Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Public Response to the NEM (First Flush)

While the NEM is certainly a comprehensive macro-charting of the focus and strategies to be adopted to turn Malaysia into a developed country and a high-income nation, the immediate response from bloggers, opposition stalwarts and some segments of the public (as I had managed to scan so far) can be summed up in one word - SKEPTICAL. It lacks details on implementation, says Kit Siang; no evidence of serious efforts to carry through reforms especially within UMNO to stem out 'renteering' and 'patronage' ( particularly through taking commissions and preempting the distribution of contracts!) say some; how to raise income if industries are not raking in high profits, can pay higher wages, and employ more people? is the the response from many others.

I myself was expecting something new in terms of constructing an economic growth model: something different from the known models like Harrod-Domar, the Big Push model, the Endogenous Growth model etc. What we have is a roadmap for getting Malaysia out of 'the middle-income trap' reminiscent of the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action programs launched by the United States in the 70s. It announced 3 principles 'to drive this country to become a fully developed nation' ie. high income, sustainability and inclusiveness, through the adoption of strategieswith 8 reform initiatives viz. 

1) Re-energising the private sector to lead growth; 2) Developing a quality workforce and reducing dependency on foreign labour; 

3) Creating a competitive domestic economy; 

4) Strengthening the public sector; 

5) Putting in place transparent and market friendly affirmative action; 

6) Building knowledge base infrastructure; 

7) Enhancing the sources of growth; and 

8) Ensuring sustainability of growth.The affirmative action policy would be based on 4 principles ie. market-friendly, merit -based, transparent and based on needs.

If those principles and strategies sound familiar, they cannot be said to be 'cliches'. But they certainly are a big mouthful and therein perhaps lies the cause of some skepticims. But take note. These are the broad outlines to be presented to the public to get the public response. NST reports (March 31)," The first part of the NEAC report on the New Economic Model (NEM) was released to the public yesterday. The government will gather feedback from the public before formulating firm policies ( Highlight is mine).

So, no firm policies has yet been framed, is it? What has been released is just the broad perspective, the roadmap, the macro-view. The response that I have read so far seems to argue on the seriousness of the government to put the 'model' to work. There does no appear to me any discussion on the 'practicality' and 'inherent contradictions' contained in the model. Maybe this has not been found out yet. However NST (ditto) did say: " Najib's pledge was loudly applauded by some 1,600 industry captains at the opening of the ...Conference here although many were aware that some of the reform measures could face stiff resistance." (Highlight is mine).

At this point I would like to mention only a few of the initial fears with regard to practicality issues and the contradictions. First, the income level of the labour force depends on the industries' and governments' ability to pay. We can have a 50% labour force with degrees and high-level technical diplomas but can the industry and government employ them with a high pay? The industries must achieve a high level of productivity and profitability to employ more people with a high wage. To do that we need more capital, higher technology, higher consumer demand and more disposable income in peoples' pocket. How can higher market demand be created if wages are low and how can you increase the wages when profitability is low. Thus we have the chicken and egg problem; which comes first raise wages or the profitability of the industries.

Raising the productivity and profitability of the industries is not a matter that can be done through a policy statement. So many factors are involved and we leave that for the time being to the economic and industrial development planners.

Next I would like to point out the contradiction in the second and fourth principles of the affirmative action plan - merit-based and based on needs. Meritocracy has been much debated elsewhere; it's nice and fair when people have more or less an equal start. But some need to be assisted from the word 'go'. A merit based selection will just throw them out. So how do you reconcile the two principles?

For any model to work we have to get rid of the contradictions within the model. We need to test the model for inconsistencies and contradictions and debug them. I think this is what the policy makers, the planners, the implementors and the critiques of NEM should do now. Voicing skepticism and doubts on the seriousness of the government to carry out the NEB would not benefit the country and the people.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reflections on the MCA Party Election.

The process and results of the MCA party election on March 28, give room for a lot of reflections. Not only on the meaning of democracy in this country but also on some aspects of the underlying value system which makes this country tick. Other component parties in Barisan have a lot to learn from the MCA.

The most striking thing about the MCA party election is the smoothness of the process, especially at the election. There does not appear to be any money politics involved. If there was, it was well-hidden and it does not seem to interfere with the final outcome where the most troubled candidate for the presidency, emerged as the winner. An incumbent leader and an ex-president were put aside, reflecting no emotional or sentimental attachment to current or ex-power wielders. Private matters which could pull down or even bury candidates for a top political post in other parties especially UMNO, also did not interfere with the final, crucial, political decisions.

Admittedly. the processes leading to the party election seemed troubled and full of suspense. But the election itself went off very, very smoothly. To me it's a model party election, without any restrictions for the naming of candidates. The ex-President, Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, joined in the fray at the eleventh hour and there was no voice of dissentient. It seemed to me that anyone who felt he or she has enough support to become a candidate for the presidency would be welcome; there was no disqualifiers or conditions imposed. That's democracy as far as I'm concerned.

Most obvious was the lack of campaigning through the media where each candidate tries to vilify his opponents in the strongest of terms. We don't know whether that happened in the Chinese Press or not but whatever leaked out to the mainstream media was negligible. As a keen follower of the contest, I could not form any negative opinion about the candidates based on media reports. Dr Chua Soi Lek was a model of silence and modesty in as far as a candidate for a party presidential election is concerned. I've no doubt that that gave him a lot of support. The other candidates for president, deputy president and vice presidents, were also not involved in trying to do each other in through the Press. Can we say the same in the party election of other parties?

In brief we did not see delegates breaking up into three distinct groups as we moved towards the election date, standing behind and showing their support for their own favorite. There was no distinct team A, team B, team C or team D as we used to see in other party elections. I'm sure such alignment or division existed but it did not interfere with the smooth running of the election nor stir up undesirable confrontations or fracas, during the election. MIC and even UMNO can learn a lot from this as much as the other component parties in Barisan. It would appear that money politics and the bad-mouthing or back-stabbing of each other to gain public support and popularity during election campaigns, are the most pathetic and the most destructive pathological factors in election campaigns both at the Party or State and National levels.

The outcome of the MCA election is now known and the election has been pretty smooth. Let us wait and see whether it has succeeded in ending the leadership crisis which had plagued MCA for almost two years. Meanwhile, congratulations to all the newly elected leaders, the victorious and the vanquished. It's most encouraging to see that all candidates seemed to be satisfied with the decision made by the delegates and there's no bad-mouthing after the act or what the Malays describe as "rumah sudah pahat berbunyi," (The house is done but the wedges keep howling). The democratic attitude and open mindedness of the delegates shown by the MCA party election are exemplary.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting to Know Your Relatives..

One of the most embarrassing things in life today is not knowing who your relatives are, especially those you're related to by marriage and the young offsprings of relatives you seldom meet. You could be having lunch or dinner with them at a restaurant, sitting at neighboring tables, or eating at the same table in a wedding. even sitting side by side at a show or concert. You even talked, joked and laughed together, not realizing that you're related. And then one day, you found out the truth.....

It happened many times to me and can happen to anyone. That's because life today is so mobile. We're flung so far and wide in pursuance of our career. Social visits to relatives are few and far between. Communication by phone is prompted more often by business, official or urgent personal need rather than the need to know and strength our familial bond. Visits to friends' and relatives' homes are mostly occasioned by parties, weddings, and the inevitable departures of someone from this world, rather than by the simple need to foster a relationship or make a social call. No occasion or no invitation, no visit - as simple as that.

And people get married all the time. You can hardly keep pace with the marriages of your distant relatives, relatives who seldom visit you and vice versa or whose house you have never been to before. Unless you're officially invited to their homes for some reception, you'd not want to nor do you know the address, to just drop by. As years go by the number of relatives you've never or seldom met or are totally unknown to you, keep multiplying exponentially. And one day when you come to know the familial bond, you just smile with embarrassment or growl with some misgivings, blaming someone else for the predicament.

Yes, the cause is often the lack of a formal introduction by some senior relatives or even a distant relative who know about the relationship well. At parties and marriage receptions, the more so at get-togethers occasioned by life tragedies such as deaths, we seldom have a chance to be introduced to people formally. You just get around and meet people, especially the hosts, to say a few words of congratulations or condolence. And then you move on. Sometimes you don't even get the chance to shake hands with the host or hostess, or the relatives who invited you for they are so busy attending to the crowd. It is enough that you were there and someone saw you and would mention about your presence to the host.

Thus the familial relationship is never renewed, reestablished or strengthened and people drifted further and further apart with the people you know at work becoming closer to you than blood relationship. This can stretch to the extend that you won't know that the young man or woman you barked at in the office in a fit of temper, at the parking lot over a parking space, or on the road for dangerous driving, is your own nephew or niece by marriage.....

Or worse, the girl that you're saying naughty things to, is a distant cousin or relative's daughter...... Anyone of the boys and girls in the picture could, for example, be your relative by marriage, if you care to trace the relationship.

Well, various program packages in the internet have allowed people to get in touch with their relatives more easily, see their photos and greet each other at the touch of a few keys. Even talk to them through video conferencing. But both parties need to be au fait with the program and have the facilities. Even the phone cannot help when you don't have the numbers. Certainly the interest to know your relatives both near and distant, must come first before a link can be established. More often we just don't care until... .we need to for some reason or other. Well, that's life today.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sunday's 'Sans Souci' (Carefreeness)

Good Christians will attend Mass and then perhaps go for an outing or visits. Others, including Muslims who attend Sembahyang Jumaat on Friday, may go out for a weekend vacation, balik kampung, or just cuti-cuti and makan plus shopping at some of the luxurious shopping malls

Saturday and Sunday will be the rest days after a gruelling five days of work, work, work. Those who are now in their 60s and 70s
and worked in the government before, used to work a 5-and-a-half or even 6-day week. Some continue to do so even now due to work pressure, especially those who are self-employed.

I sometimes wonder what an ideal weekend or Sunday would be. Lazing around at a posh seaside resort,on the crowded beach or beside the pool, reading a novel and watching 'the girls go by?" I must say it's a lot of fun on foreign beaches or pool-sides where bikinis or 'minikinis' are allowed. No, not to eat my heart out watching the dames and their bopping boobs and bulging bums which are as natural as the waves splashing on the shore. What tickle the funnybones are the senior madams parading surplus fats and cellulite spilling out of their skimpy wrappings with some brown or dark patches of private undergrowth peeping out to soak up the sun. No offend intended. That doesn't apply to the local scene, anyway.

Or it is a picnic in the park or visiting out with the family? Both are commendable though too many of those can become quite boring to, not so much the father but the teenage sons and daughters. They ( daddy too, you know!) want more fun and games. What happens more often is that the young ones will go out with their friends while the more elderly parents ( not so adventurous anymore) will remain home tending to the gardens and the pets or watching TV. Internet surfing is a modern pastime and those hooked on it will have no problem staying at home, both young and old.

The Sunday papers of course have a lot of entertaining materials to read. More and more about famous people and celebrities like pop-artists and sports superstars, about fashion and food, business and advertisements, with precious little in the form of news roundup and analysis for the week, new insight and horizon in science and astronomy or astrology or about civics and morality. Some experts in social science should really try to analyze the contents of our papers and popular magazines to see if they are conducive to and supportive of the 1 MALAYSIA concept. The Sunday papers are pretty bulky but are the contents suitable for the formation of a healthy 1 Malaysia attitude and mentality? Only the government seems to be formulating a lot of agenda along the Government Transformation Programme: so many coming out in an endless stream that they can get very confusing and unconvincing. Isn't it not better to focus on a few concrete programs and put all attention on them to ensure successful implementation rather than "stretched our targets as a way to increase our aspirations." A plan which builds on the
success achieved as shown by a periodic evaluation, puts a premium on the evaluation process, ie the NKRA and MKRA which will depend on the working of the 8 Labs....A poor evaluation will lead to a weak plan build-up.....

Let's not spoil a good Sunday on that. I still believe in the Red Book evaluation system instituted by Tun Razak which requires all heads of department to answer on the progress made or lack of progress shown, every week. Their verbal report will be compared against factual data collected. Try to bluff and you'll get the boot. Tun Mahathir did the same through a weekly briefing with presentation made by different ministries, departmens or agencies. He'll raise hell where progress is not up to expectation and no head of department can sleep on their work. And you don't spend millions of ringgit on developing a GTP
with 250 top civil servants and Ministers monitoring and building up on its progress.

My, my, I'm straying from my Sunday Sans Souci. My routine for the weekend is simple. I need to do physical work on Saturday like cleaning up my old rural home which includes weeding and clearing up the whole compound, washing up my small fish pond, doing some gardening etc. Going to the show in the night can be fun. Sunday is for rest, reading, writing and watching TV. But the most interesting past-time had always been surfing the internet to fill the gaps in knowledge which seem to be increasing all the time as more and more information becomes available/accessible thorough the computer and other electronic media. Have a cup of teh tarik.....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Improving Your English - Checklist to avoid Common Mistakes

(This is a sequence to " Common Errors in Malaysian English". It's not a lesson in grammar, nor is it complete as yet.)

Category 1.Single subject - Single verb (Verb-to-be) I am, you are, he/she is, we/they are, it is, They are - I/You have, he/she has. we/they have. (Verb, Present Tense)) I/You sit. he/she sits, we/they sit (Past Tense) I/You/He/She/We/They sat. (Future Tense) will sit (for all). (Past Perfect) has sat. have sat (Present Continuous) is sitting, are sitting. (Past Continuous) was sitting, were sitting.
(Very common mistakes include: I/You says, he/she sit, he/she have, yesterday they see the movie, has sit, was sat etc)

Category 2. Conjugation of Verb: Using the right Verb Complement : Present, Past, Future, Present Continuous, Past Continuous.
run, ran, will run, am running, is running, are running, was running, were running; go. went, will go. am going. is going are going, was going, were going, is gone, was gone, were gone; steal, stole, will steal, am stealing, is stealing, are stealing, was stealing, were stealing, was stolen, were stolen.
( Common mistakes include: is steal ( should be 'is stolen'), will be call ( should be 'will be called'), would be protect ( should be 'would be protected'), could be employ ( should be 'could be employed'. etc.)

Category 3. Other Forms
has been sitting, have been sitting, had been sitting; has been stolen, have been stolen, had been stolen; has been contacted, have been contacted, had been contacted; has been done, have been done, had been done, has been put, have been put, had been put ( put retains its form: putted is only used in golf).

Category 4. Verbal description: it is/was... (adjective, adverb)
It is/was surprising. it is/was interesting, it is/was overdue, it is/was lovely, it is/was difficult etc.it is/was highly valued, it is/was not usually done/seen/understood/acceptable; it must/will/would be wiped out/expunged/donated/promised/done etc. it will/would be fair/impossible/useless etc.
(Common mistakes include: It was surprise.. should be 'It was a surprise'; it is frustrate ( should be 'frustrating'), it will be excuse, would be evaluate etc.)

Category 5.Verb signifying future action - 'will', 'would', 'will be'. 'would be'. 'shall be'. 'should be'
will do, would do, will be done; would be doing, would be done; will place, would place, will be placed, will be placing, would be placing, would be placed, shall do, should do, should have done, should have been done ; will suffer, would suffer. will be suffering, will be suffered, would be suffering , would be suffered, shall suffer, should suffer, should be suffering, should have suffered; will die, would die, will be dead, would be dying, would be dead, would have been dead., shall die, should die, should be dead, should have died.
(Mistakes include: will/would killed, will/would placed, should be place, will/would mentioned, will/would be mention etc)

Category 6. Verb indicating Past Action 'Did'
'Did' is always followed by a verb in the present tense: did call, did mention, did come, did do, did return. The same for negative statement: did not ( didn't) come, didn't consider, didn't reject, didn't offer.
(Very common mistakes include: did came, did called, did noticed, did not came, did not told, didn't charged, etc.)

Note: See also Common Errors in Malaysian English.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Alice in Wonderland 3D

I'd never have gone to see the film but for the rave rumor and promo about it. I checked the actual reviews later, after seeing the fim on Sunday night, and found out that what I felt about it was not far off the mark.

It was good with all the CGIs and 3D effect. The fall into the hole, the flickering and lively forest of Wonderland, the ballistics of rocks, tree branches leaves, the mad hatter's hat etc. meeting us right in the face (almost on the nose) or swishing around, the contorted characters, the monstrous soldiers and the hellish gargoyle which was the red queen's final champion, were all frighteningly entertaining. But somehow many of the battle scenes failed to really stir me and I was wondering why.

The answer came as I left the theatre feeling wheezy-cheesy. Yes, It was because I was comparing the film with Avatar and all the
flying creatures doing battle in the sky. That was fantastic. One monstrous gargoyle could not create the effect that hundreds of the flying creatures in Avatar did, nor flying on the brim of a hat give the cold-tummy shiver that riding the flying creatures in Avatar gave.

Well, you can't change the story that Lewis Carol told. But the revisit to the Wonderland could be made more dramatic, especially the battle royal between the white queen's army and the red army. Seen only in the background as little cricket-like characters, the fierceness of the battle was lost while the battle of the champions was too brief and ill-matched. The magic sword did not seem to hold unexpected powers.

But making myself feel like a child again, watching the show was certainly a great experience, leaving the CGI and 3D effect as something unknown.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Use and Misuse of Development Model.

It is the triumph of technological and academic advancement that we have today,'models' for all sorts of planned change. We develop models for economic development. social change, housing, infrastructural improvement etc, etc. They take the form of ideational and physical/structural plans which chart out the course of future actions to be pursued , incorporating all the goals and ideals espoused by society at any point of time.

A model for any planned change is normally developed after an extended period of discussions both before and after the ideals and concepts are laid down on paper, captured and condensed as a plan or blue print. Even after the plan or blue-print is finalized it will be thoroughly examined and discussed for any weakness and deficiency, by professionals, public officials and the people who will be affected at large.

Why? Because a model, a plan or a blue-print sets out both what will be done and what will not be done. It includes certain things and excludes others, as a precondition for giving emphasis and priorities to what must be done. Provisions are NOT MADE for anything unexpected or unanticipated in the model, plan or blue-print.

Therein lies the danger since we know that human society is a biological, a social and a political entity. Change something, even the positioning of a fish-market and lots of other changes will take place. The DEB brought a number of changes, both desired and not so desirable or even objected to. The Rahman Talib education policy for example, brought a number of desirable and undesirable changes that we are trying to deal with even today. Some social changes as we know are just irreversible or intractable. The DEB has changed our society as much as the new political order. Are we very happy with all the results: both anticipated and unanticipated?

The desired results are most welcome and gratifying. They indicate the success of the model or plan. But what about the undesirable, unexpected, unanticipated and unacceptable consequences of which there are many and form the basis of current public dissatisfaction, anger and resentment. Since they had not been anticipated, are we prepared to deal with them? To do so we often require a new model, a new plan or a new blued print.

But the new plan or model,be it economic, social or political in nature, will face the same problem, if not thoroughly discussed. tested, adjusted and fine-tuned before a full iaunch. It will solve certain problems but raise many others never anticipated or identified and expected, if the plan or model was again not thoroughly examined, discussed and tried on a small scale, before full implementation. If these problems can be identified early through the trial run, provisions can be made to counter the negative results. Otherwise, the plan or model can raise very high expectations, meet with several more unanticipated complications or inconsistencies, and set off undesirable and irreversible consequences.

As such adhering to the plan or model, without provisions for leeways. adjustments and countermeasures in case of meeting insurmountable impediments or cul-de- sac, could constitute a misuse of a plan or model with highly deleterious results. Hence a model should have some flexibility and safety valves for salvation if it doesn't work. Pushing through an ill-conceived model would be courting disaster.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Drives Us On...

When young we always have many dreams and ambitions that wag our bottom to move on. We see people with beautiful houses and cars, with handsome husbands or drop-dead beautiful wives, we see bosses ordering people around, we see rich people buying up anything that attracts their fancy, we see film stars being hounded by fans and admirers, we see statesmen and political leaders telling people what to do to serve their country... And we get fired up with ambition, with volition and with a determination to achieve similar goals.

The unachieved keeps us going, The unachievable makes us reschedule our life-goals. There are various degrees of achievementand various levels of satisfaction. Logically, the things that we have achieved and sort of satisfied our desire, should reduce the intensity of our efforts, energy and resources, spent in that direction. Does it work that way. Hell, no. People who are powerful strive on for more power, those who are filthy rich may do even filthy things to become richer, the lovable film stars keep on searching for more love and adulation to improve their score, and the mighty and powerful strive on to subjugate everything possible...

We see them around us. Unknowingly, we could be one of them. The little success that we achieve becomes a powerful booster to keep accelerating our effort to achieve more of the same. Until suddenly the social combustion engine coughs and staggers and goes kaput. That's ok. What's not ok is that we leave behind a mess, a confusion and a society that has lost its bearing. Worst, we leave behind a crowd of wanabes who will fight each other to usurp the place that has been left vacant, or even knock away the lame incumbent who refused to buzz off.

Does that keep society moving up in the right direction? I don't think so. That's the kind of thing that makes a society repeat the mistakes of the past for those taking over from those who have dropped off or were hounded away are driven by the same
ambition and desire as espoused by their predecessors. Many a time it is the unwilling inheritor of a legacy, with no pretension or real ambition for self-glory, who will bring new successes to society. How seldom do we find such people as against those who are just too eager to take over from those who have dropped out or were forced out!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The quarrels and altercations....

Someone said that government was a necessary evil. I's necessary because someone has to call the final shot in any country for people will continue to quarrel, disagree with each other, call each other unfair (as if only the caller is fair in this world) and continue to feel frustrated and unhappy when things don't go their way. Even their attitude towards God is the same. When it rains continuously they blame God for causing the floods and the landslides. When it's always bright and shiny, they blame God for causing everything to dry up and shrivel, sometimes in the equator, making them feel like living in an oven. When God keeps changing and alternating rain and shine, they say the weather is crazy, or God is crazy, if they are religious enough not to swear and curse.

The al-Quran admits that human beings will never be happy except those who submit themselves to the will of God. When God makes them wealthy they will say that God has been kind to them, ie if they are religious; otherwise they will claim that the wealth was the result of their own resourcefulness and efforts. But when they fall into bad times they say that God was unkind and unfair to them. Again it's always God that is wrong when things go against their favor.

With such a realization , the quarrels and altercations between people in a country and the government, especially between opposing political parties, do not appear significant at all. Disagreement among people, opposing views and conflicts, even fighting things out, are just ways of trying to arrive at the truth, ways of keeping up the balance between truth and falsehood, between earnestness and pretenses, sincerity and deceit. The truth will emerge ultimately. Only at what cost in term of human sufferings and deprivation, misery and despondency. Only when the quarrels, altercations and wrangling in the government affect the people negatively, will they be considered as unproductive, harmful and destructive. Otherwise it can force a soul-searching exercise among the people and even open the door to new insights, creativity and innovation.

So do we just accept the quarrels, the wrangling and the fights in the government and all around us without doing anything about them? Of course not. The age-old advice has been: if you can't stop them join them. It's this advice or suggestion which seems to split and tear society apart. Perhaps Malaysians should now be more reluctant of being drawn into the quarrels and altercations, especially when they are of a political nature. It's the support that we give to the wrangling parties which fans and fuels the quarrels. I wonder what will happen if we withdraw the support and choose to watch the combatants heck each other to death like what the Romans did at the gladiators' stadium? Or otherwise watch the struggle like the bullfight in Mexico and Spain. Just enjoy the show and have your money's worth of fun, until the weaker combatants fall down.

But that's like endorsing the theory of the survival of the fittest. The stronger party wins irrespective of being in the right or wrong. Can one arrive at the real truth without the quarrels, the altercations, the wrangling and the fight to the death? If the super powers of the world practice this approach to maintain world order must the smaller nations like Malaysia follow suit?
Maybe Tun Dr Mahathir, Kassim Ahmad, Prof. Pak Engku, Dr.Syed Naquib and other thinkers not involved in the political dogfight can provide an answer. The political leaders are too involved in the quarrels to be able to give a non-biased view.