Thursday, December 31, 2009

Politics of the monkey-judge

First of all let me wish all Malaysians a happy new year as we begin 2010. May 2010 be a wonderful chapter in our lives, happy, prosperous, meaningful and enriching as well.

Blogging on serious , high-brow subjects may be out of tune with readers' much deserved holiday and relaxation with family member s and loved ones. But perhaps light story telling would be okay, not too intrusive or much of a ‘card-spoiler’ (kacau daun)

On this very quite first day of 2010, I am reminded of the story of the monkey-judge, which is well represented in many cultural traditions, in various versions. It is a charming story with many insights to reflect upon.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the story, it runs such. Two parties are at loggerheads, in heated arguments on their respective rights and claims over a banana. Having exhausted their arguments and patience over the issue, they agree to refer the matter to the court, presided by the monkey-judge, presumably of high standing and great reputation in arbitrating between disputing parties. Both parties agree to abide by the decision of the illustrious monkey-judge.

In the midst of tension and hostility between the disputing parties, the monkey-judge decided to apportion the banana equally in the name of justice. He broke the fruit clumsily and regretfully into two rather unequal and disproportionate portions, with one much longer than the other.
The monkey-judge was however rather pleased with his decision, quite oblivious to his blunder and indiscretion.

Upon being presented with the court decision, the aggrieved party protested vehemently over the injustice of being awarded the smaller portion of the banana and made known to the monkey-judge their displeasure in no uncertain terms. The advantaged party of course welcome the decision , paying great tribute to the wisdom and justice of the monkey-judge.

Faced with the vehement protest of the aggrieved party, and the real prospect of losing their support, the monkey-judge makes amend. He bites the longer portion in the hope of making the two portions equal, but as is customary of a blunderer, he bites more than he can chew, now making the other portion longer and bigger in turn, which of course leads to the same protests all over, only this time with the parties changing their status as the aggrieved or the advantaged, either cursing or lauding the monkey-judge in superlative terms.

Thus the process repeated itself, over and over again, with the monkey-judge continually trying to please and win support, losing sight of his original goal of justice for all. The more he bites, and misjudges, the more discontent he creates overall, with the compliments coming only as a passing or ephemeral phase. In the end, the monkey-judge consumes the whole banana, leaving the disputing parties agape, in confusion and disillusionment…

In a plural society and nation like ours, our beloved Malaysia, leaders can learn a lot from the story of the monkey-judge and the banana, be it BN, PR, DAP, PAS, PKR and others. Politics is not a simple matter of pleasing the crowd or playing up to the gallery. Partisan politics devoid of absolute principles and values such as social justice, fair play, equality, can only make a ‘monkey-judge’ of leaders, taking them no where except a blind alley.

In evolving specific policies and campaigns, such as 1Malaysia or the education policy and education system, BN leaders would have to be mindful of the proper balance between the legitimate interests and rights of the both Malays and non-Malays. Half-baked and naive liberalism, insensitive to history, context and absolute principles and values, may only lead to deeper and new problems, far from solving existing ones.

For both BN and PR, the policy of pandering to one section of the population while alienating another, then wooing back the later, while alienating the former, in a vicious cycle all over again and again, would be counter productive for their politics. In the end it could spell their very downfall as the whole population wises up to their monkey game

PKR, DAP, PAS need to be sensitive and tactful. In our extremely complicated politics with delicate balance, rhetoric, populist tendencies, slogan churning, playing to the galleries will only lead us into blind alley in terms of nation building which improves our lives.

What about the common man in the street, any lesson from the light story? On my part I resolve not to entrust my destiny, that of my family, loved ones, my beloved nation, fellow citizens, to the monkey-judge.That would wreak havoc in our lives!

Wishing you a happy new year once again. I hope my monkey story did not spoil your holiday and merry making!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mind your planes!

The question of Malay participation in the Singapore Air Force had always been a touchy one, especially before one or two Malay-Muslim pilot had been appointed, presumably in part to address the issue. The official explanation in response to criticism was interesting: an explanation which seems to fuse both ethnic considerations with national security concern. A senior cabinet minister said in a much publicized speech that the Singapore government did not want to put a would-be Malay-Muslim pilot in a dilemma should Singapore be engaged in a conflict with the neighboring countries. The pilot concerned would then be torn between his loyalty to Singapore and his loyalty to his Muslim brothers of the opposite camp. Considering how expensive a jet fighter had cost Singapore, he explained the government simply cannot take the risk of a Malay-Muslim pilot flying a jet fighter over to the enemy camp. Now this suggest very stringent attitude towards national security and defense equipments, even spilling over into ethnic considerations!

Now on the Malaysian side of plane saga, a few days ago Malaysians are hit by the shocking news that two jet-fighter engines had been stolen, each engine worth about MR50 million. The details suggest that through massive and complicated local and international conspiracy, the engines were sold off to an international company based in South Africa. A brigadier-general and 40 armed forces personnel had been sacked last year over the scandal. It is also reported that the police had arrested 4 people, including air force officers. These are scanty details I read in today’s The Sun, front page, reporting on revelation by the prime minister and the minister of defence ( I seem always to be out of step with the Malay Mail mass distribution, finding only an empty kiosk when passing by)

Wow! The Malaysians seem to be much more at ease over the matter of national security and sensitive defence equipments. Kadir Jasin of the Scribe and Rocky Bru is quite right in saying, given the details, what is there to prevent elements like those who traded our jet engines from selling not only sensitive defence equipment but the very integrity of our national security system itself? They seem to be quite above all considerations of national loyalty, patriotism and ethnic loyalties. Only money and greed seem to motivate them.

This scandal should really worry us Malaysians, sweet music though to our enemies. To them, it does suggest Malaysia can be bought easily if you know where the weak link in the chain is, and work it to their advantages.

I find the prime minister’s statement in today’s paper perplexing. Though calculated to reassure the public there was no cover up in the matter, I remain to be persuaded. He said, according to the report: ‘Mindef took the position that we had to address this and take action, even criminal action, against those involved’ Was Mindef of two mind over the course of action to be taken upon discovering the debacle? So much so Mindef had to ‘take the position to address this and take action, even criminal action? Shouldn’t this be a matter of course, instead of being recounted as a process requiring mulling and great deliberation? Why ‘even criminal action’? Was there remote possibilities of it being non-criminal and innocent? Or was there reluctance and hesitation over the course of taking criminal action? The prime minister gives credit to the RMAF and Mindef for having ‘no intention of covering up at all. In fact, we went forward to the police. At that time I was minister in charge. I decided we should report it to the police’. Well..was it really a difficult decision on the part of a cabinet minister, worth recounting and taking credit for? Further more, excuse me for saying so, the issue really is how could it have happened and who should take the final responsibility for failing to prevent it in the first place, The issue is not whether to report it to the police or not or whether action should be taken or not! And lastly,reading the details given by the minister of defence, and the chief of the armed forces, on how investigation had to be conducted 'discretely', away from public attention, they do suggest in essence a 'cover up' of sort.

The above post does not pretend any analysis or evalutation over the issue. I am still in a state of disbelief as to the extent of degeneration in our national integrity and resilience. I am just stating the facts and relevant information.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

KPI: a 1Malaysia original?

Recently, with the change of premiership or leadership in Malaysia, the government had introduced in a big way the practice of KPI. The Prime Minister had announced to the public how he intends to vigorously evaluate the performance of his cabinet ministers and his administration through the use of the management inspired tool of KPI. The basic intention behind this move is of course to signal to the public his seriousness in ensuring good leadership for the nation, in line with the slogan of 1Malaysia ‘the people first, meritocracy emphasized’. This is all good of course, very laudable.

The idea of a prime minister vigorously evaluating his cabinet, or any leader evaluating members of his ruling clique under whatever political system, is of course natural, basic in politics and nothing new. This is because any leader worth his salt will know that the ineptitude or incompetency of his lieutenants could mean his very downfall, or at the very least undermine the credibility of his government or reign.

The Malaysian government has however introduced new elements in the use of KPI, all of its own. While the KPI has usually been a tool used internally in most institution to ensure efficient inner workings, with the view of ensuring group efficiency which could then be projected to the public, the Malaysian government had publicized the use of the KPI itself, presumably deeming it as a means of improving its image in the public’s eyes.

I find this move rather perplexing, raising questions why has it done so? Does the government think that the idea of leaders being evaluated is so alien to the Malaysian public that they need to be educated on this new life experience through publicizing the government’s use of the KPI? Or could it be because the practice of evaluating government leaders is something new for government leaders themselves, never properly instituted in their midst, hence the use of the KPI achieving the status of a great ‘reform’,’novelty’ among them, making them feel it is therefore of ‘public interest’ to be capitalized for political mileage? To be sure the Prime Minister had denied that the KPI publicity is merely rhetoric and that he is serious about implementing it. Still, this is beside the point why the government has chosen to publicise its use of KPI. The point is when what is for others a natural process, a matter of course, important but otherwise ordinary, is given the treatment of a ground breaking reform, it does suggest somewhat a recent discovery and novelty of practice.

And then there is the question of how is the public really involve in this KPI exercise? Presently, they are involved merely as spectators of the government’s use of the KPI. They are not really involved in the process of evaluating the leaders within this KPI exercise. This seems to remain the sole prerogative of the prime minister, which should be the case. But then why involve the public at all, albeit as spectators? If the argument is that the public is indeed involved because they are free to submit complaints, we would be missing the point. This facility or avenue has always been open and remains the public’s prerogative, even without the much publicized KPI.

Recently the public had really been cast as spectators to the government’s use of the KPI. Amid much fanfare, two ministerial posts had been created to oversee the government use of the KPI. The public is informed on the internal administrative details of the KPI. Few days ago, a cabinet minister had to correct the mass media in misreporting that only ten out of twenty government agencies had submitted their reports. The good minister had explained to the public that all twenty agencies had submitted their reports on time without exception, but the prime minister has had the opportunity to read only ten of them, given his busy schedule!

A few months ago, the two cabinet ministers had to explain to the public the line of reporting in the matter of KPI. To public inquiry as to which of the two cabinet ministers involved with KPI is to report to the other, one of them explained that he is solely in charge and all reporting are to him. All manner of administrative details are made public, but alas not the substance of the evaluation itself!

A few days ago, before flying off to Copenhagen, the Prime Minister announced to the public that he is satisfied with the performance of his government in the key performance areas. Indeed this is good news for us since the government, going by the prime minister, is in good working order. It raises some questions, however. Who is the KPI for? If it is just for the Prime Minister’s public exercise, isn’t there a conflict of interest here? Politically speaking it is a bit unrealistic for us to expect any Prime Minister to say he is unsatisfied with his own government? No Prime Minister would be willing to commit political suicide with the use of his very own KPI! Given this, perhaps it is best that the government keeps the KPI as a vital management tool for its internal use in upgrading the quality of governmental leadership.

I think it is fair for me to say that by and large the public is not too interested in the administrative details or the bureaucratic aspects of the goverment's use of the KPI. What the public is more interested in is not so much the mere use of the KPI but the actual honest and open evaluation of the leaders. And we can be sure too of one thing. With or without the KPI in its structured form as introduced and publicised by the government, the people will in their own way ‘KPI’ the government before casting their votes. I am sure in doing so they are quite indifferent as to whether the prime minister is satisfied or not with his own KPI on his government agencies!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ethnic quota on Malay reserve land?

While surfing, I chanced across a Bernama report dated 7 December 2009, posted on the Malaysiakini website. The caption ‘Dasar 50% kuota bumiputra ditangguh’ looks interesting and contentious enough I thought, given the current political development in Malaysia. Contentious I thought because it touches on some basic issues like the continuing tension between ‘liberalization’ or free enterprise and the question of Malay rights.

According to the Bernama report, the implementation of the new housing policy in Kedah which stipulates 50% allocation for bumiputra had been put off until a new clearer guideline is issued. This move was prompted by protests from NGOs and political parties of various races over the issue of Malay reserve land being converted to freehold land. The general policy of raising the housing allocation for bumiputra from 30% to 50% was announced by the Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak, to be effective from 1 September 2008.

To my mind, merely deducing from the scanty facts in the Bernama report, the problem starts when the state government made a serious blunder. Thinking in terms of ethnic quotas in relation to land matters proves to be very problematic in Malaysia, given its history. Take for instance the matter of Malay reserve land. The Malay reserve land policy was formulated and implemented long before Independence, even longer before the New Economic Policy. Therefore it is really a political blunder for the PR state government to extend its hostility towards the NEP to the Malay reserve land policy, as if they are one and the same.

The Malay reserve land policy was promulgated between the British and the Malay States, even before the birth of independent Malaya or Malaysia. Hence to carry over their phobia of ethnic quota of the NEP into decisions over land matters, particularly of Malay reserve land, reflect either unconscious or conscious anti-Malay sentiments on their part or simply ignorance of history.

It is such characteristic blunder of PR that contributes to the murkiness of Malaysian politics today. Too much had been lumped under the boogey man ‘NEP’. Now the question of Malay reserve land had been laid at the door of ‘NEP’. They had taken it upon themselves to ‘correct’, ‘liberalize’, ‘democratize’, ‘reform’ or to ‘equalize’ the anomaly called Malay reserve land. In this way, all things ‘Malay’ can now be maligned under NEP. It is the same proclivity to over generalize and caricature on the part of PR that blames all ills of Malaysian society explicitly on UMNO and implicitly on the Malays. Obviously such trends are not conducive for the development of a democratic discourse in our political process.

It is to be expected that the new housing policy of the Kedah stated government would encounter problems. I wonder what would be some of the protests from the NGOs and the various political parties? The Malay position would find it difficult to endorse or support the proposed policy. From their point of view, why should Malay reserve land be converted to freehold with only a 50% allocation for them? Isn’t this giving up part of their land? Though in all probability the Malay reserve land had been compensated elsewhere, normally in a less valuable or desirable location, naturally they would resent the idea of giving up their claims on half of the converted land, especially when the land value had escalated in that particular area.

As for the non-Malay position, I suppose it would be the old continual resentment and protest against Malay rights and allocation, all of familiar ring to their resentment towards the NEP. I suppose in their understanding or expectation, it should be just like colonial times when the dichotomy was just that of either Malay reserve land or freehold, with the later free of any form of stipulation, especially in favor of the Malays.

Hence massaging the figure from the magic 30% of NEP to 50% would not really endear the state goverment to the people of Kedah, be it Malays or non-Malays.Many would simply see it as a sleight of hand to favour the other party against their own community.

One lesson I would draw from this episode on the new housing and land policy of the Kedah state government. It is not that easy to push aside or ignore the reality of the ethnic imperatives in our politics, given the history of the nation. Another lesson would be, politicians of both divide, be it the ruling party or the opposition, in all states, and at the national level, should never loose sight of our history and historical context when championing their cause.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Government of the individual, by the individual, for personal clients?

The Star dated 4 December 2009 carried an interesting news report on the front page with the caption ‘Mother’s tears pays off with citizenship for girl’. It recounts how, Mrs Chong , a distraught mother waited for eight hours to meet Datuk Seri Hishamuddin personally at the UMNO generally assembly in October to plead the case of her daughter’s  citizenship. Her persistence had paid off, with her 17 year old daughter being granted Malaysian citizenship on 3 December 2009.

Shedding tears of joy, the 45 year old mother recounted her story: ‘ I met the minister at 6 pm on that day and at 7 pm, I received a call from his press secretary to enquire about my daughter Vivien Wong’s application.’ She continues with evident and justified gratitude: ‘Her citizenship application was approved in less than a month, thanks to Hishamuddin”

I am happy for Mrs Chong and her daughter Vivien Wong on their success. Kudos to Datuk Seri Hishamuddin for his attention in clearing the matter.  As human story, the episode is indeed touching and heartwarming. It portrays a mother’s love and devotion, the wonderful gift of precious citizenship to a young girl and the gallant act of a political leader while in office. It bespeaks of  benevolent leadership and a caring government, augering well for the nation.

And yet the story strikes me precisely how our democratic Malaysian nation should not be! A democracy and its institutions should be about impartial laws and policies, accompanied by due process in their implementation. The doctrine of the rule of law ensures all parties are clear as to their responsibilities and rights, be it with the leaders as well as citizens. The laws and principles function objectively or justly, where the citizens can expect some measure of reliability and certainty as to their hope and expectation.  Of course there are always some grey areas for judgment- call and discretion on the part of the executive, but in great measure the rule of law demands impartiality and objectivity in its operation based on clear principles.

In this regard, to my mind, the case of Mrs Chong and Vivien raises many questions as to the soundness of our democracy.  Why did she had to beg and plead the case in those circumstances before being accorded the due attention and necessary action. It took more than a decade before she could make any headway and even then it was through her resolve and desperate act of which we read. Would Vivien’s citizenship application have been processed in not for the act of personal pleading or ‘begging’ on the part of Mrs Chong?  Could there be many other similar cases pending for decades simply because other mothers had not seen the light to plead their case in similar fashion as Mrs Chong?

To me, the case should have been a straight forward one, to be decided on clearly defined laws, policies and principles. It is either Vivien was entitled to citizenship or  she was not, to be decided impartially or objectively according to due process of the law or policy, leaving a minimal ground for personal arbitrariness. Accordingly, Mrs Chong pleading and desperation should not have been necessary, nor would the ‘gallantry’ of Hishamuddin in ‘bestowing’  citizenship.  In other words, in my understanding the decision should have been arrived on ‘democratically’ and not ‘personally’.

Mrs Chong’s said something which does not auger well for our democracy. According to her she met Hishamuddin at 6 pm, and by 7pm she received a call from the Minister’s press secretary enquiring into her application and appeal. Wow! That’s immediate attention and service for you. But just what had  happened throughout the decade that had gone by? Why should Mrs Chong desperate act make all the difference? The case should either be a legitimate one, which should have been given due attention and deliberation more than a decade ago, or it is not legitimate, in the case of which personal pleading or ‘begging’ should not radically alter the status and the merit of the case altogether. Which is which? Would the case have been buried for another decade had it been otherwise? As to the political secretary, would he have been equally concerned and diligent in his exercise of duty if the circumstances had been different?

This case and the surrounding human story touch on a major malady of our democratic Malaysian nation. Our leaders as well as citizens have the mistaken notion that power is personal and arbitrary, which can and ought to be wielded thus by the individual office bearer. The consequence of this mistaken notion is a weak notion of the rule of law, due process of law, the legitimate extend and limit of power, public accountability, citizens’ duties and rights, indeed of the democratic spirit itself in general.

I chose to highlight the case in the belief that has greater significance for our nation well beyond it. It reflects a serious flaw in the working of our nation. To those bold enough to admit, in Malaysia in many areas of life, a lot depends on personal networking, on whom you know, with whom one rubs shoulder with, on family ties, on ‘pulling strings’, ‘knowing lobang’, ‘golfing partners’, ‘kakis’, ‘drinking buddies’, and many other modes of personal ties and relationship forging patronage and client relationship between office bearers or power holders and the public. This has been the fountain spring of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, favoritism, highhandedness,arbitrariness,precariousness that scourge our national life. It has been the force that undermines our democratic spirit and understanding, and derails our democratic progress from its proper path.

I pray we can combat this malady together as Malaysian citizens, genuinely concerned for the restoration and advancement of our genuine democratic understanding and spirit. We need to do this because it is downright impossible to have a working democratic system while the spirit animating and guiding it runs counter to democracy and its guiding principles.   



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Whither our democratic culture?

We have yet to evolve a democratic culture in Malaysia. Yes, we do take part in the election, but a democratic culture is much more than simply casting a vote once every four or five years. Apart from this hallmark of modern democracy, our political life doesn’t seem to reflect the other integral aspects of a truly or more matured democratic culture.

For instance we often hear of conflicts or feuds in political parties between factions and cliques, but, though occupying the centre stage in terms of media coverage and public consciousness, we cannot say really what are the major issues or contention between them. Is it a case of competing vision and philosophy for their parties, a significant difference in terms of policies, priorities and strategies, all in the name of the genuine interests of society and nation? Or can it be a debate on fundamental principles of leadership, devotion, commitment and idealism?

Invariable after following the news for a while, one gets bored and tired of it because it all boils down to the jostling for power and position between individuals, each backed by their hence men and supporters. A case in point would be the long drawn squabble in MCA. What are the issues really, of significance to society and nation? The same can be said of the going on in the MIC.

Of course cliques and faction would camouflage their bid for power and position by adopting the high moral ground, while stigmatizing rival groups as ‘immoral’, ‘unethical’ or any other labels that undermine their legitimacy to lead. But beyond this propagandistic idealization of personalities, and character assassination of rivals, what are the substantive issues reflecting a matured or developed democracy?

Right to this day, it would seem that the democratic spirit and tradition is still lacking in UMNO. This is clearly borne out by the last posting by Dr Mahathir Muhammad or Che Det. It would appear that far from developing a genuine democratic culture within its fold, UMNO is more inclined towards thwarting or stunting it, thus getting closer day by day to political suicide. According to Dr Mahathir, divisional leaders are blocking the entry into the party of younger, better educated, more capable people. These leaders feel more secure when they recruit instead yes men and those who condone and accept their corruption. As election candidates are normally nominated and chosen from this level of divisional leadership, it is such elements that invariably rise to prominence and national leadership in the course of time. Hence we have a vicious cycle of bad and corrupt leadership for the party, society and nation.

Can UMNO ever hope to survive, without breaking this vicious cycle? How can it ever hope to win back the mind and heart of the Malay masses without genuine democratic reforms against such self-sustaining and self-perpetuating force of corruption and decadence at the core of its power and leadership structure? I will emphatically say UMNO will perish into oblivion in no time!

I should like to note that though I have not made specific mention of the opposition parties, judging by the discussions and analysis in the media, I don't think the state of democratic culture within their folds is any different or better. Just casually survey the various commentaries on PAS, PKR and the  DAP widely circulating in the media.

Our fundamental problem is that we still need to evolve and develop a truly democratic culture. Our elite and leaders still cling on to the old and undemocratic notion of power. According to this notion, reminiscence of feudalism really, power is personal, arbitrary, conferring of position, privileges, and personal gains or interests. Power is much coveted and keenly contested for these reasons. This is poles apart from the democratic notion of power, where power is defined and closely regulated by democratic rules and institutions, limited only to legitimate functions of serving the interests of the people and the nation. In a genuine democratic culture, power and authority are conferred only to enable and empower leaders to lead and serve the people and the nation, and not for personal aggrandizement by individuals, their families, hence men and loyalists.

It seems to me if our very conception of power is undemocratic, I am not wrong in saying that our ‘democracy’ has a long way to go before achieving the status of a more matured and responsible democracy, both on the part of leaders and citizens.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Playing cat and mouse with the law

A few weeks ago, as I was passing, there was a surprise raid by city officials on the hawkers at the premises of the Masjid Jamek LRT station. Within minutes , the hawkers made their rushed ‘getaway’, clearing the area of their makeshift counters and culinary spreads.

Since then, I note the resilient hawkers and vendors are back, even in greater number, it would seem to me. Well…it kind of set me thinking. Not that most of us are unaware of this phenomenon, but I am curious as to its nature, dynamics and the rational of it all.

This is not to say, I am unsympathetic towards the small man trying the earn a living, for I would consider myself as one naturally inclined towards the underdog of society, rather than the spoilt and decadent of the upper class or ‘the big boys’ of business. But then the issue I am raising here is not of sectarian interests, but a point of law and governance, or concerning ‘mismanagement’ perhaps? It raises questions too on the effectiveness of the law and its enforcement.

Now I am sure the vendors are not unintelligent lot. They must and do calculate their risk, gain and losses Wouldn’t it be reasonable for me to conclude that somewhere in their reckoning, they find it still ‘worth it’ to persevere playing cat and mouse. How do they come to resolve thus? The penalty is not severe enough so as to deter, the trade is lucrative, the officials can be persuaded to be lenient, there are possible loopholes in the law and implementation that one can avail oneself of? Or simply, the law is really a farce and not to be taken seriously?

What make me curious rather is the stand of the law enforcement agency. Now given their goal of outlawing such businesses, as evident in their periodic raids, haven’t they come to the conclusion by now that their action had been ineffective? Or can it be this is not an issue altogether with them? The point to them is periodic demonstration of power or authority, a ritual of sort which needs to be performed?

I know this much. In places like Singapore, reputable for its law and order, law and enforcement had been diligently crafted to underscore one principle, that ‘it is not worth the  risk doing it’. This message would be clearly signaled in the formulation of the law, as well in its implementation. When and if necessary, the penalty would be costly enough to deter would -be adventurous and high-risk takers. Don’t take my word for it, check out the relevant court cases. By and large, I think the law and enforcement work over the causeway because the law is strict in words and cannot be negotiated or compromised in enforcement. It has nothing to do with the natural law abiding instinct of Singaporeans. Well you can apply this to littering and driving offences as well.

Playing cat and mouse with the law is a well-known modus operandi in Malaysia. In parts of Kuala Lumpur city, it is public secret that illegal vendors, say of pornographic materials or pirated goods, can move in steps with raiding city officials, avoiding confrontation with much precision. Very much like the Filipino bamboo dancers, jumping in an out in time, avoiding being ‘cornered’. It is often alleged as soon as the officials turn into the next street, the vendors would be back, as a matter of routine really.

We can of course develop this phenomenon into an even wider picture, of greaer significance. Playing cat and mouse can get bigger with much higher  stake. Hence we note with much regret, illegal logging goes on for decades in the country. Given the nature and scale of the business, this is not easy to manage without complex organization and nimbleness at playing cat and mouse. The government knows, the officials know, the laws are there, and yet the game continues. The same with corruption in high places, the laws are there, sometimes enforced with much fanfare. But somehow ‘the players’ have reasoned that ‘it is still worth the risk’. Is it a case of lenient law, or of lax enforcement, making the risk low enough as to be worth taking? Or putting it in other words, making corruption and wrong doings most tempting and still rewarding?  After all they may reason, ‘ no risk no gain’? Could it be they find it to be not risky at all? So they continue playing.

What is wrong with our law and enforcement? Or is it more the case of our civic mindedness, public ethics? Is it purely a question of integrity and morality? I very much doubt it. I think if we all could be saints, there would be no need for the police, the court and even the law. But the reality is that all of us are not saints! Hence we still need good strict laws, diligently enforced, in addition to good incorruptible leadership paving the way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To die over a leaking water pipe!

On 28 October 2009 I posted on this blog a short article entitled ‘Our Little Sacrifices-The Tragedy of Kuala Dipang, Kampar’. Therein I criticized a certain callous mentality besetting our national life, characterized by the following traits: lacking maintenance mentality, the capacity of anticipating dangers and taking preventive measures, and lacking respect for the sanctity of human life, subverting it to other short term or immediate gain. In the particular context of my article, sloppiness led to the loss of three young lives.

Part of my article reads: ‘The tragedy of Kuala Dipang maybe unique in manifestation, but I believe the same principle is at work throughout our national life. Sloppiness reigns supreme everywhere, exacting heavy human costs. It is not necessarily a bridge the next time, could be a bridge, a building, a condominium, even a whole section of a road, just anything really’.

On the way to work today, I picked up a free copy of the Sun at the LRT station. The front page headline reds: ‘Landslide report declassified’. The article covers the findings of the technical committee report on the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster on December 6, 2008, which claimed five lives and destroyed 14 bungalows. The Selangor state government had decided to make the report available to the public and interested parties, especially those  affected.

My memory flashed back to the time of the disaster and the news coverage of the event. I remember distinctively the statements made by parties deemed responsible then, all seemingly leaning towards the natural disaster theory, sort of ‘an act of God’ kind of explanation and rationalization. On the whole the tenor was defensive, dismissive and rather evasive of responsibility or blame.

Now with the declassification of the report, we have the story. The main cause of the landslide was ‘a leaking water pipe along a row of abandoned houses’ which according to the analysis ‘caused moisture build-up and weakened the slope’. Other factors contributing to the disaster included the loosening of the soil during development, the lack of maintenance, damage and lack of maintenance of the drainage system in the areas surrounding the landslide’.

Wow! In short, sloppiness strike again then, costing lives, human suffering, as well as huge losses. Just imagine, people actually died because of ‘a leaking pipe’ as the main cause behind the tragedy! Then it was top by callous development, presumably driven by the profit motive, with no regards for safety and sanctity of human life. Make special note of the lack of maintenance for the drainage in the area mentioned, which says a lot on the attitude towards public accountability and social responsibility.

Few points strike me further on this episode. The area hit was an up-market residential area and not the cheaper public housing category. So it would seem to me, even the upper class of our society are not being spared falling prey, victim or even sacrifices to sloppiness. It makes me wonder also just how many more of such stories of sloppiness devouring human lives remaining buried. In this instance we get to know only because the report had been declassified by the Selangor state government.

Well, if even the rich or the affluent are not spared (one tend to assume their greater affordability perhaps could buy better service and quality of life), how can we be sure where sloppiness will strike next! And with the creepy thought of people actually dying due to a leaking water pipe, compounded by general sloppiness, how can anyone sleep peacefully at night or feel safe at any time for that matter!

PS: On page 5 of the same Sun edition referred to above, there is news of a landslide near the Cheras Awana Flats, with the caption ' Three cars, motorcycle buried in landslide'. There is a gruesome picture of a car 80% buried by landslide.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Soccer wrath, street demos and moral indignation

I heard today’s news over the radio. The Kelantan Football Association had been slammed with a fine of $50, 000 over the behaviour of its fans in Kuala Lumpur after the finals between Kelantan and Negri Sembilan, when Kelantan lost 3-1.

So the Kelantanese fans swooped down on the capital, braving the flood water, and outwitting the disruption of public transport, determined to be there in support of their beloved soccer team. Their historic hope of bringing home the cup were soon dashed convincingly by the gallant knights of Negri Sembilan. High hopes quickly turned into extreme frustration, demanding outlet and venting. So they went on a rampage, throwing fireworks and missiles into the field, hitting even officials. The more agitated vented their wrath on the properties of the stadium, setting fire to plastic seats in the stadium.

Now I find that amazing! I kind of admire the intensity, passion, commitment, but how I wish such anger or wrath could be diverted to the betterment of our nation. If only we Malaysians, leaders and citizens, could transform such intensity of passion into a moral indignation against all forms of backwardness, sloppiness, wrong doings, injustice, I am confident Malaysia would be a formidable nation respected by the world.

By this, of course I do not mean it should take the form of our increasingly frequent street protests and demonstrations, despite the laudable messages on the placards and t-shirts, the militant headbands, and the rebel rousing rhetoric of its leaders. For quite beyond these icons and symbols of righteous cause, the soccer wrath and street demonstrations share many traits in common. They are both amenable under circumstances to get out of hand, both ephemeral explosion of frustrations and anger, quickly subsiding after the event, both are more in the nature of mob action, pliable to manipulation, and above all both are not really constructive of the cause they champion, neither improving soccer nor nation-building.

Our leaders should take heart. The Malaysian citizens are not without passion, intensity of purpose and commitment. The challenge for leaders is to transform and sublimate such passion into constructive nation-building. If leaders are creative and genuinely committed to nation-building, they should be able to do so, and in doing so they would have a formidable force in their hand to work with.

I am reminded (faintly though) of a teaching in Chinese philosophy, but universally shared by all great civilizations, particularly in Islamic philosophy.  A nation may find itself in one of  three possible situations in history. First, the people are bad, but the leaders are good. In this case there is hope for the nation, for the good leaders will educate and make the people good. Secondly, a nation may have good people but the leaders are bad. In this case there is still hope for the nation. The good people will throw out the bad leaders and appoint good ones in their place. Thirdly, we have a nation where the people are bad and the leaders are bad too. In this case there is no hope for the nation. In this case the people and the leaders simply deserve each other! I wonder how do we figure in this scheme, first, second or the third?

Of one thing I am certain though. With good leadership and citizens capable of moral indignation against all injustice and wrongdoings, frowning on all forms of backwardness, Malaysia would be a formidable nation. Malaysia would not only be world class, but truly a great nation deserving the respect and admiration of the world!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Comment on Dr Mahathir: We don't even have the minimum!

 I read with interest Dr Mahathir’s statement on the need for a single stream national education system in Malaysia., published by Bernama dated 4 Nov 2009. I am in complete agreement with his cold logic on the matter.

I have always considered it to be one huge gap in our efforts towards nation-building, a gap which makes all the other efforts seem like an exercise in social niceties or self-delusion, sweeping real problems under the carpet while mouthing pronouncements on nation building and the beauty of national unity.

Can a people be a nation, in the sense of one people sharing one common destiny, without crucial meeting points, education being a vital one? I note with interest, Dr Mahathir emphasized ‘at least’ we should have the people in their formative years going to the same school. Now, the plain logic is that currently we don’t have even the minimum prerequisite for nation building, yet we indulge ourselves in the rhetoric of it.

Dr Mahathir pointed out on the uniqueness of our situation, being the odd one out in the world without this one important pillar of a nation, one single stream education system based on the national language. Unfortunately this one ‘uniqueness’ does not speak of our originality or boldness, but simply of our serious omission and failure. We have not embark on this one fundamental step towards nation building.

I am in agreement with Dr Mahathir when he pointed out that Malaysia has always been deferential  of cultural diversity in the country, and that the move towards a single stream schooling is really asking for the ‘least’, the minimum, that is if we care at all being a nation.

Well, I have been surfing the last few days following comments and responses on this issue. I find some of the remarks by those opposing the suggestion for one stream missing the point. One response from Dong Zong vehemently rejected the idea outright, zealously defending the multi-stream vernacular education with the argument that Malaysia is a ‘multi nation-state’ and not a single ‘nation-state’. The view considers Malaysia a ‘multi nation-state’ because of the presence of its various ethnic groups. Just pure cacophony of sound! There is no such thing as ‘multi nation-state’. A ‘multi nation-state’ would be many separate nations and not one single nation. That’s why a nation is of essence always associated with 'oneness' and  ‘a common destiny’, never of multiplicity and divergence!

The same response also vehemently mobilized for all to oppose any attempt towards ‘assimilation’ of our citizens. Now, the process of nation-building demands a people to ‘assimilate’, at least in national sphere or space. National education is one of such vital space to be zealously and jealously guarded by us the Malaysian citizens. If we argue in a vague, unthinking manner against a blanket ‘assimilation’, we have to conclude there is no real understanding of what nation-building is really all about, or even worse what a nation is!


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Deepening political crisis in Malaysia

I observe with great concern the deepening political crisis in Malaysia. By 'political crisis' I do not mean the constant bickering and convenient patch-ups of  factions within political parties, the hip-hopping of legislative members, in and out, or across party affiliations, nor do I mean the fluctuating fortunes of political parties at the polls, be it general or by-elections. Of these we have a plenty, of daily occurences, the staples of mass media, pundits, punters, speculators, adventurers, as well as long term investors. I do not mean the financial but the political kind.

Now I say a 'deepening' crisis. It might be legitimately asked, how do I know? Unfortunately there are measures to say perhaps I am not wrong. How I wish I am mistaken and perhaps just imagining

One measure is the extent of it. In the past, we use to have one main play occupying the centre stage. Be it one battle royal for UMNO presidency, or that of component party of ruling coalition, and perhaps on the side, one or two tid-bits on the scandals in the opposition ranks, just the usual kneedling of the 'small punks', the 'kuci rats' of an opposition. The political mood among the public then was the daily excitement and stimulant of watching a major 'cock-fight' in town, good for conversation at home, coffee shops and the office.No real contest based on serious issues, scandals, just contest between individuals and personalities, of warlords jockeying for party posts and positions.

But now, we have a more widespread and pervasive frictions and conflicts. So many and simultaneously. The press, the media and the internets have a frantic time covering them all. This is not the case of the camp fire in keeping with the nature and fun of politics. This is a general picture of conflagration, the uncontrollable situation of bush fire, fast spreading,consuming and destroying. UMNO, MCA, MIC, Gerakan, PAS, PKR, PR, just a quick listing, and I am sure I missed out a lot. The legislative assembly in Perak, Selangor, Trengganu, Kedah... and many many more. This is like 'durian runtuh' of a different kind. A big picture of attrition and crumbling. Now all this is matched with a picture of social (not to  mention economical) deterioration. In a single newspaper page we have rape, murder, robbery, corruption, incest, sex and drug offences, not of the ordinary kind but outlandish in its blatant flouting of law and order. Two parallels running, the political and the social, conjuring the bigger picture of a country going down the drain.

There is another unmistakable measure of the depth of our political crisis. There is widespread cynicism and scepticism everywhere. There is mounting criticisms not only pertaining to abuses,scandals, wrong doings and irregularities, but those which go deeper into the legitimacy of our vital institutions themselves. The whole saga of Anwar Ibrahim from sacking, prosecution, to political meanderings, had been very damaging. Initially his politics criticised and challenged only the reputation of individual judges, but soon widened to undermining respect for the judiciary itself. In the beginning the opposition made issue of individual police abuses and indiscipline, but soon undermined the reputation and legitimacy of the police force, the instution itself. By now the police force has been so demonised that it is considered kind of heroic to have a scuffle with them, or to literally bite them!

There is now a big storm brewing on this score, this unhealthy trend of  undermining the legitimacy of vital institutions. I am referring to the politics of Perak. It started when the opposition could not and did not get to appoint its candidate as the Mentri Besar of Perak, and had to settle for a compromised candidate of its own choice. As a result, the opposition saw the ruler and the state constitution as serious stumbling blocks to its design. When hip-hoping politics backfired and caused the opposition to lose the state of Perak to BN, and opposition manoevering to win the support of the ruler in reverting its fortune failed, the opposition decided to widen its criticism beyond that of individual ruler to the instution of monarchy itself. The relevant  statements of opposition leaders over the Perak crisis bear testimony to this development.

This developing and deepening crisis is visibly demonstrated by the latest posting by RPK and the ensuing debate provoked, orchestrated perhaps, by it in the internet. While the content of RPK's posting pertain to alleged abuses or corruption, the crafting of it certainly points to casting aspersions on the monarcy itself. The effects are alreading showing in ensuing debates.

Like I say, the crisis is  spreading and deepening. From isolated and far- in- between conflicts of the past to a conflagration. From cynicism and scepticism towards individual integrity to the legitimacy of vital institutions themselves. It is no longer a case of bad people running good institutions, but simply a case of evil institutions . Damn the police, the judiciary, the rulers, damn all except...In the history of social movements this points to anarchy and revolution, when all is scrapped and history starts afresh...if you are successful that is! Otherwise it is endless cycles of anarchy and chaos.

 I am reminded of what Datuk Seri Najib, PM once said, on how extraordinary times require extraordinary solution. He said it in the limited context of ushering in Liberalisation, replacing the NEP. I think there is a dire need  now for him to widen the context and application of his precept. More than ever, I would humbly submit, these are extraordinary times indeed!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our Little Sacrifices- The tragedy of Kuala Dipang, Kampar

Our deepest condolence to the families of Dina Deve Nathan (11 years) , Divya Shree Vasudevan (12 years) and M. Devatharshini (11years) in their bereavement.

More details emerged in yesterdays Malay Mail, 28 October 2009. Besides the moving stories on the pain suffered by bereaving families, other details are merging into a general picture. We learned that investigations and inquiries are being conducted on various aspects of the accident. Even possible corruption or irregularities are being looked into.

As investigations are going on, it is only proper we reserve judgement as to  the exact cause or blame of the tragedy. Nevertheless, we refuse to attribute it  simply to fate. At the very least, based on the scanty details at this juncture, a general picture is emerging, that of sloppiness: sloppiness of planning, of anticipation, of maintenance, of preparedness, the lack of care and due diligence,  as well as callous disregard for the sanctity of human life. We reserve our judgement as yet on the role played by greed and self-aggrandisement.

A picture published in the Malay Mail seems to say much. Actually the bridge did not so much as 'collapse', suggesting a breakdown of parts of the bridge over the river. The picture indicates quite clearly the bridge simply 'came undone', with the foundation simply giving away, cleanly! Now that has got to be either irregularity or gross sloppiness.

The tragedy of Kuala Dipang may be unique in manifestation, but I believe the same principle is at work throughout our national life. Sloppiness reigns supreme everywhere, exacting heavy human costs. It is not necessarily a bridge the next time, could be a bridge, a building, a condominium, even a whole section of a road, just anything really.

Our only regret is that in Kuala Dipang, Kampar young children, ten eleven year old, had to experience a tragedy. We are relieved that many cheated death, which was possible only with the Grace of God. The danger they survived would have been formidable even for sporting or atheletic adults. See for an idea of the danger involved.

As for little Dina, Divya and M. Devatharshini, they had been our little sacrifices to sloppiness. Let us draw a lesson from the tragedy, to act and say no more,  never ever again!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A pocketful of dreams, with holes!

Read the newspaper today. So the 2010 Budget is out. I gather it has a three pronged goals of developing a high income economy, achieving a holistic and sustainable development and ensuring the well-being of the people. Then it sets out the priority areas on which it would spend to achieve the desired outcome. So as a budget, it is very much in character of one, about good intentions, and the money to be spent in support. Another universal characteristic of a budget seems to be in place: the goodies must be spread around, or to be seen as such, for the winning of hearts and minds.

 So I would say, stripped to its barest elements and fundamentals, it is very much the usual budget. Only time will tell if good intentions and money allocated actually translate into the well-being of the people. Time will bear witness if a budget degenerates into a plundering, pilfering, squandering or cheating exercise.

Pray excuse my lack of exuberance. It is not altogether unfounded, for we have been down the road before. Experience of the past , and for countless times, dictate caution, vigilance and reserved judgment for the moment.

 Take for instance the whole NEP saga. The Malays, bumiputras, in whose name it was promulgated, gained little in substance, but attracted much ill-will and stigma. The non-Malays, wrongly perceiving that all or most Malays waxed riches with little effort, felt denied. Both Malays and non-Malays see themselves as victims of injustice, while seeing the opposite camp as the perpetrators. In truth a small group of Malays and non-Malays gained hugely by playing heroes of their people and whipping the blame game. The NEP as implemented, or rather abused, did not usher in a ‘holistic and sustainable’ development but succeeded well in dividing the nation.

The particular context of the 2010 Budget makes it very crucial and important. Firstly it is the maiden budget of Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak as the Prime Minister. Hence the budget is an important indicator of the thinking of the man at the helm, which will set the direction for the years ahead. Secondly, it is a budget in times of heightened political wariness or cynicism in terms of ethnic relations. Thirdly, it is a time of serious economic downturn. The GDP growth for 2008 was 4.6%, while the projection for 2009 is -3%. It seems the private sector, on which the PM is relying upon heavily to pull off his budget, is also shrinking. The private sector used to contribute about 30% to the GDP in the 1997-98 prior to the Asian financial crises, but below 10% currently. To sum it all, this is a budget that cannot afford to miss, for this will spell disaster for the nation!

The best of plans, the noblest of intentions, would come to naught if hijacked, side tracked and subjected to greed and opportunism. I won’t make issue of krrrrruption or krrrrronism for populist propaganda. However, I would caution our leaders, planners, administrators to mind those ‘holes in your pockets!’ It upsets and saddened me to read of civil servants abusing claims, suppliers and contractors overcharging and over quoting, civil servants and businessmen colluding in false claims, billions disappearing in the black hole of ghost accounts, kickbacks and fake consultancies, and the whole complex of human ingenuity for self aggrandizement.

 All these eat into the budget, undermining its ‘value for money’ aimed at by the Prime Minister in his speech. It seems to me that in the past the bigger the project, the bigger are the holes in the nation’s pockets.

Initially I intended to discuss the substantive aspects of the budget. On the question of setting priorities, niches and remodeling the economy. The advisability of cutting  public spending by cutting subsidies. On boosting the financial sector, banks, the stock exchange and Islamic finance. The development of the regional corridors and the beefing of IT industry. The promotion of tourism and green companies. The support for medium size businesses and the granting of AP’s for stimulating the automobile industry. The boosting of Iskandar Development Region, the residents of which shall be paying less income tax than the rest of the country.

Easy visas for talented expatriates, and for the spouses of Malaysian women who may not be as talented. On attacking food and fuel subsidies , which may not be a good idea. On the suitability of the new sources of revenues. On the subject of spreading the goodies for students on broadband facilities, for the common man in the street, in the name of social justice.

And then I stopped in my track and changed my mind about discussing the budget substantively. It is not the main thrusts of the speech that did it, but the closing lines at the very end! The Prime Minister said: ‘Our recent success in Bagan Pinang has sparked our zeal to embark on this journey of transformation to lift our beloved nation to greater heights’. I wonder had BN lost the by-election of Bagan Pinang, would the budget be a very different one ? The Prime Minister then continues: 'Indeed, this budget touches the heart and soul of all Malaysians. Indeed, this is an earnest and sincere contribution from the government to the people’ Well, why the bipolarity of the ‘government’ and the ‘people’? Why is a budget a ‘contribution from the government to the people’? I have always thought of it as a duty and service of the government of the day in managing public fund.

 According to the theories of the sub-conscious, it is the small slips that are most revealing of the real thinking. Maybe I am reading too much into this. I shall attribute these statements to a zealous speech writer with an overworked mind. Anyway the closing lines were received with thunderous applause from the government supporters in the Dewan Rakyat. The effects desired by the speech writer had been achieved!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

A fool's guide to the history of the opposition

Read the newspaper this morning, a bit on politics. There's this bit about someone from the opposition going on a half-year leave. The supernovas of Malaysian politics have done it again, they grabbed the headlines and generated much interests. Is it a 'leave', a prelude to 'exit', or as some party statements suggest, a 'sabbatical' of sort to will a magic formula of historical proportion that could inspire and unite the bickering and splaying coalition of the opposition. Well, six months is too long for 'leave', or run up to an exit. It may be too short though to sort out long standing problems of the opposition, that have long deep roots in the nations history, the solution of which had alluded a great many leaders and personalities. But then this could well be one of those rare and momentous chapter in history when a political genius and ideologue comes along and leaves his mark on the nation's destiny. Who knows?

To sort out some of my perplexities concerning our opposition and its strange ways, I thought I would hazard a simple history of Pakatan Rakyat just for my own understanding. Now I know this strange brew was concocted out of PAS, DAP and PKR. Each of very different genealogy and pedigree.

PAS was a scion of the old Malay Congress of the 40's and early UMNO. In its early days, its ideology was a blending of Malay nationalism and Islam. Over time it quickly shed its nationalistic flavor in order to distinguish itself from UMNO, and concentrated on its own brand of 'Islam'. Its basic character and orientation  remains a very deep seated orthodoxy, symbolized by its staunch vision of an 'Islamic state', openly proclaiming or muting it according to political exigencies.It had tried in its evolution to shed the image of orthodoxy, tempering it with images of 'professional', 'democracy', 'flexibility', 'intellectual', 'inclusiveness', 'universalism',  but overall had not been convincing enough to shed or temper its general image of orthodoxy and dogmatism.

DAP is a 'scion' of the pre-separation PAP, and in basic ideology a staunch proponent of the slogan 'Malaysian-Malaysia'. Its idea of what the Malaysian nation ought to be therefore tends to question the Malay roots or origins of Malaysia,with the corollary then of questioning some aspects of the constitution, and more specific provisions pertaining to the Malays. Like PAS, the DAP had attempted to temper its image of chauvinism with the branding of 'democracy', 'multiracialism', 'pluralism', 'inclusiveness', 'political pragmatism', but had not been all too convincing either. Its basic image to many Malaysians remains that of a chauvinistic Chinese party.

PKR has an interesting genealogy or pedigree. It used to be the lilliputian Parti Rakyat. In the past, it was so pathetic that it attracted more sympathy than empathy.Representing the left or socialism, it was burdened with Marxist slogans and terminologies. It was a common joke then that at the end of every fiery and spirited oratory on the campaign trail, party leaders would be asked by perplexed members of the audience pray tell us what is 'bourgeoisie', 'proletariat'. or 'dialectic materialism'? Parti Rakyat could not win a single seat in its entire history. Right to its last days, Parti Rakyat never officially recognised Malaysia.

Then came along an Adviser, who picked up the liliputian party, dusted it, changed its name from Parti Rakyat to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (never mind the 'rakyat' is  still there), reoriented it from the historically broad struggle of the' proletariat', 'dialectical materialism', to sort out 'historical contradictions', to rehabilitate the ' bourgeoisie', to challenge capitalism and foreign investment, to a new cause of paving a single path for one individual to Putrajaya. This part of it certainly reminds me of the history of the National Socialist German Workers Party under the leadership of Hitler.

Now to pave the way to Putrajaya, PKR or the former PR ( Parti Rakyat) is too small. It was huge only in its revolutionary dream and historical struggle, and that had been 'bonsai' down. PAS and DAP, the irreconcilable forces and 'basic contradictions' of Malaysian history had to be brought into the act. Why not? They both boast of great resources, party machinery, and powerful emotive appeal. More importantly they were both trying to temper their image and appeal. Hence the convergence of interests and deal. The rest of it, as we all know, is history. Though not quite all the way to Putrajaya yet!

Sophisticated political theories are beyond me. I can only learn from the simple folks. There is this saying, 'gajah sama gajah bertempur, pelanduk mati ditengah-tengah'. A rough translation would be 'elephant and elephant clash, the mouse deer trampled in between'. Can this be a future scenario, when PAS and DAP clash in the long run, with PKR squashed in between? When all PKR's nimbleness and schemes avail naught?

These days I find great solace in one development though. Everyone seems to have gone 'rakyat', be it the opposition  or the governing party or coalition. The recent UMNO General Assembly is a clear sign. All the major speeches have gone 'rakyat'. I must say never have the rakyat been this important. The Malay saying 'enggang sama enggang, pipit sama pipit' ( hornbills with hornbills, sparrows with sparrows) had been jettisoned! 'Enggangs' had been told to go to the 'pipits', to be 'pipit' minded. Let us see if indeed the 'enggangs' are capable of this!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Curse of the New Broom

A new regime always wishes to start afresh. It will herald its era with new symbolism, pronouncement and declaration. With this it hopes to distant itself from past liabilities or historical burden. In this respect, it has some parallels with the rituals of ‘exorcism’, ‘mandi bunga’ or‘ tolak bala’. It may share some elements in common with the use of talismans or ‘tangkal’ in warding off or keeping at bay evils and misfortunes.

With the new direction and resolve, it also hopes to make a mark, leave a stamp in history, to testify to its accomplishment and contribution. This is true of the new CEO who launches a new logo and corporate image, or the high-ranking bureaucrat who launches a new slogan and a public campaign, or even the new president of a NGO who introduces one of those vision and mission statements.

I suppose politicians and new regimes are no exempt. Perhaps in their case, the pressure and temptation to unload historical burden, and to make a mark of their own, is far greater for the simple reason the stakes are much higher.

To herald a new era or ethos with new slogan and campaign demands much discretion, judgment and wisdom. Without these, the loftiness of ideals alone cannot carry them through minefields along the way. Far from shedding historical burden of the past, a new symbolism or campaign creates and accumulates more. Though it may leave a mark of its own, a stamp in history, it is not of that intended. It may then be stigmatized as ‘new broom sweeps clean’ or as the Malays would have it ‘hangat-hangat tahi ayam’.

This is precisely what happened to Islam Hadhari heralded by the former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Firstly it was launched at a time of contentious issues concerning religion. Hence it raised the guards of many non-Muslims, breeding suspicion. Neither did it win over the Muslims, who saw nothing much in it since in their reasoning Islam is sufficient to sustain their lives without a ‘new religion’ or version of it. Hence, in terms of simple credit and debit, Islam Hadhari did not gain much converts or support, but only alienated many people. Secondly, there was the matter of substance. It was so poorly conceived that people were at a loss. Few knew what Islam Hadhari was, many had their own version of it, and even more were confused by it. The confusion and haziness then allowed the opposition to have a field day picking at it, undermining and discrediting it.

The confusion was such, it was a common ridicule then that no one knew what Islam Hadhari meant because there were at least 40 versions of it circulating. This necessitated more explanation from leaders and officials, but the more they tried, the more versions of Islam Hadhari we had. In the end, Islam Hadhari simply fizzled away.

To me the tragedy of Islam Hadhari lies in this. If we care to see what the former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi meant by it, according to the documents, it was simply some good values like integrity in the civil service, ideal of excellence, ideal of service, value of knowledge and innovation and many other laudable values( I have problems listing these because I must confess I was myself confused by Islam Hadhari , and find it hard to remember now) Now isn’t it tragic that Abdullah Badawi had to use a new slogan just for this, one that was equally contentious as it was befogging? His regime could have just implemented these ideals effectively without attracting all the liabilities for his regime. The values and ideals he sought to subsume under Islam Hadhari were universal values already existing in Islam and in all the great religions and traditions of Malaysians.

Now PM Datuk Sri Najib Abdul Razak had heralded his own regime with the new slogan of 1Malaysia. I sincerely hope the PM would avail himself of good advice in doing so. The paths of sloganeering and launching public campaigns are perilous. It is in cognizance of this truism that emperors and leaders of the past surrounded themselves with wise men, as well as magicians. These were supposed to guide their patrons safely by means of wise counsels, as well as efficacious rituals, help them dissociate from the past and make a mark of their own, not foundering on the way as the proverbial ‘new broom sweeps clean’.

Personally may I give an advice? Beware of the curse of a new broom. It makes the sweep short lived, sloppy, and even worse in the wrong direction!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ibn Khaldun and Bagan Pinang

Congratulations to BN on its by-election victory at Bagan Pinang! So BN had succeeded in checking the thrust of the PR horde southwards. It was indeed a significant by-election, a watershed so to speak. Apart from the question of the seat, Bagan Pinang have had a rather sombering effect on both the victor and the vanquished. I am referring here only to the result, and not to the actual psychological or moral effects on the victor and the vanquished. I think they can both draw vital lessons from Bagan Pinang and its people, if they have the moral courage and introspection to do so.

Ibn Khaldun, the medieaval Muslim thinker and founder of sociology, studied the rise and fall of dynasties in his monumental 'Muqadimmah', or 'Introduction to History'. In general terms he noted that more or less dynasties lasted about three generations. Now if we take approximately one generation to be about 30 years, this would make it about 90 years. He refers to the dynastic stages to be respectively that of 'the founder', 'the builder' and 'the destroyer'.

In the first stage, that of 'the founder', the dynasty is usually hardy, resourceful, disciplined,committed to the dynastic goal, and therefore is able to establish itself successfully. In the second stage of 'the builder', the dynasty works hard to consolidate and established itself further. This stage is usually associated with greater success than 'the founder' as the dynasty is more established with greater resources and authority at its command. The third stage of 'the destroyer' is the period of decline, and eventual fall, because of corruption, oppression,injustice and general decadence.

Now UMNO have had its corresponding or parallel stages. UMNO members always lament the days gone by when UMNO members and leaders used to be committed, capable of sacrifices and championed the cause of the rakyat in its early days, meaning the era of 'the founder'. Then UMNO had seen the heights of its power and influence, overseeing the path to development and nation-building, the stage of 'the builder'. Now it has been about 62 years or so from its founding in 1946/47. It should now be chronogically in the third stage of 'the destroyer'. And the early signs and symtoms are more than evident, I must say.

 Is there something in the theory of Ibn Khaldun on the rise and fall of dynasties? Well, just to be sure, UMNO or its BN components should draw some moral lessons from Bagan Pinang, now that the voters had graciously given them the mandate. UMNO does not have to be fatalistic or historically determined. It should prove Ibn Khaldun wrong by fulfilling its oath of reforms and rejuvenation. For certainly if they are genuinely bent on reforms and renewal, their setbacks at the last General Election can be reversed. Otherwise, it would  be just a question of  'the destroyer' fulfilling his historical destiny!

Bagan Pinang has vital lessons for PR too, all too many. Their decline can come to pass too. It doesn't have to be 3 generations. Rocky Bru's observation is accurate. Instead of sombering PR, the defeat at the by-election had made them feel even hollier and all -mighty.They blamed the voters, rather admonised and insulted them, for voting the BN. Their response to defeat is sneering and condescending to the rakyat. The rakyat is deemed 'immoral' for so voting. In fact not only immoral but stupid too!

 One PR comment arrogantly recommends that PR abandons the southern states and its 'immoral' and 'stupid' people,  concentrate instead on Penang, Kedah, Perak, Selangor, Kelantan, where the people are 'moral' and 'smart'. In short, voting PR is 'moral' and 'smart', while voting for the BN is 'immoral' and 'dumb'! What arrogance and condescension! and from a coalition arrogating itself to be the moral and spiritual champion of the people's cause. What a sad thing for Malaysian democracy!

If PR is capable of self and moral introspection, the messages are clear. Judging by the comments, the voters reject double moral standards, hollier than thou attitude and arrogance in victory at previous polls. more important lesson. If you adopt the higher moral ground, you must live up to it. Should you fall short, the people would deem you even lower than those you accuse of 'immorality or corruption' since at least they do not make claims of saintliness!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Revelation and History: Comment on Che Det and Hukum Allah

Over the weekend, I surfed Che Det and read this simply written yet profound article entitled 'Hukum Allah'. I find the article of great significance for Malaysians, both for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as it raises very fundamental questions on the place of religion in our lives and the nature of our religious orientation against the backdrop of a fast changing world. Being struck by the significance of the questions raised, I tried to respond and comment, but alas failed. When it comes to IT, I am ashamed to say I am a kind of a dinosaur, still grappling with the rudiments of it. Admittedly I am of that old school more comfortable with pencil and the brown school exercise book for jotting down my thoughts. So excuse me if I merely jot down my response to Che Det's excellent and significant piece here, more in the way of personal note. I hope however people should visit Che Det and read the thought provoking article 'Hukum Allah' for yourself.

The specific example of fasting, its rituals, the permissible of it or otherwise aside, Che Det's basic argument runs as follows. These days there are many who are prone to prescribing religious precepts and rules of conduct, all in the name of 'Hukum Allah' or 'God's Law'.Yet, he noted, upon further investigation or reflection, there is nothing really in the teaching of Islam to suggest so. He extends his observation to other social practices like banning education for women, killing women deemed to have 'dishonored' the family by their indiscretions, and so on. Then Che Det raised the fundamental questions:  Shouldn't we ascertain  if indeed certain precepts prescribed by theologians are indeed 'God's Law'? Could there be misinterpretation or misrepresentation, deliberate or unintentional? If indeed the precepts decreed by them are 'God's Law', how do we account for the discrepancies among theologians? How do we account for the excesses? Doesn't Islam enjoin fairness and justice in its teaching and laws? Could there be vested interests hiding behind the veneer of religious authority and aura?

I find such probing to be significant as it raises the following fundamental points. There is a big gap between revealed religion and laws in the concrete texture of living.The gap is as wide as that between Revelation and human action in history. The one,  truly of God, while the other of human will and human agency. While Revelation sets down basic broad guidelines and principles, the translation of these into laws, norms and values are undertaken by man acting and living in history. Now the compounding of the two, of God and human agency, of Revelation and history, is the root cause of many human conflicts in the past, as well as in contemporary societies.

Come to think of it, in our more mundane world of secular living, we do make such distinctions between legitimate authority and misrepresentation, between what's legitimate and what's fraudulent,  of legitimate power and the usurpation or abuse of it. Sometimes I wonder,  shouldn't we be even more discriminating and uncompromising when it comes to the fundamental question of God, Revelation and history? Failing to do so is to compromise God and Revelation,  allowing some men to usurp and  misrepresent, enabling them to 'play god' in society.

Now the kind of responses or comments evoked by Che Det's article is as interesting as the article. They are indeed very revealing of our religious orientation. To begin with, the voluminous response or comments clearly suggest that people are strongly attached and deeply rooted in religion, in this case Muslims and Malays. This is further confirmed by the intensity or vehemence of the comments, be it in support or objection to the article. Then the respective position taken by the commentators, broadly falling in three categories. Quite a significant number find the article objectionable, plainly telling Che Det to 'butt out' from the field of theology, bordering on charging him with blasphemy! He is disqualified from thinking on his religion  on the following grounds: he is a medical doctor, not a theologian, of limited knowledge in religion, and delving in an exclusive area reserved for the divinely appointed few.

Then we have the more polite, diplomatic and word mincing kind of opposition, gently and kindly counselling Che Det to render to the Lord the things that are His, and to render to  Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, differing only in tenor, not in substance from the first category. Thirdly  we have the occassional support and endorsement of the article. On the whole, the first and second category can be said to constitute the majority.

In other words, if we were to adopt the article as a sort of 'election platform', definitely it would not end in an election victory. Now isn't this a somewhat sad statement on the nature of our religious orientation, and the place of free will and legitimate human judgement in it?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A nation of strangers and aliens?

In our recent push towards nation-building under the banner of 1Malaysia, it is often expressed and emphasised that we, the various communities of Malaysia, should respect and understand each other. Malaysians are enjoined not to merely tolerate but accept each other. Malaysians are persuaded to see their cultural diversity as a source of strength, making for unity, rather than a cause of political and social discord.

All this is well and good, even lofty and beautiful. But alas, all these wise and pious exhortations would remain ideational and little else ( I am chewing my words and relying heavily on euphemism), if they remain untranslated into meaningful policies, planning, pratice and institutionalisation. If they are merely confined to the sterile domain of rhetorics, they differ little from
 idle talk and self-delusion.

Before Malaysians can understand and respect other communities than their own,  there must be enough contact between them in the first place, contact of the kind that is meaningful, that bonds and builds consensus of values and ideals. It is idle talk to expect different communities of different cultural background to understand and respect each other, to see cultural diversity as a source of strength, if there is no sufficient contact and the sharing of common life experience in the first place! I would not be exaggerating if I say that presently we know so little of each other. so as to succumb ever so easily to prejudices, stereotyping and mutual-suspicion.

Now we all know that our Malaysian realities do not exactly afford many opportunities for such meaningful contact and relationship among the various communities. What with the divide-and-rule policy of old and new, economic activities along communal lines, rural-urban dichotomy, divergence of education process, diversity of background and cultural history and many more divisive factors.

 All this conjures up a grim picture of a very divided nation, of strangers and aliens, of divergent paths and existence, doomed never to meet and know each other, what more to understand and respect: strangers and aliens, who would never cultivate any relationship of sufficient depth, to appreciate each other's history and culture, so as to see the diversity between them is indeed a source of strength, common and universal to each other.

It is within this context that I see the importance of a common national education system for young Malaysians. A national education system where our young can learn,   understand and therefore appreciate each other. A common experience of growing, learning, discovering the self, in a truly Malaysian or national atmosphere at an early age and stage of their lives.

Such common experience, in meaningful relationship with each other, is crucial for the moulding of the future citizens of Malaysia. Only through such common experience of growing and learning can our young develop the mutual understanding, respect and appreciation of their common humanity, albeit their cultural diversity.

The issue of a common national education system is an important one for the survival of our Malaysian nation. This is not a quesion of 'ours' or 'theirs', of 'us' or 'them'. This is about our common identity and shared destiny. We have to give our young the historical opportunity to be in touch with one another, to bond, to share, to emphatise, to share dreams, in short to be a nation in the future.

The writings of KijangMas, raising the alarm against deepening polarisation merits our deep concern. Polarisation has encroached into many areas of common life, steadily reducing what should be our common 'national space'.  The sadness of SatD over the dearth of our national identity and shared aspirations ("souless" nation) should alarm us. So should the many writings of our wonderful bloggers in the same vein (too many to mention here).

Polemics and discourses on nation-building is normally complicated, heated and long drawn. This is inevitable as we know that the task of nation-building is not an easy one. But at the end of the day , the real question is whether DO WE WANT to be a nation, or continue to be strangers and aliens the rest of our lives, as well as those of our future generations.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Poor Man's index to growth and national development

I have a confession to make. All the learned and technical indexes of the economists, financiers, consultants, planners escape me. Being of simple mind and alien to the financial hubs pulling the strings of our national economy, I find them unfathomable. The maze of charts and the jargons accompanying them overwhelm me. Besides, the magnitude of interests represented are really enormous, beyond the imagination of the small man and the simpletons in the street. Just how many of them know, I wonder, how to write one billion or trillion!

I wonder if we were to pile up this amount in ringgit, piece by piece, bundle by bundle, would the height surpass the twin towers, or at least equals it. The Twin Towers is a measure comprehensible to me, it being iconic and highly visible from many places in Kuala Lumpur.

Being limited such, in mind and understanding, I have to resort to more digestible indexes of national growth and development. Indexes which are more amenable to the senses, those I can actually see, touch, smell, experience and access directly. Call it the Poor Man's Index, if you will.

One important index would be the state of one of our venerable institutions, the bus stop or terminal. If one has to que for more than 45 minutes, standing in discomfort, not quite in an environmentally friendly atmosphere, then the index should be pointing to backwardness. Then the citizens have to devote at least another 15 minutes just to get on board to head for home. The boarding at terminals are usually tedious and slow due to the policy of opening only half door as part of que management, ensuring the 40 queing citizens slip in one by one in a single file.

The process is greatly slowed down further by the ticketing system, by which a passenger slips in the fare into the slot, the bus driver presses the buttons on the ticket machine , which creaks out the ticket cm by cm, ticket by ticket for the queing passengers. So in the end lucky you got on board. Never mind even if just standing, huddled body to body, and jammed pack, for a seat is indeed a luxury and a lottery.

Now why am I resorting to such mundane matters as index to our national growth or backwardness?Now public transportation, the reliability or otherwise of it, is indeed a real index of the quality and standard of living for the masses. Never mind the index about Malaysia becoming 'high-income economy' or 'developed nation'. The state of our public transportation determines how soon you get home to be with the family, to rest and recuperate for a new day of work, to hazard some leisure, maybe indulge a bit in self-improvement, or plainly enjoy the evening with families over some entertainments, then be on time for work the next day with reasonable comfort and reliability. It is realistic and important index to our progress or backwardness because it impacts directly on the lives of the masses.

The stress and frustration of long queues, of being jammed pack, the tension of minding pickpockets, and of simply feeling the waste of precious life over a matter which in more 'developed' nation is a matter of routine. It shouldn't be too much to ask of our planners who are adapt at handling sophisticated indexes dealing with billions! But just look at our bus or train hubs. The conditions at peak hours or on the eves of festivals always remind me of the war times train station scenes in classic Second WW movies.

There is another powerful index in the arsenal of the Poor Man's measure of growth and backwardness. The state of the environment. In various areas of KL, not too far or well-hidden from the tourist spots, we have pure garbage a plenty dumped in the open. What abundance for the city crows, rats and cockroaches and other rodents. The system of garbage collection and disposal can certainly do with a bit of improvement.

Such index is easily fathomable to my simple mind, for it invades my senses and experience directly. One can see garbage piling, crows and rats having a field day, the stench invading the nostrils, the eyes can behold and wonder at the scene unfolding. Never mind about the index to 'national productivity' or ' GNP'. The Poor Man's index of environment is more sensate, direct and less confusing.

Why is such index relevant to the masses? Well, normally such pollution and neglect is in the areas they live in. They are the ones who have to live with the stench and co-exist with the crows and rats. The discomfort and affront to their health, aesthetic sense, and indeed human dignity, certainly strikes their consciousness directly. In other words, it is very much part and parcel of their quality or standard of living.

In this respect I don't think they differ radically from those fortunate to be living in more prosperous and environmentally pleasing areas. Never mind all those abstract theories, measures, concepts and sophistries on 'competitive edge' or ' rankings'. Simply enable us to live with dignity in an environment that is decent, aesthetically pleasant and garbage free.

There is another indicator of growth or backwardness according to the Poor Man's Index of national progress. It detects a pattern of development where progress is not national or universal, but confined to pockets of affluence and prosperity. In these pockets and islands of affluence and luxury, the elite, the super rich, the upper and middle class take shelter or refuge from the surrounding sea of backwardness. In this cocoon like existence, they insulate themselves from the conditions and encroachment of backwardness.

Within these cocoons, they demand and create high standards of living or quality of life surpassing even those of 'developed nations'. What's my point? It is neither covetousness or envy, but simply that backward national elite, who avail themselves of the cocoons, normally prefer to flee backwardness and insulate themselves, rather than tackling the problem head on , achieving meaningful development for all.

There is a part of reality well understood by the Poor Man's Index of national growth and stagnation. There comes a stage when a backward national elite is interest bound to maintain the backward status-quo. Why? Simply because they thrive in it. An inefficient bureaucracy is welcome, for it creates the idle conditions for corruption. Who would want to offer bribes or corruption with an efficient clean bureaucracy around, since all needs are being attended to fairly and hassle free?

A backward elite would deem a dynamic and socially just national planning threatening since it invariably upsets the massive networks of patronage, connections, tie-ups, kickbacks, fast-tracks, turn-keys deeply rooted in backwardness. As a consequence, the masses would have to content themselves with their dire conditions for sometime yet.

Come to think of it, the Poor Man's Index to National Growth and Stagnation can indeed be a powerful tool of social education for the masses. It teaches them this sophisticated process known as national development, albeit only in its rudiments, proper to the understanding of the simple minded. As for the more sophisticated, therefore the more mysterious and perplexing aspects of it, they are best left to the experts and the all knowing.

May one day the Poor Man's Index to national growth and stagnation be given some serious consideration!