Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last Few days of 2011

For some it's a joyous wait for the New Year after a merry Christmas. It's time to close the 2011 chapter of your book of life and look forward to a bright 2012.

For others there are many sad things to recall and it's time to pray that those things will not recur. These include all the victims of war and socio-political uprisings in many Muslim countries causing deaths and destruction by the hands of foreign interventionists or by one's own countrymen. The trouble is not over although many heads of local leaders had rolled and new ones are taking over, without any convincing sign of getting the full support of the entire population. It would appear that once a country is divided, so many factors will come in to make sure that it will remain that way. Especially when the so-called "liberation from autocratic rule" and the "freedom" gained, is brought in with the help of a foreign power. It's more than nine years since Iraq is liberated and the new government which took over can in no way be described as truly democratic and popular. Afghanistan and Libya are in no better position after the the change of leadership and government. And so is Egypt....

Of course no government is really stable for long when the people become fully conscious of their rights, are completely free to express their views and begin to make uncompromising demands on the government.. What makes the difference is whether people move for a change in government in an orderly and lawful manner or take to the streets in anger and frustration. When the government is flexible enough to allow for a change without using its might and military power on the people, the chances for a peaceful transition is greater. Otherwise every change is forced through with bloodshed and followed by more bloodshed. Developing countries would do well to recognize this fact and develop greater flexibility for change without depending on outside powers to help prevent the change or force it through.

Malaysia has been and is still one of the most stable governments in Asia. But like all governments the forces of change are never absent. It is how the government adjusts to and accommodates changes that will determine whether we will continue to enjoy peace and harmony in the near future or be sucked in by the forces of internal conflict and enmity. God forbids but it's the people who cause it to happen and only the people in the country can prevent or stop it from happening. You cannot expect to have peace and harmony in your country if you're more adept at creating conflicts and disagreement rather than solving them.This is more so if interracial matters are highlighted or blown up more than efforts to resolve the differences amicably.

As 2011 draws to a close the importance of the the forthcoming GE13 becomes more obvious. Barisan National owes it to the Malays to see that all the sentiments and allegations directed at UMNO are cleared up and popular new faces are lined up for the leadership rather than maintaining the veterans whose accumulated wealth is a matter of great concern. Unless the trust and confidence of the grassroots is regained, all the efforts made to show that government cares for the welfare of the people might not bring them then necessary votes to stay in power, Especially since the MCA and MIC are showing a renewed vigor in bringing up partisan interest. The loose Pakatan which captured five States in the last election but lost one to Batisan later, may appear to be in a bit of a disarray. But it has much to say against Barisan and a dissatisfied public can be easily swayed by the negative views expressed.

In any case the last few days of 2011 allow us to take stock of what has transpired this year and decide on what is possible in 2012. That would tell us how we should prepare ourselves, so that we wouldn't be taken by surprise. Common sense, right? But that is what we sometimes lack in facing the deluge of unexpected development around us, especially political moves that presage the coming of a general election. Brick walls of resistant to some public demand can suddenly collapse and hangouts undreamt of in the past come rolling in together with improvements in the remuneration scheme for workers.

Well, the New Year is at our doorstep no matter what. Happy new year and be prepared for the consequences of the sudden liberal year-end spending at both the national and personal level.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Steel Framework of Administration.

The Malaysian Civil Service used to be considered as the steel framework of administration in the country. It is neutral or apolitical and it serves whoever comes to power through the political processes of selecting the leaders in the nation. All its dealings and decision-making processes are governed by tight and documented procedures to ensure justice and fairness to all. Financial procedures were watertight, to avoid any misuse of government funds which come from taxes and dues collected from the people of the nation.

How far have we moved away from these norms now? Politics have taken over as the steel scaffolding of the administration with policy decisions made by the political bosses, elected by the people and certainly representing some partisan interest. No matter how fair and objective they are in their deliberation, people will think that they will decide in the interest of their supporters. They are not bound by the infamous bureaucratic rules and can side-step all the regulations so long as their legal advisers okayed their move. If any law or regulation stands in the way of what they earmarked as "development", the laws or regulation can be changed or amended through Parliament.

Hence the political leaders not only set the direction and goals of development but also the way it is to be done. This involves the identification and selection of development projects since they determine the priorities according to public demand, who gets the project since the lowest offer may not be the best, and what adjustments must be made since the project must meet the expectation of the public which is best known by the political bosses. Routine administrative matters must also be tempered with at times to speed up matters, take political exigencies into consideration, adjust priorities according to the strength of political influence and make the bureaucracy more sensitive to the urgent need of the public. Even the promotions and emplacement of key officers must be considered in terms of suitability, loyalty and capability, while seniority and experience mean nothing much anymore.

Yes, the civil service has changed a lot and will be changed further. Secretaries-General and Directors-General as administrative heads of ministries and departments must kowtow to the political and private secretaries of political bosses who knew better what the political bosses want. Even the transferring of officers due to promotion, the matching up of expertise and experience woth the requirements of the job, and and allowing for job rotation to get the best out of peoplr, must be agreed to by the political bosses for suitability in terms of working relationship is more important than all of the previous requirememts.

Will the steel framework od administration hold with many of the crucial nuts and bolts removed to allow for political flexibility? Will the old prestige and authoritativeness ofbthe civil service remain when young and inexperienced officers can suddenly take over as the administrative bosses over older and experienced hands, even coming in from outside the service trough laterl entery without any proper training and acclamatization? Will the politicisation of the civil service produce better results than the steel framework of yesteryears? Let's wait and see the outcome of the vsrious changes in the next few yesrs, especially when the political superstructure itself undergoes some critical changes in line with changes in tbe political climate..

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Father Christmas is Coming to Town...

Yes, Father Christmas is coming to town in Malaysia this Yuletide with huge bags of goodies for families earning below RM3000 pm,
cash gifts for schoolchildren, salary increases for all government servants, special Funds for struggling entrepreneurs, for thirtiary-level students in need pf help, for police and army personnel, for needy farmers and fishermen and even for national writers and mosques' officials.

Ho,Ho,Ho,Ho come people and get your goodies. There are some forms to fill in though which require current address, bank account number, and other personal information of applicant to be given. There will certainly be some checking to be done and the possibility that some applications will be rejected. Will that raise more problems and unhappiness than the gifts or handouts distributed? Let Father Christmas and his advisers work on that.

This coming Christmas is certainly a windfall (durian runtuh) for many. Civil servants' salary will increase from 13 - 30% out seems.
The last time there was a raise by some 12% ( I forgot when) the Ministers, their Deputies, Parliamentary Secretaries and the Parliamentarians in general got a hefty increase as well. The real percentage was never disclosed. Will it be the same this time.

And why not? The country's economy is booming and we are racing headlong to become a high income nation. Investments are coming in hopefully as heavy as the monsoon rain and tourist are visiting us in droves. That's the impression I get from following the more than lavish attitude shown and the nature of government spending with hundreds of millions spent on promoting tourism including the billions to be poured to the Langkawi Five Year Development Plan. The Iskandar Regional development plan in Johore sounds like the duck that lays the golden egg. Will the Causeway and the Gelang Patah bridge be sufficient to bring in
the business tycoons and super entreprenuers from our neighboring country, especially since KTM does not go beyond Woodland anymore. May be we have money for another bridge to facilitate the flow of goods and people, a beautiful straight one and not a croocket one anymore.

Well, all the political and economic transformation plans and agenda seem to be rolling on very smoothly with the NKRA measuring the success achieved. Progress on all key result areas seems to be on target as said by the show master YB Idris Jala while the YAB PM himself is renowned for his walk-around supervisory style. Let's hope that he sees what he wants and not just what is shown to him! It really looks like a glorious New Year is awaiting us all and, of course, a promising BN victory in GE13.

Let's be fair and say a few words for the Perikatan - claimed to be at it loosest condition right now. We see the in-fighting and the prominent stars battling each other. Dr Hassan Ali is even suggesting a possible exit, perhaps waiting for a door to open up somewhere. Promises made during GE12 don't seem to be fully met but I hear that some people are very happy in Penang. The welfare state agenda of PAS seems to be an unacceptable alternative to the Islamic State objective for Dr Hassan Ali but when the BN Chief decides to become Father Christmas this Yuletide, I wonder if the welfare idea had not been taken over by him.

Merry Christmas everyone and a cheerful windfall.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Let Our Handphones Talk.....

While there's no doubt that our country and people are progressing very well on the road to becoming a developed nation, there are many areas in the country where development has gone the wrong way or never picked up speed. These areas are often secluded and buried deep in the rural areas but they can often be seen from the roadside.

What do I mean by development going the wrong way? The most obvious sign is the modern ghettoes. You have modern buildings and infrastructure but the whole area stinks like a rubbish dump. Public facilities are vandalized and left unrepaired, the roads are full of potholes and ditches, and rubbish are strewn around like confetti. You may find this in the urban areas but mostly in the new townships which failed to grow as planned (by charlatans of course). Many buildings had turned green or brownish depending on whether the moss had done a better job that the rain and the red earth or vice versa. The lawn and the playground, if it had been provided for, would only be most comfortable to the buffaloes.

But the signs of progress and development among the people are obvious from the cars that are parked by the houses, the TV antennae, and the extensions done to the small original house, including those which are reminiscent of yesteryears. In fact there are places with a trace of the original village with their fruits and coconut trees which had been displaced by new roads and posts for the power lines but allowed to slip back into a ghetto-like scenario. In fact some villages which had been so-called "modernized" appear more like a deserted and dilapidated area for most of the inhabitants have moved to the towns and urban centers.

Actual poverty stricken areas which the floodlight of development had not spotted also exist in the rural depth. The village development committees have either missed them or averted them because of their unfriendly political leanings. More importantly some village heads have never brought the machinery of or the funds for develpment to these areas because of certain prejudice or misgivings, and no higher authority had seen it fit to intervene.The neglect, purposeful or otherwise, is kept a secret or the people could be reported as non-supportive of the government in power so that the higher authorities would not insist on helping them.

How can we bring out all these neglects and negative development into the open so that the government may recognize their existence and cause an inquiry to be made, call the peoples' representative responsible for the area to answer for them , and get some ameliorative action going? Only the private TV stations sometimes bring these areas into focus as done by Karam Singh Walia
and cause remedial action to be taken. Others remain unknown to the public and the government until found by accident.

It is in this regard that the newfound technology in the form of high-tech handphones with sophisticated cameras, the Facebook, twitters etc. can play a very important role in exposing these hidden or invisible dimensions of negative development or where development had not progressed at par with the national standard. Let us turn our hp cameras in the direction of these misfits and 'misfortunates' in as much as we love to capture the images of modernity, progress and the beauty of our people. We share them through the blogs, facebooks and the many faces of internet so that the government and those responsible cannot miss them. By exposing the areas and conditions in pictures, we will also expose the public servants or leaders who fail to take action to remedy the wrong or patch up the neglect. We cannot just depend oo the private TV station to do that while the radio can only describe the situation without showing convincing pictures. We must actually see them to be convinced and the entire population of the country with hps can certainly uncover every aspect of the neglect or negatives development in this country.

Yes, let our handphones with their digital imaging facilities talk. They don't lie.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

LIMA 2011 and Langkawi's 5 Year Development Plan

The Langkawi international Marine and Air show started on 6th December this yesr and will not end till tomorrow (10.12.11). The island is thronging with tourists and major hotels are full to capacity. Kuah the commercial centre, the Aiport area where the airshow activities are focused on, and Pantai Cenang the resort and entertaiment hubb reaching up to Porto Malai, are buzzing with people. You see them in dark coats and ties (the coperate and business people), in uniforms with shiny brass and colorful braids and stripes ( the police, army, marine and air officials) and those in casual holiday attire ( the tourists and other visitors). The first two groups can be seen rushing around to perform their duties, the thord group enjoying their visitation and shopping spree.

This time around another group became more prominent - the artists and cultural performers. LIMA had been combined with the Langkawi Cultural Festival organised by the Ministry of Tourism,, the Ministry of information and the Local Authority. While the days were filled with LIMA activities highlighted by the sights and sound of screaming jet planes crisscrossing the sky, the nights were filled with cultural shows that attracted the entire population of the island. At all the festival sites new make-shift shopping and business centers sprung up to blend with the existing permanet business premises. All seemed to be doing brisk business.

While the exhibition displaying models of the jet planes, jet engines, warships weaponries etc and the actual airshow with the MIG 29Ns, the Typhoons, the Super Hornets, the Sukhois etc performing all sorts of stunts in the air were excellent and breathtaking, one could not fail to notice that the number of partipants in both had shrunk. There were a number of empty counters in the Exhibition Center and the number of planes taking part in the airshow had decreased. Only five Smokeys took part in the air stunts perFormed by TUDM while there used to be nine. The rolls, the loops, the free falls, the steep climbs, the formation exhibits etc were okay but there was no Red Arrow kind of heart-throbbing performance, no double or tripple rolls with a jet shooting through it since shooting through the trail of a heart as performed by the TUDM wasn't that spectacular. There was no low,upside-down flying accross the airfield, which was shown once before by the Red Arrow team.

I did not visit the Marine show at Porta Malai since not much was said about it and the display of putting out a fire on a ship in open sea and the foiling of a boat's take-over attempt by pirates which i once saw, was not too spectacular either. i did not take the opportunity to see the controversial submarine that TLDM bought at a supposedly inflated price.

The question that must be asked is whether government had exploited the LIMA show to the full to promote Langkawi as a world class tourist destination. The participation of the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Information and Cultural Heritage seems to have made LIMA more eventful but my visit to the Cable Car ride at Gunung Mat Cincang, the Geopark River Ride, the Perdana Galleria, the Buffaloe Park, the handicraft Glass-blowing Center etc , did not convince me that these centers of attraction had been effectively marketted although some centers like the Makam Mahsuri had been improved. They were quite empty during my visit and there was no special events to greet the group visit asit was done outside the scheduled time. I would think that special events should be held when visitors arrived, not force them to come according to the scedule of the operators. The nature and elaborateness of the event or demonstration can be geared towards the size of the visiting group to cut down expenses. These and more events had to be organized if Langkawi is to become a world class tourist center like Bali, Phukett snd even Hawaii.

The M!inistry of Defence had to view LIMA as more than just a military showcase to display all the modern machine and weapons of war and combat and their capability. The social dimensions of defence must be explored and that includes protecting and promoting the cultural and economic aspects of life in Malaysia and on the legendary island. It must also think tourism like all the other ministrues since tourism is fast becoming a major income earner for the nation bringing in RM56.5 billion last year. All potentials for expanding the tourist trade mus be explored throuhg LIMA. Since the public has been shownn through LIMA all the capabilities of the jet planes and warships made by different countries, the public's view can also be sampled during The LIMA celebration. At least the Ministry and the Governmen will know what the public feels abput buying combat jet planes costing RM 3billion each as opposed to buying cheaper ones.

The Langkawi 5 Year Development Plan has also been announced by the PM which intends to bringing in 3 million by 2015 and earmarks a RM5billion investment package. The Plan will focus on promoting the Geopark, developing Pulau Dayang Bunting and Gunung Mat Cincang, building 5 more 5 star hotels, creating a Park Ranger Team, improving infrastructure , provide ding chartered air service and providing more incentives for holding meetings and convention in Langkawi. Would all these really attract more visitors if the entertainment packages are not significantly increased in variety and quality. The Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Information and Cultural Heritage should be spearheading a thorough reorganization, upgrading and marketing of the entertainment packages to support the 5 Year Development Plan.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Religion in a World of Science and Technology

Superpersonal Objects and Goals
A religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt about the significance of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation - Einstein.

A truly religious person will certainly respect the religious activities and rites of his/her friends and fellowmen or women, no matter what faith they espouse. It is usually the less religious or one who hold no proper religious faith that looks askance at or even look down upon people faithfully performing the prescriptions of their religious belief. As Einstein implied the "significance of those superpersonal objects and goals neither require nor are capable of rational foundation", meaning that you don't question them at all.

We don't question the faith that we hold nor should we question the faiths that others adopt. We respect their rights to perform all the activities and rites that their religion requires and we expect them to respect ours. The problem is those who don't hold on to any faith or who just pay lip service to a religion, do not know how to respect its requirements and prescriptions. In Islam especially among the Malays, that include those who consider themselves to be Muslims by birth and had no strong commitment to the religion. These people often flout the call to prayer five times in a day and night, would not refrain from taking food and drinks in the month of Ramadhan , would not go to the mosque for mass prayer and listen to the khutbah on Friday, would join others to ogle at females who strut around in a flimsy dress or takes pride in showing off their bossoms, instead of chiding them etc.

The adherents of a religion who do not uphold the requirements of the religion will of course have to contend with their own God in the hereafter (if at all they belief in that). But when they or those who don't subscribe to any religion, refuse to allow others to take time off to fulfill their religious obligations, that's a different story. They are showing disrespect and denying the rights of people to practice their own religion. This is apparent when, for example, meetings are held during the Muslim prayer time, functions begun in the evening before Muslims could perform the Maghrib prayer, and Muslims are not allowed to go off early on Friday to attend mass prayer at the mosque. Bosses who show such disrespect for the religion, are not only being irreligious but can be classified as anti-religion.

The lack of concern and respect for a religion and the activities or rites connected with it, is often reflected in a general apathy to the provision of facilities for fulfilling the requirement of the religion. The call to prayer in Islam is an essential part of the religion and yet there are people who oppose it, saying that it makes too much noise. What about the chanting and the singing in the church or temple? Printing the time schedule for Muslim prayers in the front page of the papers had been a long established practice. But that has been moved to the second or third page and in today's NST (2.12.11) , it's not even there anymore. The radio usually announced the time as we come close to it, but the TV, I am not sure. Must check it again. Such announcement is very important for the time schedule for Muslim prayers changes unlike the time schedule for Sunday Mass etc.

Even in this age of science and technology, religion still plays a major role in the life of most people.Why? It provides a set of values that never change while other values keep changing with the time. Religious truths are never challenged while all other truths are transient in nature and keep changing. What is truthe today may become an untruth tomorrow. Not in religion. Hence those who live by the good book are never derailed. Those who don't, even when they are highly educated and assume the status of geniuses, can ultimately flounder and become drowned in the quagmire of life's mysteries.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Islamic New Year 1433

Yes, we in Malaysia celebrate Ma'al Hijrah or the Islamic New Year. But only as a formal and ceremonial occasion orchestrated by the goverment. Year in and year out - it's now 1533 H - there's the usual congregation with invited guests and also opened to the public. There wiil be the usual do'a and al-quran recitals, lots of speeches, some religious show, songs and dances or pantomime, and the price giving ceremony to winners of the Ma'al Hijrahs' personality Awards.

A big do indeed. But it's no national celebration like Aidilfitri or Aidiladha, CNY, Deepavali, Christmas and the Gregorian New Year. It often goes without any recognizable reception in the homes of the average Muslims from all races in Malaysia, although that day is a public holiday and replaceable if it falls on a day that's already a public holiday.

It is the same in other Muslim countries. The muslim New Year has never become an important day to review one's performance in the past year, renew one's resolves and set new goals for the next year etc as is done when ushering in the Gregorian New Year. But in actual fact the first day of Muharam is a very important date in the history of Islam since it was the day Prophet Muhammad SAW and his friends migrated from Mecca to Madinah and started establishing and expanding the influence of the religion. The event is known as the Hijra. - moving from a state of ignorance or irreligiousity to following the path of righteousness as set by Allah through the last of His Prophets and the al-Quran. For the Muskims as a whole hijra means leaving all that is bad and prohibited or disdained by Allah and turning over a new leaf. It is equivalent to reviewing ones performance in the past year and setting new resolves and goals, very much like we are expected to do with the coming of a new year on the Gregorian calender.

Muslims are supposed to hold a special prayer (solat sunat) at the mosques like on the day of celebrating Aidilfitri and Aidiadha. All mosques should be holding that prayer. But are we doing that? In Malaysia we have the big function as already mentioned which does not include a mass prayer. Is this because Prophet Muhammad had not prescribed explicitly that a mass prayer should be held on the occasion of Maal Hijra. The same can also be said about his birthday - Maulid Nabi. Yet tbe celebration is more widely held. Shouldn't there be, therefore, an attempt to make Ma'al Hijrah more meaningful to all Muslims, young and old. After all It's the day that Islam really began to establish itself as a world religion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Value Conflict- We Sometimes Undo Our own efforts..

On the one hand we are trying to make Malaysians, especially the Bumiputras, self-reliant, competitive, and not depend on subsidies or government assistance to seek progress. Special rights and quotas are being weeded away to give way to open competition and meritocracy. Even the concept of achieving an equity in capital shares has been thrown overboard just like ensuring bumiputra participation in any new capital venture. A foreign company can now operate in the country without any bumiputra share or involvement at all...

Yes indeed. The Bumiputras have been so dependent on government protection, subsidies, grants, quotas etc such that they cannot compete on their own. (That's the assumption anyway). So now let them learn to compete on their own steam, no handicap whatever, no special treatment. We race on the same ground - all races, one Malaysia.

But are we (or the government) not at the she time undoing some of the new values we are trying to nurture? So many funds are being set up to help those for whom each specific fund is established. I wonder how the Auditor-General can be able to audit all those funds since they are not being controlled by specific government agency. But more. Government seems to be giving assistance here, there and everywhere, mostly in cold cash, like giving school children a handout of RM100 each. So mush money seems to be splashed around in the spirit of "Yohoho, Merry Christmas." Big projects.big spending and big money seem to be the talk of the town, while at the same time government is encouraging people to save and spend money wisely in view of the anticipated global recession.

Everywhere around I see the signs of conspicuous consumption with the increasing number of shopping malls and complexes cropping up in KL and other major cities. Is this the harbinger of the arrival of a high income nation with inflation fast tagging along on its heel? And yet our growth rate is not reaching anywhere near what it sued to be at 7-8%. We will be lucky to achieve a 5-6% growth rate in the next few years.

Well, I hope I'm totally wrong and off the mark. Only that will give us some comfort that things will always be much better than before. This itself is a value conflict - one aspiring for a better life hoping that he is wrong and not hoping to be right.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Giving Schoolchildren RM100.

A hundred bucks may not be much nowadays. But parents don't usually give away RM100 to their kids for kicks. Once they get into the habit of receiving the big ones for their pleasure, the tenner, the fiver and the little ones mean nothing anymore. Give them a tenner and they might just pull a sour face with a nasty pout of the lips.

Kids from wealthy families in the city maybe used to getting the 100 and 50 smackeroo. Must we now spread that expectation to the poorer kids in the rural areas? Government's intention of giving them the handout as emblazoned by the papers maybe good but that could revive the old dependency on government subsidy and aid syndrome, among the kids of today.

Kids are learning a lot of things from the school today, more than just from the books amd teachers. The school is a melting pot of juvenile behaviors as nurtuted by many families. All the good and bad habits developed in the familly are brought to the school by the kids and are slowly rubbed onto each other through friendship and emulation. It is in the school that children picked up msny of the offensive habits that parents do not tolerate or approve at home. It is there that habits like bullying the young and the weak, cheating to get around certain problems, buying favors and influence from schoolmates, ganging up to protect oneself from other groups and cliques, and even learning to commit little crimes and misdemeanours for kicks as a group activity.

One of the less hihlighted things that children learn in school is spending and saving money. They are given some pocket money everyday. While some received a lot and have no problem of buying whatever they want from the school canteen or even the shops and shopping complexes around their school, others received barely enough to feed themselves during school- break. They thus learn to borrow and cheat some friends with lots of money to spare.

Now, how would the sudden gift of money from the government or any other rich benefactor, affect the spending habit of the children with little money to spare? They would probably go out to buy whatever they have longed for all these while, go on a spending spree that they had never experinced. Of course a hundred ringgit won't take them far but enough to have the experince of being "rich" - a false experince surely for they will be poor gain after the money is spent. Then what? They might expect another handout from the government and if they don't get it, their attitude towards the givernment might suddenly change.

Yes, the gesture of giving money to the needy children in school is certainly good. But as Confucius said, give a msn some fish and he has food for a day. But teach him how to fish and he will have food for the rest of his life. Wouldn't it be better to let the children earn the money somehow? Or put the money in a savings account and let the children learn how to operate and build up the account. That would be more useful to them as a learning experince than to be "rich" for one or two days and then becoming poor again, or feeling even poorer and envious of the rich after the experience. Unless, of course, the government will continue to give the handout off and on, and let the children develop a dependency syndrome that government is trying to stamp out from the poorer Malaysians.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Brief weekend in Penang.

Nothing's more invigorating than visiting a place which has not been visited a long while. For Penang, a long while could mean just a year or two. My last visit was when the airport was being renovated and we have to wait outside the building amidst road repairs and construction work to get in or get out of the airport. The crowd was chaotic.

While expansion work still continues, much of the renovation is now complete. With the lower and upper level division of the traffic flow into and out of the airport, congestion has been reduced considerably. And there are now several alternative routes that could be taken to and from the airport. So said Mr Babjan who picked my wife and me from the airport and also sent us home today. A most charming private transport owner and operator.

We stayed at a posh new hotel in Queensbay, close to the Queensbay Mall. From the hotel we could see the new bridge being built striding the channel past Pulau Jerejak. I don't know how close it is to that island but since it used to be the grand residential place for ISA visitors, I sure wish to pass by it one day when the bridge is completed. Or maybe even visit the legendary island which has lost its scary reputation after the ISA is abolished.

I had also observed the island from the top of Bukit Bendera. That was our rendezvous the next day - I mean Bukit Bendera not Pulau Jerejak about which I have read quite a lot from ex-ISA detainees who became famous writers. No, they didn't write about the island but their experience as a political detainee on it. The top of Bukit Bendera is more accessible now with the introduction of the buggy ride costing RM30 for a ride with four or six passengers, ( No reduction there but you get a bigger buggy!) . I had a chance to see many of the palatial bungalows hidden in the rich forest foliage atop the hill, owned by rich and famous Malaysians.
A dilapidated canopy-walk facility down to the seashore remained unrepaired after the main trees connecting the rope-bridge was struck by lightening some years ago. It looks like a very precious visitors' item but neglected by the authorities concerned,since the bungalows were not opened to the public.

The funicular railway taking people up Bukit Bendera has of course been modernized and can take up to a hundred passengers on one trip up or down. available every 10 minutes. No queuing is enforced and during peak hours the holding area can be pretty jammed up. I do think that queuing could bring more order and comfort while limiting the number of passengers can allow for a better viewing of the hill vegetation, the scattered farm houses and of course the top or the bottom of the hill. I did not, however, see any major changes in the scenery due to the development of new items of attraction, although some years had passed since my last visit. Nor had the refreshment center or the toilet facilities improved much,

We were in Penang to see the Penang Beat Prelude, a international show of drums sand percussion music performed by artists from Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. It was a most captivating show although starting it off with a price giving-away ceremony by the Head of State for various art competitions, stole away some of the excitement. The performances themselves were awesome and we did not leave the show, half of the time standing up at the back, until 11.30 pm. Although terribly exhausted that night after the show, Miss JY, the young and vibrant State Director of Tourism, found time to have a late nightcap with us at the hotel lounge,together with her most spirited magazine-editor friend, Miss TSA.

We flew back to KL this afternoon with a memory of Penang that is clean, a haven for exotic food, and vigorously growing with new industrial and commercial centers taking shape everywhere over land reclaimed from the sea. What did we bring back beside a delectable memory? Piclked fruits, of course, including jeruk buah pala.. We. of course. did not miss Nasi Kandar Kayu and Cendul, before leaving the island.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Different World....

I spent the Aidiladha holidays in my village of origin (which according to the Negri Sembilan Adat Laws includes my wife's village), and bought all the newspapers available for my reading pleasure. They include two or three papers that do not qualify to be considered as the mainstream news media. In fact two maybe considered as the voice of the opposition.

Reading the two latter papers, I found myself in an almost totally different world. The names of people and places are the same but the stories have a slant that makes me feel quite foreign, or an alien who has dropped into a strange and chaotic world. The front pages suggested that this country is so rich that the wife and daughter of it's number one leader could spend a few hundred thousand ringgit shopping from just one foreign department store. Then we have a report on the government financial expenditure as examined by the Auditor-General. God. We seem to pay some RM27 million for an armed combat vehicle which other countries bought at some RM4-5 million. Thus the bill for more than 200 vehicles went up to RM6 billion or more. My maths does not allow men to remember such amount of money whereas only a billion or a little more should have been sufficient if the purchase was not made through an Agent.

Well, who cares if we have so much money.Even a drinking glass which normally costs RM2-3 may cost RM150 or more if we chose one made of crystal. A ceiling light can be bought for less than RM100 but an imported chandelier may cost you a few hundred thousand ringgit. The world offers something for the poor and also for the super rich. But when a comparatively poor country buys a Rolls Royce for its ambassadors, we begin to question the wisdom of the decision makers. However, Malaysia is not that poor and is aspiring to become a high-income nation in 2020. Should we, therefore, start to lead a life of what the economists refer to as high consumption? There is no doubt that government doles out billions of ringgit in assistance, subsidies and bail-outs. No problem. But yes, we have problems when you can't even take care of all the poor and helpless, provide those incapable of doing normal work with a comfortable living allowance, and allow beggars to walk the street begging for a living.

Whatever the reason for purchasing the more expensive material for national defense and national prestige, there is no justification for extravagant wastage. The Auditor General's Report seem to show that rich government organizations are spending far beyond their allocations and making the budgeting process a mere farce.

The voice of the opposition I refer to painted a picture of us living in a totally corrupted nation with corrupted leaders all around us. We are surround by tragic incidents, inhuman sufferings and criminal offenses including murders and rapes. We are among the damned and the doomed. God, no wonder some foreign countries have a totally different picture of life in this blessed country where even the oppositions and the critics live in comfort and plenty. Sometime I wonder if I am really looking at the real or make-belief world around me. It's easy to get confused.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

May Aidiladha Be a Blessing to You.

Aidiladha is here again for the Muslims, another festive occasion but withb a different message and objective from Aidilfitri. It's to commemorate the sacrifice of a beloved son, Ismail, by prophet Ibrahim (AH) as an obeissance to Allah's injunction. Only when he was about to slaughter his son who faithfully submited himself to be sacrificed, did Allah replace the son with a sheep. Thus, the prophet's and his son's undivided piety and subjugation to Allah was proven as well as Allah's magnanimity and kindness. Subhanallah.

Millions of Muslims are now gathered in Mecca al-Mukarramah to perform the Haj, one of the rites being to perform the Wukuf at Arfah. Here all the pilgrims, irrespective of their social or economic standing in life, race and color, will meet to perform the mandatory prayer - the biggest gathering of Muslims, symbolic of the grand assembly of all human before Allah at Mahsyar on the Day of Judgement. On that Day everything that you did in your life on earth will be evaluated and your Book of Life given to you. If it's handed to you with the right hand, you're destined for Heaven; if it's handed to you with the left hand you are bound for Hell...

The Wukuf takes place on the 9th of Dzulhijjah, which this year will fall on Saturday the 5th of November, 2011, followed by Aidiladha on the 6th. On that day of mass gathering and prayer for the Haj pilgrims in Arfah, Muslims all over the world are advised by Prophet Muhammad SAW to fast since that day of fasting can dissove his or her sins for one previous year and for the whole of the next year. This seems to be a most importsnt promise by Prophet Muhammaf SAW which only a few Muxlims have observed or even know about. The emphasis given to Aidiadha had always been on the quban - the sacrifice of animals ( cows, camels, sheep etc) after the Aidiladha prayer in the mosque. This of course will be the day of celebration itself when Muslims will recite the Takbir ( Allahuakbar), Tahmid (Alhamdulliah) and Tasbih ( Subhanallah). The celebration and recitation after prayers will go on for four days. One can compare this to the month long celebration for Aidifitri, after a month of fasting.

So, the celebration for Aidiadha seems shorter and so is the fervor, although the case is reversed, they say, in Kelsntan. We don't even see the shopping complexes and the city streets dressed up heavily for the occasion. Aidiladha seems to be more a commemoration for the pilgrims who will be annointed as Hajis, rather than a celebration. But do Muslims really appreciate the full significance of the occasion in terms of it's most importsnt goal -- for all Muslims to get together in prayer (especially in Mecca) irrespective of their positions in life, racial origins and the color of their skin, to sffirm that they pray only to one God that is Allah, and that they are brethren before God. As the pilgrims in Mecaa do, they should drop all their differences, accept each other ss equal before Allah, and perform all their obligations to Allah and all humanity with goodwill, humility and compasion.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Today's New Craze- 4 Fs

It appears to me that we in this country (and perhaps others too) face four new craze starting with the letter 'F' - Football. Facebook , Festivities (music, concert, shows) and Films. Of course you can add many others including Food, Fooling around etc. The items may not be new but the fervor and power of attraction are, especially among the younger people.

Negri 9 has just emerged as the Malaysian football champion, a position erstwhile held by Trengganu. It just goes to show that you cannot hope to remain at the top all the time. A little mistake and the position may change. You cannot be complacent and rely on feedback from your fans only. Of course you can regain the position later but lost time can change a lot of things.

The craze for football seems obvious today with the World League, the European League and the Malaysian League becoming the talk of the town. Whether you are in the shopping complex, at bus stops, coffee shops and even in the mosque you can here people talking about football. The National and State footballers are heroes, their names being more popular than some of the less-known political leaders, even among Cabinet members. Let alone World Cup heroes like Pele, Maradona, Becham and Ronaldo. Our football fans seem to know them better than their neighbors. Even children begin to know their names faster than the alphabet. While other sports are also gaining popularity, football seems to have a greater following. At the international level the stars are being traded and bought over for millions by rich clubs, We haven't come to that stage in Malaysia but the price money seems to be going up all the time. And the fans seem to get wilder and more aggressive as the price of tickets go up.

Facebook is of course taking the world by its ears. Almost every computer user (and who is not today?) has his own Wall in FB. Several hours are spent each day chatting or communicating on FB. The world has suddenly shrunk since even friends on the other side of the globe can be contacted almost instantaneously accompanied by live pictures if you like through Skype and video link.
Parents are getting worried to see their children spending more time on the FB than on their studies, husbands and wives getting worried for their partners now could say whatever they want to whoever they want without becoming embarrassed or causing any embarrassment. Some even enjoy reading saucy and weird chats on FB. It can be more fun than watching commercialized soaps on the tube.

Festivities like concerts, music and other live shows on TV and radio have, of course, been popular for decades. A day without listening to some music could be as dry as salad without the sauce. But technology had enabled youngsters to walk (or even drive) around with their ears plugged to a thumbnail pod which contains hundreds in not thousands of music and songs. They seemed lost to the world, sometimes dancing around to the tune even while walking in the street. Otherwise they would be talking into a handphone. People looking from afar would think they are crazy talking to or dancing with unseen partners. Don't try to talk to them when they are not looking at you or you get riled up as do some parents when they ask their children to do something but getting no response whatever because his or her ears are plugged.

As regard films, there is now a great devotion to fantasy films including sci-fi and ghost stories. Triggered by the Harry Porter and Lord of the Ring series followed by the Avatar, real-life stories however interesting and dramatic don't sell anymore. Malay ghost films and pseudo=science fiction with CGIs now conquer the theatres projecting box office returns to double digit millions. Very encouraging but for the fact that they take the young away from realities and into the fantasy world. Ghost stories make fun of the dead and trade on cheap scares. When are the youths and other citizens of the country to be fed with human epics and dramas that develops the soul and character. The malay dramas on TV seem to have no other theme but greed for wealth, husbands' infidelity and adolescent love affairs, That's beside ghost stories as well.

So, where is the focus of the Malaysians, especially the young ones, in terms of striving for progress in life? Is football, Facebook, festivities and films going to be the major concern and attraction or other things that will affect the country's future. Many children today see the sports ( football, badminton, golf, cycling, etc as a desirable future career while becoming a pop singer or filmstar is
a constant dream. Even youths in the rural areas are not interested in producing rubber, oil palm, and planting rice anymore even when the income is most promising. The urban ones with university education are of course interested to become corporate executive without any experience whatever in business and trade. Who then are going to fill in the ranks of entrepreneur apprentice and small businessmen to help propel the country to become a high income nation? The politicians? The professionals?
The technical and blue collar workers?

Perhaps a new human drama is unfolding right in front of our very eyes. But are we focusing on the right thing?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Deepavali and the God of War

After Hariya Aidilfitri comes Deepavali which is today, to be followed by Hariraya Aidiladha (haji) and then Christmas. Yes, Malaysia is rich in festives days. Happy Deepavali to all my friends who celebrate the occasion and a happy holiday to all others who will surely join them with a feast of muruku and other delicacies.

The celebration for Deepavali will of course be more at home than at Batu Cave as in the case of Thaipusam. I csn already see my neighbor's residence being lighted up since last night. I met my neighbor's wife Sunita on coming from prayer last night and she was pretty upset. Some stray cats had made a mass out of her beautifully colored rice arrangement ( called kolam) and she had to redo it all over again. Thank God i did not let my cat, Joened, lose last night. In fact we never allowed him to come out of the house because the last one we had called Awan, just disappeared after coming out in the morning to follow me to the madrasah a short distance away from our house. We never found him again even after a thorough search of the neighborhood. May God bless him.

It's funny how a pet cat that we love can just disappear like Awan, when several stray cats can be seen loitering and litering around in our neighborhood. Before Awan we also lost a cat which my daughter brought all the way from the Netherland as a beloved pet. She came out of the house for only a very brief period after getting used to our home. It was impossible for her to have walked away any distance at all for she was very timid and cautious of the new surrounding. Some of the stray cats we see around were so noisy amd quareellous that we sometime wished forbthem to dissappear, but they never did.

Batu Cave will not miss out in the celebration anyway for an open house reception will be held there to be attended by the PM, DPM and the other bigwigs of Barisan. It is expected that some 15,000 people will throng the sacred place now dubbed as the Mecca of Hinduism with the efigy of Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of War , reputed to be the largest in the world, guarding the place. It is also said that Batu Cave has become the highest training ground for all Hindu priests ( samis). The place that used to be a tourist attraction spot has now assumed a sacred mentle. Millions of Hindus will flock there during Thaipusam. There are all the signs that the township around the area wiil soon grow into another metroplitan area like Setapak.

Well, the open house reception in Batu Cave seems set to become as hectic and populous as the Thaipusam celebration. Batu Cave under the guardianship of Lord Murugan may yet become the centre of world Hiduism, giving Malaysia a new spot in world history. Happy Deepavali to all Malaysians.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Raising Age of Retirement to 60

Government had all the good intentions for raising the retirement age to 60 in the public service. It's to retain the services of the well trained and experienced personnel for yet a few more years while the younger ones get their exposure and training. It would also keep able bodied employees to go on working without the having to search for a new job to make ends meet. It would also ensure that experienced workers do not have to leave the service in great numbers leaving greenhorns to handle the job.

BUT the younger people who are searching for employment must necessarily be disturbed. Though government had promised that the creation of new job opportunities will not be jeopardized by the extension in retirement age, it will be the managers who are left to keep the door for new employment open. If they decide to shut the door for a while to take stock of their existing employees, the impact will be strongly felt in the job market, and there's nothing that the government can do to reduce its backlash on the good intention of the policy. The government is certainly putting its future in the hands of the managers.

One obvious response is now seen, from the Public Services itself. It is learnt that the Public Service will not conduct any new recruitment as a result of the extension in retirement age. All existing vacancies will not be filled in. For how long, no one knows. But the universities, the institutions of higher studies and the schools are going to pour out more and more young men and women into the job market. The government being the most important employer in the country would be asking for trouble if the public service closes its door to new recruitment as a result of the newly announced policy.

More importantly, the private sector might follow the Public Service lead. It might also decide to close its door to new recruitment since the attrition rate of existing employees will suddenly take a plunge. Where, therefore, will the new entrants into the labor force go to find jobs? The Public Service should never have frozen efforts to take in new recruits to fill in existing vacancies. It will totally destroy the good intentions of the new government policy. Unless government has other plans to employ the new entrants to the labor force, the action of the Public Service will turn the new policy into a bane.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Religious Pride......

While we don't have an open war between religion now, there certainly are feuds and enmity between religious groups. When the groups represent different races or nationalities, then the enmity assumes a more serious nature. But thank God, the feuds or clashes so far remain covert and do not flare up into an open war.

More difficult to understand are the clashes and enmity between groups professing the same religion in the same or different countries. In this age of keen competition for survival and progress, one would expect that people professing the same religion would stick together and help each other to establish and strengthen their religious belief (if not to do some proselytizing work). But no, we have many clashes within the same religion because of different sects within the religion. Prophet Mohamed (SAW) said that Christianity would break up into 72 sects while Islam will break up into 73. That presages the clashes that would come about ultimately.

But do all those following a certain sect in one religion know exactly where they differ from the beliefs of the other sects? Or do they just allow themselves to be dragged into a certain sect because of PARENTAL UPBRINGING AND NATIONAL or COMMUNAL IDENTITY? What's amazing is that we don't quite see these differences in everyday life, especially when one's religious belief is considered as a private matter and the rituals involved do not take a prominent aspect of everyday life. If the differences remain unobvious and unobtrusive, there is no reason why they should interfere in the daily life of the various groups following different sects in the same religion, and cause them to clash with each other.

But we do see such enmity and clashes as much as clashes between the followers of different religion. Is it really because of the different teachings or because of the RELIGIOUS PRIDE each group exhibits? Each sect or
school of thought in a religion often considers itself more righteous and sanctified than the others, leading to mutual aversion. In Malaysia the enmity is not even caused by a difference in the school of thoughts or 'mazhab" but by political affiliation. But the aversion for each other has led to various disagreement on matters of religion itself, dividing the Muslims into two different camps - not because of religion but because of politics.

There's yet another divisive factor at work which comes under the category of RELIGIOUS PRIDE. That is the "hollier than thou" attitude of the ulamaks, imams and even Hajis and Lebais in their interaction with the ordinary members of the public, be they Muslims or non Muslims. They have distinguished themselves by their dress. While that does not bother the ordinary man anymore, they often assume that the ordinary man is stupid, ungrateful to Allah, and very irreligious, especially in the Friday sermons (khutbah). They preach to others as if they are beyond any religious reproach while the religious pride they exhibit is enough to be called 'riak.' May Allah forgive them all.

What is important is to note that this RELIGIOUS PRIDE; could be more damaging to the unity of the people of the world with different religious beliefs, and the ummah although under one religion i.e. Islam, than the differences in religion and religious faiths itself. Different religion and even different sects under the same religion do no seem to divide people more than the RELIGIOUS PRIDE that people, especially religious leaders, exhibit among themselves and their followers.