Saturday, July 31, 2010

The UMNO-PAS Divide

Political parties and affiliations have divided people in this world more than racial, lingual and religious differences. If this is true for the world it is also true for Malaysia. The Muslims and the Malays in this country had never been been segregated or divided because of the different States they come from or the dialects they speak. It's the political parties they support or affliate themselves with which divide them and had caused unpleasant and even harmfull relationship.
UMNO and PAS must of course accept this fact although none should be blamed for it's the nature of political development in this country which led to that situation. It is the nature of politics to divide people into interest and pressure groups in order to gain support and compete for power to rule over the population. Polical parties are the instrument and the outcome of such division. It's as natural as the the different branding of the same consumer products to compete for customers in the open market.
Asking political parties to merge or enter into a coalition in order to reduce divisiveness among the people is like asking companies producing different product brands to sell their products under just one brand. It's like asking the companies themselves to merge their interests. It can be done, of course, but it isn't easy. This seems to be the dilemma facing the UMNO and PAS leadersip in response to the call to bring the Muslims and the Malays together again. Each has it's corporate image and interests to protect with its own team of affiliates to consult, even when the arguments for such a move are very pursuasive and convinving.
UMNO and PAS had experienced a coalition before and it didn't work for long. PAS was then standing on its own without other affiliates, official or otherwise. Now it's no longer so and that makes a coalition with UMNO more difficult. Even working together would be difficult because each is guided by a different beacon. The perplexing enigma is that the beacon is the same if it is Islam. Unless they have different versions of the religion, they shouldn't be going in different directions. If it is a matter of pursuing the same goals through different methods and strategies, then at some point they must still converge.
The question then is: where will that point be? Will it happen before GE13 or after?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Foreign Policy: A simple Fact Oft Forgotten

Life experience tells us that making an enemy is very easy. One insult or a deceit, intended or otherwise, can do the trick. It's making friends that is difficult. Especially from known adversaries or belligerent quarters.

That fact is , however, oft forgotten in nursing our foreign relations. As far as Malaysia is concerned we have had our own differences with other countries and bouts of bad relationship in the past, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. But thank heaven, good relationship has been restored, although some issues stlll need to be ironed out.

But what about our relationship with the United States and Israel? Since Tun Mahathir's times the relationship has been bad or very bad and for good reasons. In the case of Israel Malaysia is not the only country that condemns its foreign policy and attitude towards the Palestine. The whole world had been agog with the injustices it perpetrated but no one seems to be able to do anything about it because it has the United States' support and protection. And for that reason, and others such as its free trade policy ( Read Che Det's latest entry: Free market II), we had always been critical of that powerful nation.

Are we going the improve the relationship with the US at all by always being so critical? Are we going to help solve the Israel -Palestine issue by condemning Israel without reservation and never at all listening to its argument, at least to understand why it's so vicious and demonic. WE might never become good friends because of competing interest or conflicting philosophy. But listening to what the enemy says is one important step towards resolving any misunderstanding.

Yes, we can easily turn round and say: Why should we listen to them? Why can't they listen to us? Isn't that what the children would say when at odds with their parents? The parents can say that they are older and wiser but what they really mean is that they have the right and power to do what they want and the children will ultimately have to bow down to their will. Isn't that also true for us smaller nations. What do we have to lose to listen to the old man and his spoilt child on why they are so harsh on us kids?Don't they know that the kids today are quite independent of mind and will not stand to any nonsense?

We may have tons of information with regard to the misdeeds of the US and Israel but as long as we keep harping on them the door to a meaningful resolution of differences will remain closed. We have to allow a little room for a meaningful dialogue, an exchange of goodwill, and mutual respect if the current stalemate is to be broken and a new line of understanding is to be adopted. What anger fails to achieve, an open-minded willingness to talk may resolve a lot of misunderstanding. Why don't we give it a try?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Remnants of the Wandering Tribe.

The wandering tribe that exists in Malaysia today is not found in the jungle. Its members are found on the streets of KL and other urban centers. They consist of the unemployed, the old and abandoned, teenagers rejected by their families or running away from their homes for various reasons. drug addicts, the mentally unstable, the terminally ill, the alcoholics and other social rejects. A study made by the Welfare Department identified close to 1,200 of them in KL city classified under soem broad categories as follows:

Unemployed 646 46.6%
Poor 246 17.7%
Poor, old and abandoned 145 10.5%
Poor and old 50 3.6%
Drug addicts 66 4.8%
Abandoned 61 4.4%
Mentally unstable 29 2.1%
Terminally ill 29 2.1%
Homeless 22 1.6%
Runaways 22 1.6%
Disabled, depression, alcoholics
refugees, unwanted by family, others 54 4.0%

The categories shown are broad and overlapping but the study does give us some ideas on the population of the tribe, some living in abandoned buildings, under the bridges and other secluded places as uncovered elsewhere. Some reasons for being 'down and out' have also been given though not categorized for useful analysis,

But overall, we can see or deduced three important causes of being down and out: (1) unemployed and out of a job (2) no basic skill or training for any job and (3) no proper place to stay. The Welfare Department wants to establish one-stop centers to help these unfortunates people, the CM of Malacca wants to take care of pregnant teens, and the Minister of Women' Affairs wants to provide hatchers for the unwanted babies. The Religious Department and Anti-Vice authority would of course want to book all the illicit lovers and put them under detention.

Are we all trying to cure the symptoms of these social ills or the actual disease? Have we been brave enough to ackowledge the cause of the disease and deal with it on a national scale. As regards the wandering tribe whose population had been identified, clearly the cause is no training and no job. Give a man or a teenager some training and a job with regular pay, and he will certainly change. As for the unmarried mothers who dumped their babies, the CM of Malacca seems to have the answer. Tightening up the laws to bring them to book will only make them run away. They have to be helped with compassion with a promise of anonymity.

The government has to study the matter in more depth than what the Welfare Department seemed to be able to do in cooperation with many non-governmental bodies. When government can spend billions of ringgit on physical development and hundreds of millions on more minor projects, it's most embarrassing that the problems of the most unfortunate members of society are left to the streets to solve.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The PTDs and the Political Masters.

" The time when PTDs were seen as exclusive and a cut above the rest in the service is a thing of the past."
" The days when being in the Administrative and Diplomatic Service or the PYD was seen as a premier are long gone, passe."


As an ex- PTD ( Pegawai Tadbir Awam) officer who started service as a Malayan Civil Service Officer (MSC) way back in the early 60s, I can say that the MCS officers were the elite core of the government. This remained so after all the expatriate British officers left the country and the entire civil service was run by local MCS officers. They remained the chief advisors to the political leaders who took over the reins of government after Malaya gained its Independence.

It was the primier service, supervising and coordinating all aspects of administration at the federal and state level. The Chief Secretary to the Government was constantly by the side of the Prime Minister and all Ministers consult the Permanent Secretary of their respective Ministry and/or the Chief Secretary to Government before making any important administrative decision. The head of a Technical or Professional Department was invariably a professional man but remained subject to the supervision and coordination of the MCS/PTD officer(s) at the Ministry who held a lot of authority delegated by the Permanent Secretary, later called Secretary General.

This has changed and as emphasized by the Chief Secretary to Government, the PTD is no longer a primier service nor are the PTD officers a cut above the rest in the service. Why so? Many questions can be raised in this regard:

(1) Can the PTD officers relinquish their lead role when the controlling officer for all expenditures remain with the Ministry - with the Sec. Gen as the final authority with supervisory power even over the technical or professional head of department?

(2) Is the "downgrading' of the PTD due to the upgrading of the other services (Health, Education. Agriculture, Irrigation etc) or the fact that the entire services now come under the direct control of the respective Ministers.

(3) Are the technical and professional officers adequately trained to handle administrative and management matters with a sufficient working knowledge of the legal and procedural requirements involved, when they are chosen to head a Ministry?

(4) Is the taking over of many administrative and managerial functions of the PTD officers by the political bosses leading us to a more effective governance and administration or causing the PTD officers to become mere functionaries without any leadership role?

(5) Are the political bosses who increasingly exercise the powers of the PTDs and even of the technical or professoinal heads of depatment, accountable for their actions and are subject to the General Order, FGO and other administrative circulars which govern the action of the PTDs? and finally

(6) Is the administration of the country with more decisions made by the political masters rather than the administrators much better now than it was when all administrative decisions were made by the administrators mostly PTDs while politicians handle the politics of governance?

What is obvious today is that the political bosses are no longer involved in determining policy matters only but involved in the day-to-day administration of the Ministry and departments. The Sec-Gen and senior PTD officers just take orders like any other lower ranking staff without any possibility of giving the Ministers and political bosses some necessary administrative advice.

There's, therefore, no administrative constraints today on what the Ministers can and cannot do. Any officer who stands in the way of what his/her Minister and political bosses want to do by pointing out certain regulations, can be considered as a bureaucratic hindrance and impediment. The PTDs have become not service oriented but servile, not leaders but voiceless functionaries. to be barked at and rediculed most of the time, without the ability to think one step ahead of their political masters and tell them that if they loose the next election they will become just another man-on-the-street.

But even then the PTDs cannot be too sure. A politician can loose an election but still be appointed as a Minister through the Senate, thus NOT REPRESENTING THE PEOPLE but the boss. The discarded PTD has only one place to go. The POOL or early retirement. The best PTD officer is one who follows every whims and fancy of the political Master, who smiles even when called a fool.He is but a glorified clerk.

The PTDs got to prove themselves otherwise to regain the status of the former MCS officers. The political Masters assume authority saying that they are voicing what the people want. The PTDs can stand up by saying you know what the country needs in terms of effective administration and management. If you don't. then you deserve the position at the nadir of the
service hierarchy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Living Together With Different Religion

The different religious beliefs and faiths in the world have caused a lot of wars, woes and miseries. But are they really the most significant factor which tears people apart, causes mass killing, and launches countries to go to war with each other? Did religous difference cause WW1 and WW2 and will it probably cause (God forbid) WW3?

History tells us that religious differences did in the past shatter countries and people. But not any longer. People have learnt to respect and live with the differences. What makes them go to war and kill each other without mercy even in this age of civilization is not religion but politics and greed for power and wealth. Some may even say it's because of the need to survive. But that claim can be easily rejected because you can't afford to be aggressive and antagonize people if you feel weak and insecure. You normally try to make friends. You only become aggressive and haughty whn you know that you've powerful friends to protect you.

Religious people are never a threat to each other for no religion in the world encourages the spilling of human blood. It's always the irreligious and the non-God fearing people who would take power unto themselves to judge, condemn and kill other people. Human life and blood are no longer sacred to them. Killing becomes just a matter of pulling a trigger, exploding a bomb or launching a rocket. They forget that human being cannot create life even in an amoeba or an ant.

The existence of many religions and faiths in the world, has never prevented people from living together or interacting with each other to. establish a comfortable and meaningful life. Even when people of different countries and religious faiths live close to each other or live in the same country, county or village,, they can live in peace until some 'trouble-makers' begin to create and highlight the differences in culture and religion, causing people to be suspicious and angry with each other. The 'trouble-makers' invariably do this to promote their own interests which they can hide under glorious and respectable objectives such as promoting a national consciousness (nationalism), creating a cultural Identity, or just promoting national consolidation and integration.

Many multiracial nations today face the problem of "undoing" the work of these trouble makers. This includes Malaysia where racial and religious differences in the past have not been causing much trouble. The racial clash of May 1963 was clearly political in nature; otherwise the country and its multiracial population had enjoyed relative peace and harmony. But lately, the racial and religious issues seemed to have surfaced again as rapid development makes the poorer majority (mostly Malays and Indians) more aware of their deprivation. Religious problems even took center stage recently on the issue of using Allah ( the Muslims' name for God) by Christians in Sarawak in their publication. It lead to the consecration of some mosques and the abortive burning of some churches followed by angry protests on the street.

Consequently an Inter-Religious Committee was set up to diffuse the issue and promote better understanding between the Muslims, Christians. Budhists. Hindus etc. An Inter-Faith Commission established earlier to undertake a similar function had been bitterly opposed by the Muslims. It seems that even the new Committee is being opposed by the Muslim leaders for they felt that Islam cannot be compromised with other religions. An explanation by the Minister in Charge of Religious Affairs in the Prime Minister's Department that the Committee only plays a consultative role did not allay the worries of the Muslim leaders and 'ulamaks'.

I think it must be made very clear that a religion or a faith cannot be changed or adjusted to accommodate the teachings and practices of other religions. There must be total respect and recognition of each religion but there's nothing to prevent its leaders and adherants from trying to know more about the religion of the others, in order to give better respect and recognition to the rights and practices of its adherants. We can raise common awareness about different religions but not expect an exchange of or an adoption of some common values and beliefs by all. To the Muslim that would be tantamount to "erogding the Islamic Aqidah" - a process that leads to "Murtad" or total expulsion from Islam and turns one into a "kafir". Hence the protest against any such suggestionz.

But a committee to explain the religious philosophy of the major religions in Malayia to various multiracial groups so that the major tenets of each religion can be better understood by all, would surely not be offensive to anyone. The leaders of the major religous groups will participate in the program thereby giving them the opportunity to have a direct exchange of views with the multiracial audience. Such discussions or dialogues will not therefore be viewed as an attempt to proselitize people but only to make them aware of the demands of the various religions on their followers. Thus the sanctity of each religion will not in any way be compromised and people will remain free to pursue their own religious faith.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Kampung Baru Dilemma

One of the hottest issues that have singed many parties in the development of Kuala Lumpur is in regard to the problems of Kampung Baru. It has remained what has been termed as a 'slum and squatter area' although situated right in the heart of the city. While some peripheral development had been undertaken and the Malay shops in and around the area have undergone some changes, the development as a whole is negligible when compared to the changes that have occurred elsewhere in the city of KL and its metropolitan areas.

There had been and there are now plans to develop the area so that the lands can be utilized to their full potentials. Kampung Baru if given the right conditions for investment and commercialization could easily become another golden triangle. But the 100% Malay residents and landowners are not comfortable with the idea of non-bumi investors coming in to buy over the lands from them, nor are the Bumiputras of the nation as a whole willing to see Kampung Baru "invaded" by the non-Bumis. As such no real progress has been made since Merdeka.

To develop the area and attract non-Bumi and foreign investment, there is no doubt that Kampung Baru has to be opened to the non-Malay towkays and taycoons. No Malay entrepreneur would be able to come up with the kind of capital investment necessary to turn the "slump area" into a buzzling commercial and residential center. While such development would not require that the present residents of Kampung Baru be displaced or pushed out since they can be offered luxurious homes with millions of ringgit as payment (or compensation) for their lands, the fact remains that they will loose the lands that they have owned for generations. And THAT is the most sensitive of all the issues involved.

So, how can that issue be resolved? One land owner and an ex-senior government officials with considerable experience in development planning, suggested to me that the answer is quite simple. Just allow the land to be utilized ON LEASE for say 60-90 years as necessary to allow the investors to get back their money with a comfortable margin. In this way the land DOES NOT ACTUALLY LEAVE the hands of the currents owners. Will the business community buy up the commercial and residential
premises if they will not become the outright owners? Or should the premises be only rented out? These are the ensuing issues to be considered. In either case the proposal will become less attractive to the potential investors who want to make their fortune on the development of the prime land.

Another possibility is for the government itself to take over the development of the last bastion of Malay settlement in KL. It should not let the matter be handled by a private agency which would certainly try to make as much profit as possible at the expense of the landowners. Only the government can protect and preserve the ownership rights of the landowners in Kampung Baru, who, left to the 'seduction' of the wealthy private investors would succumb to their monetary temptations. The greed for money among the landowners themselves would let Kampung Baru slip into the hands of the non-Bumi capitalists.
The need for the non-Bumi entrepreneurs to help boost up the commercial value of Kampung Baru should be confined to the development of business and commercial activities, not the sales of prime land.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Hero and the Villain

There're many things which make life today rather confusing. For example we're all very concerned about our health and so we always listen to the advice of doctors given through the newspapers. magazines, TV and the radio. But if we do, almost all kinds of food and drinks seem to contain chemicals that can be harmful t our health or can cause cancer. Even coffee or tea. We all use handphone nowadays. That too is said to be harmful to our hearing, Even the television and the computers can cause a lot of harm to our eyes, hearings and our health in general.

But most confusing to me is in regard to giving our respect to the heroes of our country. The men (or women) whom we respect and honour for many years since small, may suddenly turn out today as the villains of society. In the same way the villains of the past may suddenly rise in popularity and become a celebrated hero. A good example is Hang Tuah and Jebat. For years we consider Hang Tuah as a hero and Hang Jebat as a villain. But today there are many who consider Hang Tuah as a mere chattel for the Sultan of Melacca and that Hang Jebat is the real hero who fought against injustices. Munshi Abdullah was a literary hero when I was a student but today many consider him as a stooge for his British master, Sir Stamford Raffles. Chin Peng had always been the enemy no:1 of Malaya before but recently some considered him to be instrumental in pushing Malaya (now Malaysia) to get its independence.

Npw look at our current heroes on the national horizon. Even some past PMs who have brought so much changes and development to the nation are being picked out for something undesirable that came out of their decisions and are, therefore, looked upon as a villain with the laurels they had won in the past being slowly withered away. Walking around amongst us today are people regarded as leaders and heroes by some but looked upon as villains by others, with a long list of the injustices they have committed. There are also the wealthy icons who have made their way to join the Forbe's international list of billionaires but looked upon by some like they have smelled a rotten fish. At the lower end of the scale some rich and famous characters are simply classified as the 'plunderers' of the nation.

In such a situation is it surprising that we have no heroes that our young can look upon to emulate? The line between being a hero and a villain seems so thin or amorphous that one can not only fall on either side on the line but also qualify to appear on both sides of the divide at the same time.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Nouveau Riche of Malaysia

It's no secret that most of the richest people in South East Asia whose names are listed in the Forbe's List are Chinese with Ananda Krisnan representing the Indian. They are all business tycoons as are the other billionaires of the world, representing leaders in their own individual field of business with their own legendary style of making their fortune.

Enough has been written about them in the Papers and Magazines. What i would like to focus on are the nouveau riche among the Malays. A number of them, without mentioning names, are also business tycoons and timber merchants, especially from Sabah and Sarawak. But they are few and far between. Who are the others whose living style and luxurious homes easily point them out as one of Malaysian's new Bumiputra millionaires? No doubt there are some businessmen too. But otherwise they are current or ex-'Yang Berhormat' or corporate leaders. The most visible transformation from 'rags' ( not necessarily very poor but very much of kampung standard) to 'riches' ( not necesairly millionaires but with country homes and a fleet of BMWs and Mercs) are found among the former group, and they exist at all levels ie. Federal, State and Local. You can easily meet a friend in the village who was once a humble teacher or even a carpenter, who is now a YB, and moving around in a chauffeur driven Merc or BMW.

This is indeed a magnificent example of social mobility that Malaysia has achieved it its 52 years of Independence. It's a sign of achievement we should all be very proud of, although there's a tendency among the Malays to give such achievement 'the sour grape look'. We shouldn't be bothered about that for all good Muslims believe that worldly endowment or 'rezki' comes from Allah, and He gives it to whomsoever He wants. And that 'rezki' did not come by itself but had to be earned.

What should be given some thoughts to is the fact that more of the new rich seem to come from the political ranks rather than the business hierarchy. This fact itself must be statistically proven or disproved, but that seems to be the situation as of today.
If true than the political business is producing more successful entrepreneurs than the trades and economic enterprises. Is that wrong? Maybe not but the consequences could be very undesirable. Let's give it some deep thoughts.

In the first instance the Bumiputras will be more interested in the political business rather than the trade and economic enterprises which form the basis or real progress and development. The NEP in the past had tried to increase the number of Bumi entrepreneurs to achieve a balance in the occupational structure of the population. If the number and equity target faialed to be achieved could it not be due to the fact that the political business was more attractive in that it presents a shortcut to prosperity? Our leaders must give this a serious atention for the political business is easier to enter into than the real trade and economic business that our Chines and Indian friends have excelled in all these years.

Another undesirable consequence is that the political business being easier to enter into gets mixed up with the real trade and economic business. The first is used as a prop for the second and therefore the vicissitude of political progress and standing affects the latter. A company can go bust if the leader looses his political position and clout. We must take note that in the case of our Chinese and Indian friends. success in the trade and economic enterprise often comes first before they are chosen to become leaders in the political business.

As a result of the above the Bumiputra trade and business enterprises , even after reaching some level of corporate success, might not continue to prosper and might even begin to crumble when the political fortune of their leaders declines. And this can happen very often because of the effervescent nature of politics. I might add here that even the most successful of our national corporate bodies such as Petronas etc might ultimately suffer because of changes in leadership as required by the political business.

Finally, the long term goal of the nation to even up the participation of the Bumis in the business and corporate sector of the national economy, increase equity participation and reduce identification or race with occupation ( which should have been achieved through the NEP) in order to promote national unity, could be stultified by a greater interest among the Bumis to participate in the political business rather than in the trade and economic enterprises. Such tendency might be further enhanced by the fact that even getting some of the funds allocated for the promotion of Bumiputra business enterprise can become easier if you have some political pull. The situation is made worst if the political business partners themselves get more of the fund.

So, politics must start to become less of a business and more of a dignified profession if the Bumis are to be stopped from crowding into that concern and go into the real trade and economic enterprises. We must see more Bumiputra millionaires coming from the trade and economic business sector rather than from the Dewan Undangan Negeri and Parliament or from the Yang Berhormat group of businessmen. The line between businessmen and politco-businessmen must also be drawn to stop a business from going bust if a politician looses his power.

( Suggested Readings: Google Wealthy Politicians and read: 'Do not elect wealthy politicians' and Celebrity Politicians and Wealthy CEOs)