emotional response of some kind could be understandable, it also runs the risk of being counterproductive. One hardly demonstrates the superior nature of one's religion by taking actions that contradict them. This is something that the radicals of all religious stripes, and not only those who are Muslim, have failed and still fail dismally to comprehend.

11. Alatas' response to the unjust views about Islam was to be committed, alongside others in the Muslim world, to inter-civilisational dialogue. At the tender age of 26, he founded and edited a journal entitled 'Progressive Islam', which was dedicated to "the promotion of knowledge concerning Islam and Modern thought". Two years later, in 1956, he published a small booklet entitiled 'The Democracy of Islam'. He demonstrated to Muslims that they have nothing to fear, either doctrinally or intellectually, to anything that the West had to throw at them. They could be as knowledgeable and confident as any in the western world.

12. His defence of Islam comprised not just in appealling to Quranic authority. He drew on Greek, Roman, liberal and even socialist thoughts. He was able to soundly cite little-known historical events and well-known historical authorities. And because he was familiar with the world's major religions, he was able to rationally deconstruct the popular arguments against Islam to show the underlying myths and fallacies. Through dialogue, he was able to engage western intellectuals, inform them, make them reconsider their arguments and eventually earn their respect.

13. Today, there are those who think that the interest of the Islamic world is somehow advanced by being insulated and isolated from the west. They think that they can gain appreciation and admiration by mantra-like repetition of religious doctrines. And where Islamic civilisation in the past loved knowledge and produced great scientific and technological breakthroughs, the present appears to be marked by a sad lack of ability and an even sadder lack of interest.

14. Many Muslims today consider themselves under siege to such an extent that their only option is to escape into "other-worldiness". When they respond to provocations, It is to lass out with displays of heated emotion rather than cool reasoning minds. Little do they realise that the less rational the discourse and the more coercive the reponse, the greater is the extnt to which Islam's authority and power is undermined. If Islam has to be defended by force rather than reason. I would submit that there is something fundamentally wrong about our interpretation of it. Such responses are by those who lack the knowledge and self-assurance of Islam's fine intellectual and discursive tradition.

15. As a sociologist, Alatas showed that Islam is not opposed to progress but is inherently compatible with capitalism and modernisation. The qualities that were supposedly part of the capitalist spirit such as a strong work ethic, frugality time management, rational thinking and most importantly the concept of a 'calling' by the Almighty were all "strongly pronounced in the Islamic ethic". The application of scientific knowledge to all aspects of human life is also compatible with Islam. These include objectification of nature, rationally, empiricism, critical and inquiring thought and emphasis on systems procedures. If some Muslims do not demonstrate their economic proficiency, he argued, it was not due to Islam. Rather, non-religious factors were at work. If Islam were to blame, one would find Muslims everwhere devoid of economic success. This is clearly not the case.

Mental Liberation

16. The second of Alatas themes is that of mental liberation. In his seminal work, 'The Myth of the Lazy Native', he analysed colonial capitalism and the way the natives of Malaya, the Philippines and Indonesia were portrayed. He then comprehensively deconstructed the accounts which stereotyped their poor racial qualities. He argued that it was the colonial system that produced the observed behaviour. The natives of these countries were no more nor less hard working than any if the surrounding political, economic and social environment were the same.

17. The visible effects of colonialisation have been studied and are relatively well know. What had been much less examined, however, was the way that colonial ideology was held in place the invisible yet pernicious effects that it exerted on thinking. Colonial ideology required that the ability of the natives be lowered in order to justify foreigh powers taking and holding on to the reins of power. Thus, they were typecast as being unable to fulfill proper economic functions by reason of their nature.

18. Even more damaging than the typecasting was the insidious effects on thinking. Colonialism created a total schema or what i like to refer to as a "thought regime" which dominated the way people understood and spoke about subjects. Words, concepts and supposed cause-and effect relationships were all constructed to suit the purpose of the colonialists. What was particularly annoying was that colonialists then accused the local populace of becoming addicts.

19. As a result, intellecutal thinking became "captive" to the prevailing thought regime. It became bound by colonial language and assumptions, imitative and non-creative. This was something the communists also understood very well. From an early stage, they imposed social order throgh such means as mass propaganda campaign, the decimation of intellectuals and so called "re-education" programmes, all in order to impose the desired worldview. History was rewritten to favour the political order. Facts were omitted or misrepresented to shape collective social consciousness. Language itself was subverted to serve the regime.

20. The recognition that minds can held captive to particualar worldviews was an important step in the intellectual development of former colonies. Not only did countries have to be decolonialised politically, they had to be de-colonialised in terms of mindsets. Having achieved freedom we need to be careful not to fall back into set patterns of thingking which serve narrow interests and stifle the spirit of inquiry, creativity and ultimately, change. Entrenched interests, of course, generally prefer the status quo. They do not appreciate being challenged by new ideas and new ways of doing things. And change is essential if countries are to develop holistically.

21. The one group Alatas turned to was intellectuals, which he believed would serve as an antidote to two widespread 'poisons' in developing countries.The first of these poisons were those he called 'fools' - persons who were educated but yet unable to provide any creative solutions to the problems of the day or to demonstrate high standards of behaviour and performance. According to him, developing countries lag behind others when a large number of fools determine the interest of the nation. 'They usually just follow the line of least resistance. The second poison was 'bebalisma' - a general attitude of ignorance, indifference and idolence (or dislime of work). It makes society non-anticipatory, non-thinking, non-rational and non-contextual. No priority is given to the things that really matter and no embarrassment is felt for mistake and shortcomings.

22. The concept of the fool and bebalisma stuck a chord with the Malaysian public. Who, after all, does not have a favourite personal story of clownish bureaucracy or of bebalism? The stakes, however, are much higher.

"To lack intellectuals," Alatas said, "is to lack leadership"

Our national problem', he said, "should be tackled with intellectual justice, not with exploitative ignorance" intellectuals possess the ability to pose, define and analyse problems and propose solutions.

Good governance

One of the great themes in Professor Syed Hussein Alatas' work is known in today's parlance as 'governance'. He fought tirelessly to elevate integrity and justice in society and to correct social ills. The battle against corruption received top priority. His books on the topic were published from as early as 1968. Four of his publications were exclusively devoted to the discussion of this social illness. He drew attention to the debilitating effects of corruption on the human condition.

Corruption is mankind's most deadly social disease. It is a disease than can undermine good governance, weaken institutional foundations, distort public policy, compromise the rule of law and constrain the economy. If not nipped in the bud, it is like a cancer whose deadly cells multiply rapidly and pervade the body politic. Once corruption becomes widespread, there is the danger that corrupt acts will no longer seem immoral and unlawful - just business as usual. In Syed Hussein's terminology, it can even become 'an industry' in itself.

A society where corruption is rife is one where the actions of an unprincipled minority have detrimental consequences on the welfare of the majority. The interests of a minority override the interests of the majority. It curbs competitiveness to the detriment of economic and social development. It leads to tremendous misallocation of resources. The cost of doing business becomes unacceptably high. Investors shy away. Incomes fall. Jobs are lost, People suffer.

Corruption exists because of man's enduring desire for personal gain.

The monotheistic religions believe that even the first humans, Adam and Eve, were bribed - by a serpent. As the story teaches, the consequences for humanity were colossal. History has shown how a culture of corruption can lead to the fall of empires and the destruction of civilsations. Unfortunately, societies have not always learned from their own sufferings. Greed can be so rife that lessons from history often go unnoticed.

This is why values, and principles based on integrity and soical justice, as enaunciated by Syed Hussein, are crucial. Mental attitudes and values are what shape a nation's development. Strengthening processes, systems and institutions can only be effective if a strong value system exists as the foundation.

In addition, the environment in which corruption takes place has to be conditioned to keep it in check. The starting point is with the nation's leaders. Figures in authority must be chosen for their integrity first and qualifications second. They must take personal ownership in bringing out a decent social order, and they must be held accountable if they do not achieve it. Those with a chequered past or clear evidence of questionable morality should be prevented from taking office. There should be zero tolerance for corrupt practices.

There must also be concrete anti-corruption measures and management practices based on efficiency, transparency and accountability. This is the second leg. Unnecessary and complex regulations and licensing requirements should be pared back or else simplified in order to discourage under the table deals. The award of contracts should be fairly and transparently administered. Oversight agencies and appeal processes should be in place to ensure that discretionary power is not abused. It goes without saying that an anti-corruption system must be functioning and effective.

Syed Hussein was right when he observed that there was no leader or any developing country who had not adopted an anti-corruption platform. Those who could be taken seriously, however, were very few.

The third leg of good governance is the mobilisation of public opinion. Syed Hussein placed great store on the power of public outrage. He believed that if you awakened society's consciousness to the ills of corruption and gave cases of corruption widespread pubilicty, it would generate such an adverse reaction the the government would be forced to take action. Complaints and protests may be irksome, but they should be treated as welcome and constructive feedback.

Syed Hussein's work has many implications for a decent social order for all Malaysians. Before going into some of them, let me do what the good Professor would have done, and that is to define exactly what the term 'social order' means. While there are many competing and complementary definitions, the one I choose to use is simply this: A social order is one where formal and informal social institutions, customs and practices determine and reinforce what are acceptable and unacceptable social norms and behaviour in society. The former include class, ethnic, religious, kinship and intellectual influences.

A decent social order would be one where the social factors mentioned above produce social norms and behaviour that are fundamentally efficient, productive and just. Not only that, I would add that the idea of decency implies standards that are more than minimally adequate but which correspond to the highest international levels. What does all this mean in concrete terms? What characteristics or traits would a decent social order in Malaysia have? Let me quickly summarise five of them.

First, if Malaysia is to have a decent social order, it cannot be characterised by social fragmentation and polarisation. The social order must be one that leads to cohesion within and among communites. There must be horizontal equity whereby all Malaysians in equal circumstances are treated in exactly the same way.

Second, the social norms that a decent social order produce would lead Malaysians of all races and religions to engage one another with absolute civility and respect. Coercion and overt and covert threats of violence as a means of attaining political, economic and social ends would never be sanctioned. The only legitimate way to take into account differences and resolve problems is through dialogue and negotiations.

Third, Malaysians would feel a deep-seated sense of ownership over the problems of the country. They would be motivated to take decisive action and to make whatever sacrifices that are necessary for the good of the country. There would not be the high degree of indifference and apathy that there is at present. There would not be the tendency to escape from the challenges confronting the country or to apportion blame.

Fourth, only Malaysians who are capable, hard working, bold and scrupulously honest would be allowed to serve in positions of responsibility. Those who are inefficient, incompetent and most importantly, corrupt would be held in absolute and utter contempt by society. In this regard, the fight against corruption would be the first priortiy in the Malaysian development agenda. It would be recognised that corruption ensures that no decent social order is possible. Actions to ensure a corruption-free society would be unrelenting.

Fifth, the public would have a high degree of trust in the pillars of state, the executive judiciary and legislature, as well as the civil service and police. Those appointed to these institutions would be the best the country has to offer. They would never allow respect for their office to be compromised in anyway, preferring to resign rather than let it fall into disrepute. At all times, the rule of law would prevail.
In short, a decent Malaysian soical order would be one that is based on inclusiveness and accommodation as opposed to marginalisation and discrmination.

Problems that are of racial or religious origin would be resolved in ways that demonstrate the best aspects of race and religion rather than driving Maysian away from each other. Indeed, if Malaysia professes to be an advanced country, it had better be prepared to meet a higher standard of behaviour and morality. Anything less and it runs the risk of being declared a shameless sham.

Perhaps Syed Hussein's most important and enduring legacy for a decent social order for all Malaysians - one that underscores all five points I have mentioned - is his insistence on values and morality as a basis for public dicourse and action. Without these, development will not lead to the social uplifting of all Malaysians. Instead, it will result in rampant corruption, extreme elitism and perilous social inequlity.

40. In her tribute to Alatas, Dr. Deborah Johnson concluded as follows; "Perhaps posthumously and in the light of the distance that the passage of time brings, the work of an intellectual such as Syed Hussein Alatas may receive the balanced, critical attention that will affirm his contribution to crtique of 'fools', Alatas would possibly have been even given more public honour. Far more accolades have been heaped on those who have done far less. This presumes, however, that wealth, prestige and position were what he wanted. His life and his work show otherwise.

NOTE: Prof Syed Hussein died on Jan 27, 2007.