Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How courteous are Malaysians?

Accoding to a Reader's Digest survey on how polite or courteous are people in 35 cities around the world ( Reported in RD July 2007 issue), people in Kuala Lumpur are soome of the LEAST COURTEOUS or LEAST POLITE. KUALA LUMPUR RANKED 33, well below Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong let alone the western countries.

Are we surprised or annoyed? Angry....and start questioning the survey, its methodology, sampling technique, how conducted etc.? Go ahead but the listing is done and published for the world to read! Only three simple tests were used:
*We wakled into public buildings 20 times behind people to see if they would hold the door open for us,
*We bought small items from 20 shops abd ereecorded whether the sales assistants said "Thank you",
*We dropped a folder full of papers in 20 busy locations to see if anyone would help pick them up.

Simple enough and to me very appropriate for testing the courtsey or politeness index of a crowd. The actions expected in these tests do not involve others, especially the law, to cause any cautious reservations. Kuals Lumpur scored only 37% as compared to Singapore 42%, Jakarta 43%, Hong Kong 45%, Amsterdam 52%, London UK 57% Berlin 68%, Toronto 70%, Zurich, Swizerland 77& New York USA 80%. The least courteous is Mumbai with a score of 32%.

Well, what do you say? I'm a proud Malaysian but I have to agree with the propensity indicated by the survey. I say only 'propensity' or 'tendency' because that is all that a survey could hope to potray. The truth lies under various other layers of social indicators. But what is indicated is enough to make up examine ourselves seriously. How do Malaysians behave on the street while shopping, while driving, while attending a concert, while eating in a restuarant etc. Do they show courteousness or politeness to other Malaysians ( especially from other racial group) and foreigners? How do shopkeepers and shop assistants, waiters and waitresses, the technicians in motor repair shops amd other functionaries behave towards their clients
and customers?

I for one have witnessed many ocassions where rudeness, lack of decorum, insensitivities, lack of concern for the right of others, lack of civility and a thorough lack of respect for others have showed up. To list them all would be voicing what many of us, I'm sure, have witnessed. We can of course make many excuses for our lack of courteousness. " He didn't show me any respect, so why should I respect him," is a common one. " Who cares lah!" is another.

Well, the world now knows that the traditional Malaysian courtesy and politeness, the ready smile and willingness to help,
the warm greetings on the street and the " You first, Sir/Madam," attitude, is not always there anymore. Just driving on a busy street or even on the highway, will tell that Malaysians have changed for the worse. Maybe it's time for the Government to hold a courtesy campaign again since the modern education system adn 50 years of Merdeka seemed to have failed to produce courteous people...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Illegal Assembly: Is Prevention the Answer?

We've had several attempts recently at holding an illegal assembly, protest march, unapproved 'ceramah' etc. The Police had dealt with them very effectively. But at what costs? While the legal action against those involved will take time to show result, many are injured( including innocent bystanders), traffic flow is seriously interrupted, shopkeepers loose some business, and most importantly, the havoc caused by police action to disband the gathering are excitedly photographed and reported by the media, inside and outside the country.

The more often we have this kind of skirmishes between the police and the protesters, the worse will our image become as a peaceful country. The Batu Buruk insident, the Yellow Wave two weeks ago and the impending gathering to be held by HINDRAF this Sunday, will continue to create the impression that the Government and the Police are really clamping down on the freedom of people to meet and express their views and grievances. No permit was given for such gatherings,'ceramah' or demonstration because the Police feared that it would cause public disturbances or clashes between opposing elements.

Such gatherings become illegal because a permit is not issued or refused to be issued. The police have their reasons for doing so. They boiled down to the need to prevent undesireable clashes between antagonistic elements, causing public disturbance and distruptions, and that protesting on the street is not the Malaysian way of showing disagreement. The argument is that there're many other ways of expressing any disagreement with government action and the public can always show their diagreement through the ballot. The Police action to not allow the gathering can be considered as preventive.

But are there really any alternative way for the public to air their grievances or disagreement with government action when such gatherings are generally disallowed, the media which carry critical views of the government can get into a lot of trouble,
websites owners and bloggers who criticise the government and political leaders can be hauled up for questioning and even
SMS communication is regulated and policed? Is preventing such gatherings, which would be legal if permitted, the best way to curb criticisms, expression of grievances, and gaining the support and confidence of the public as a whole on the government and its actions? How else can people express their views of the government and government policies and their implementation? Write letters to the govenment which will never surface or be acted upon except perhaps in a negative way?

I believe that peaceful public gatherings should be allowed. Permit can be issued subject to the condition that the organizers would be held responsiible for any irresponsible action or behavior, causing undesirable disturbance of the peace and inconvenience to the public or endangering the lives of people. The police can standby during such gathering to stop any form of undesirable action, catch those initiating it and investigate their motives. Put the responsibility of maintaining order and peace during a gathering on the organizers and go after them only if the conditions laid down for issuing the permit are violated. If these organizers are detained and harassed BEFORE the gathering how can they be charged for holding illegal gathering when the gathering has not even taken place?

If we were to say that it's better to stop an undesirable event before it occurs rather than clear the mass after it happened, then we're already prejudiced that the mass will occur, that a public gathering will certainly produce such results, that a protest movement is an undesirable thing. Such prejudice is inimical to the social philosophy that people are inherently good - the basis of democracy itself,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Angry Old Man

'The Angry Young Man' has been an accepted political culture in most countries. The young men, even in the family, have a lot of grouses over their elders, on any thing at all.

But I notice of late in Malaysia, that it's not the young men who are so provocative, toucy and ready for a fight. That stance has been taken over by the 'elders' in the government. The seniors in the coalition parties of the government now seemed to be so edgy and ready to launch a venomous tirade on any question or issue raised by the oppositon or just an unhappy member of the public. Any criticism will be met with a fiery blast of 'official reply', sometimes in words that are more abrasive than persuasive, more accusatory than explanantory.

Just listen to some of the replies given to questions tabled in parliament. Especially when things get heated up and words fly around with the Speaker trying in vain to stop the coffee-shop type of quarrel. No, we dont even see such quarrels in coffee- shops anyamore. The common citizens have become more cultured and diplomatic! MP's and Ministers have often resorted to
broken, ungrammatical and untutored English ( or Bahasa) to ventilate their anger on the critics, be it in the Parliament, in the Press....or even on radio and TV.

The younger Ministers seem to show this tendency more than the older ones although there are many exceptions. I have no intention of mentioning names but the saying that 'attack is the best form of defence' seemed to be gaining in popularity. What beats me is: why do you have to be angry if you're explaining the truth? The angry face and disturbed ( or distorted) look when replying to a question often makes people more sceptical of the answer, especially when no direc t answer is given. The more I see such faces on TV when answering questions from the public, the more questions I want ot ask.

Where have all the good old ministers who answered questions with a friendly smile gone to? When do we see and hear some
informative, intelligent and seriously sincere debate on national issues in Parliament, rather than lots of accusations, fingure-pointing, invectives and unanswered questions? Why are the old men in government getting more and more angry by the day? I wonder.....

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Check and Balance in Government.

One of the most important aspects of a democratic govenrment is the the separation of power between the Executive branch of government. the Legislature and the Judiciary. Each has its own area of authority and the three check each other against any misuse of power, thereby maintaining a kind of balance so that no one branch of government becomes too strong such that it can force its will over the other branches. The 'separation of power' and 'check and balance' doctrine had been honoured by most democratic governments of the world, with the 'fusion of power' theory offering a midway alternative where the Executive had the power to appoint the non-elected members of the Legislature.

In the US, the Senate can hold the President in check, whilst the President can veto any legislature the Senate is trying to pass.In UK the Prime Minister can be questioned by both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament and any bill could be blocked or delayed by both. Question: Who can check( and balance the power of) the PM or even a Minister in Malaysia? Even the Yang Dipertuan Agong cannot block a bill from becoming a Law after Article... ( citation required).... of the Constituion was amended.

This question is raised because the doctrine of check and balance seemed to have disappeared from our democratic tradition. Without any serious checks on the powers of the Executive, the Legislature and even the Judiciary can be suspected of becoming very docile and inefffective. It is no surprise, therefore, that the independence of our Judiciary has today been questioned, not only by the political enemies of the Barisan-led government but also by the Judicial freternity itself - the lawyers and members of the Bar. When 'Justice must not only be done but seen to be done', any doubt on the independence and integrity of the Judiciary is most pernicious to the concept of fairness and justice in the country.

This issue must be addressed as quickly as possible if national confidence on its judicial system is to be restored. The uneasiness among the judicial fraternity members has been compounded by a sudden confrontational attitude which seems to have taken a grip on two of the most important law enforcement units of the government - the Police and the ACA. Senior members of the former are being questioned by the the top guns of the latter. So are some senior members of other law enforcement agencies such as the Customs and the Emigration, including senior members of the civil service. Where must we now turn to, to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done without any lingering doubt that an injustice has been committed?

Once public confidence on the independence of the Judiciary is eroded, the rule of law will be jeapordized at all levels. Even students begin to question the authority if their teachers, employees their employers, the public servants their political masters etc, etc. Where will it all end? The UMNO General Assembly which is now in progress should be examining this issue rather that just " the checking and balancing of ethnic interests" within Barisan. National integrity, unity and understanding can only be fostered within an enviroment where the law will protect the innocent and punish the guilty party, irrespective of
poitical affinity or status. Nobody is above the law but the Executive arm of government must ensure in the first place that the Judicial system is independent , beyond any shadow of a doubt!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Show must Go On...

There seem to be so many mega development projects launched by the PM recently that I've begun to loose count of them, or rather loose perspective of their potentials. The Iskandar Development Region ( IDR), the Northen Corridor Economic Region ( NCER) and the East Coast Economic Region ( ECER) seem to almost simultaneously open up the borders of peninsula Malaysia to foreign investors without any reservation. Like peninsula Malayasia Sabah and Sarawak will also have their own mega development projects to be announced within the year, in addition to all the development projects that have been identified in the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

The capital for development is of course expected to come from foreigh investors although Malaysia will have to bear the cost of providng the basic infrastructure. ECER for example requires some RM112 billion and 53% ( ie. RM59.36 billion) will have to be borne by the government over a period of 12 years @ close to RM5 billion a year. 40% of the entire budget is required for the construction of roads.

Assuming that most of the capital required will be forthcoming from foreign capitalists as we offer prime, virgin land at specially low rates to them to develop , what stumps me most is how we're going to get the skilled and semi-skilled manpower to get the projects going. Even the NMP projects are expected to run into some manpower problems. even though we've already absorbed millions of foreign workers into the country. How many millions, there's no telling since more than half of them came in illegally. Workers from Indonesia, Myanmar and Bangladesh can be expected to come into this country in bigger droves. The social impact which remains controversial and tenous at this moment, will no doubt be enhaced greatly.

The bigger question is: are we training adequate numbers of our own youths for the huge increase in manpower requirement
to cater for the need of these mega projects? Have we adequately adjusted the education system to produce the various categories of skilled and semi-skilled manpower required, or are we getting more and more of the youths interested in our own space-age programs? The Bumiputera youths especially have never been really interested in blue-collar jobs. Politics and corporate management seem to be the special area of interests while their interest in the entrepreneurship training programs seem to be placed more on the funds made available rather than becoming small-time shopkeepers!

Attitude seems to change little. As the Prime Minster said ( NST Monday Nov, 5) " The Malays are fond of making announcements. They are like the proverbial chicken that, after laying one egg, announces it to the whole village. The turtle lays its eggs quietly. When we come to know about it, the turtle already has many hatchlings. We need to talk less and work more."

My fear is that the annoucement of all the mega projects came from the same kind of attitude. Of course the mega projects must be widely publicised to get foreign investors interested. But making the all the announcements in quick succession can get the investors confused. Why not "sell" first and announce later when the main players in the game have been more or less identified so that once announced, development work will commence. Unless, of course, there's a political mileage to be gained through the proverbial 'chicken laying an egg' strategy and the show must go on. We need smaller projects with quick, tangible results though all must come under a well-thought-of Master Plan, not huge mega projects, loosely conceived and dependent on foreign response to get started. As the Malay saying goes: Jangan jadi yang dikejar tak dapat yang dikendung berciciran. ( Don't get into a position where you don't get what you're chasing after while what you have is dropped off during the chase).