Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Samy Vellu and Khairy contradicts each other

MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said Karpal Singh, who has been vocal on the Islamic state issue and hudud laws, appeared to have “surrendered to PAS”. [The Star, 29/12/08]

KUALA LUMPUR: Pas is being forced to bow to the DAP on the hudud issue, deputy Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said. [NST, 23/12/08]

Barisan Nasional leaders are exploiting any opportunity to derail any chances of Pakatan Rakyat seizing the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat by January 17. The Opposition's credibility to rule has been duly doubted when PAS vice-president Datuk Husam Musa said his party will implement the Islamic hudud laws when the Pakatan Rakyat takes control of the government. DAP and other Barisan Nasional leaders, in response have publicly rebuked Husam.

The PAS vice-president then made a 'U-turn' in a statement where he assured his Pakatan Rakyat colleagues and the Malaysian public that hudud laws would unlikely be implemented as it requires the consent of all political parties in the Opposition coalition.

All component parties of the Pakatan Rakyat have since re-pledge their support for PAS as they battle for Kuala Terengganu come January 17. Pakatan Rakyat's candidate for the by-election would come from the PAS.

Click here to read the previous article on this issue.

Husam's rash comments were interpreted as a sign of weakness within the Pakatan Rakyat hegemony - something which Barisan Nasional leaders could capitalise on. However, some responses given by key figures of the ruling coalition were somewhat contradictory.

Claim #1: PAS surrendered to DAP

One notable figure in the ruling coalition to have gone public over the issue was the Prime Minister's son-in-law and deputy UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin. In his blog, he described PAS as “appearing to be brave and in high spirits” during the campaign but was now “listlessly bowing down to the intimidation of DAP”.

“It has not even been two days since Datuk Husam loudly guaranteed his supporters that hudud will be implemented if Pakatan Rakyat took federal power. And now he has surrendered.” Khairy told reporters. [The Malaysian Insider, 23/12/08]

Claim #2: DAP surrendered to PAS

MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu criticised DAP chairman and Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh; calling him a 'toothless' tiger for pledging his party's support for PAS in the Kuala Terengganu by-election. Samy Vellu said Karpal Singh, who has been vocal on the Islamic state issue and hudud laws, appeared to have “surrendered to PAS”.
“The tiger (Karpal Singh) appears to have surrendered to PAS. He should be consistent with his stand (on the hudud laws) and not become a puppet of Pas. This (the agreement to work together to win the seat) indicates that he (Karpal Singh) and his party (DAP) will give in and abandon their principles for the sake of ensuring a victory for the opposition candidate,” the MIC president said. [The Malaysian Insider, 28/12/08]

The obvious contradiction both Khairy and Samy Vellu expressed in their criticism towards the Opposition shows that Barisan Nasional were merely playing a political word game to exploit the situation to their favour.

If the same principle applies, would it then be safe to say that UMNO had also once 'surrendered' to MCA who pressured UMNO to discipline a certain Ahmad Ismail for his racist slurs against the Malaysian Chinese community?

...or had MIC also 'surrendered' to UMNO at one point of time for their silence over the mass demolitions of Hindu shrines and temples in Selangor?

...or did MCA 'surrendered' to UMNO for not publicly standing up against the slandering threats of another May 13 racial clash by keris-welding UMNO members?

So, the question that begs to be answered is: Who has surrendered to who?

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Friday, December 26, 2008

From pig farms to Ketuanan Melayu, says Pewaris

-A commentary-

Yes, the very title itself does not make any sense.

The Heritage Associations, Malay Cultural Organisations and Related Bodies Cooperation Network (Pewaris) recently held a protest against pig farming in the district of Masjid Tanah, Malacca where the majority of its population are Muslim Malays. Pig farming in a Malay majority area has been a hotly debated issue for some time as pork consumption is strictly forbidden under Islam. But of course, other non-religious reasons include sewage management and health related issues. After all, who would like a pig farm in his backyard?

The Masjid Tanah pig farming issue seemed to have ballooned into a racial concern when Pewaris organized a gathering specifically for the Muslim Malay population to discuss issues related to the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), NEP, inter-racial relations and the current pig-farming activities in Masjid Tanah. How does pig farming relate to Ketuanan Melayu is anyone's guess?

The Malacca State government have been asked to consider a relocation of pig farming activities in Masjid Tanah to a Chinese-majority area. Sure, the people of Masjid Tanah have a legitimate plea and Malaysians could understand their argument in the religious context but how far is Pewaris willing to go in their fight without inciting racial sentiments? The following are banners set up by Pewaris to rally support for its cause.

Some phrases on Pewaris' banners are found to be somewhat disturbing:
  • The first picture reads "Pigs (pig-farming) are on the rise, Malays are busy politicking and Masters become Slaves, it is the Malay community who suffers the most"
  • The second; "Pig! Pig Pig! Malay dignity is sold for fear of offending those Pork Eaters."
Clearly, some quarters did not take Pewaris' protest too kindly when a pig carcass was found hanging by one of the organisation's banners soon after it was erected. This sparked outraged Pewaris members to respond by burning pig effigies in public to condemn the irresponsible and offensive act. So far, no one has come forth to claim responsibility for it.

Nonetheless, as a Malaysian, I am utterly ashamed of those who resorted to hideous acts to make a point. I am truly angered and appalled for such ignorance towards the sensitivities of the our Muslim compatriots. Whatever religion or creed we may believe in, there is no excuse whatsoever for any of us to offend or insult one another in that way. Obviously, some Malaysians do not realise we live in a plural society where religious and racial harmony are balanced on a feather's end.

The whole dilemma of pig-farming and the aftermaths of countless protests and counter-protests have both parties to be blamed. Pewaris have probably gone a wee-bit too far in their protest while certain irresponsible individuals thought it was funny to hang pig carcasses. So who is to be held accountable?

Firstly, before anyone assumes I am an undercover Pewaris member or a pig farmer sympathizer, I would like to clarify that I remain neutral. I believe that compromises from both sides are equally essential to effectively resolve the pig farming issue in Masjid Tanah.

Malaysians and generally, the non-Muslim population need not get bitter over the whole pig farming issue or against the Malay community in Masjid Tanah. The local community in that area and their representative, Pewaris are not calling for a total ban on pork consumption nor are they torching pig farms around the country.

Non-Muslims must understand that the Malay community of Masjid Tanah have a legitimate plea. Pigs/Pork are indeed forbidden in the religion of Islam. As Muslims, I understand if the people of Masjid Tanah are not comfortable of having pig farms in their area.

However, in the ringgit sense, such a massive undertaking is easier said than done. Mind you, the constituency of Masjid Tanah alone has more than 80 pig farms!

But pig farm owners have no problem relocating only if Pewaris could offer a better package or solution for them without incurring losses. Has Pewaris presented any form of solution to the problem? No.

So, Pewaris must realise that they will not achieve anything by hanging racially-phrased banners, organizing countless forums or by burning heaps of pig effigies unless they can sit down and negotiate a solution with pig farm owners like civilized men. Pewaris has no reason to be racially-motivated either.

So who should draw the line then? The answer is the state government. Pig farms like every other industries rake in revenues for state coffers in the form of taxes. But then again, who is to be blamed for allowing 80 plus pig farms to run its business near a Malay-majority population for all these years? A suggestion would require the state government to bear any losses if those farms are to be relocated but we are talking about 80 pig farms here. Feasible? Maybe but highly unlikely.

This whole pig farming issue could well turn into a racial problem if left unresolved. All parties embroiled in this struggle should be realistic enough to know that there is no way to make everyone happy. Hopefully, in time, the state government, pig farm owners and the local community could agree on a solution which serves the greater good. For the sake of racial harmony, a compromise is better than not having a solution at all.

Then again, was Malaysia not formed on compromises?
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

MCA guilty of hypocrisy for Pakatan criticism

PETALING JAYA: PKR and DAP should make their stand on PAS’ goal to implement hudud law should the Pakatan Rakyat win in a general election, MCA Youth Chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong said. [The Star, 22/12/08]

In the tense build up to the Kuala Terengganu by-election scheduled for January 17 next year, PAS made a remark that would strain the already fragile alliance with it's secular Pakatan Rakyat counterparts; possibly undermining the coalition's chances of winning the parliamentary seat. The party's vice-president Datuk Husam Musa was an unpleasant surprise when he said PAS would implement hudud law if the Pakatan Rakyat coalition seizes control of the federal government.

In Islamic law, hudud refers to a set of punishments that would introduce whipping, stoning and amputation as punishment for serious criminal offenses.

Husam Musa's latest statements came at an inappropriate time when both the country's political entities are vying for the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat. It was understood that Muslim Malay voters make up 88% of ballot-casters in the constituency while the Chinese stands at a meagre 11%. Nonetheless, the non-Muslim votes are just as decisive in tipping the scale of support for either the incumbent Barisan Nasional or the Opposition come January 17.

The idea of hudud laws being implemented has always been a big no-no among non-Muslims and to some, a threat to multiracial harmony. That being said, Barisan Nasional have just gone one up against the Pakatan Rakyat with the 11% now thinking twice of casting their votes for the latter.

The Chinese-dominated DAP quickly disassociates itself from Husam Musa's statements. Ipoh Timur MP Lim Kit Siang (image) clarified that the implementation of hudud laws was not part of Pakatan Rakyat's policy and reinterated the secular status of the country as agreed in the social contract.

Barisan Nasional leaders even took the opportunity to further inflict damage on their political rivals.

"That is only political rhetoric, trying to be a champion for the Malays without thinking of the nation's multiracial structure. Hudud is only a small claim in Islam. Not implementing hudud does not mean we fail to become good Muslims," said former Selangor Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo. [The Star, 22/12/08]

"The most important thing is what exactly is the policy when they run the government. I think people will look for that," said MCA Wanita chief Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun. [The Malaysian Insider, 22/12/08]

"In the last election, PAS used the slogan welfare state. They did not bring up the issue of hudud but before that they did. Now it seems like the party leaders want to implement hudud. This is a matter of credibility. Hudud is used as a political slogan only but nothing is implemented by them," said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. [The Malaysian Insider, 22/12/08]
MCA, a component party of the Barisan Nasional now has a foothold in its attempt to recapture the support of the Chinese community after a disappointing run of defeats during the March 8 Elections. Its Youth Chief, Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong launched an attack on the Pakatan Rakyat, saying the PKR and DAP (both secular) should make their stand on the implementation of hudud laws.

“Other political parties in the Pakatan Rakyat should announce publicly whether they agree with PAS on the implementation of hudud law. They (PAS) should not hide the fact that their ultimate goal is to fish vote,” he told reporters. [The Star, 22/12/08]
Yes, it is imperative that PKR and PAS clarify their stands on the issue as it would certainly cause concerns among many non-Muslims if it is left unresolved. But then again, what gives the pot the right to call the kettle black?

Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad (image), some years ago, once declared that Malaysia was an Islamic state despite the absence of such mention in the Constitution. The Constitution only assures Islam as the official religion of the federation but nothing was written to support the idea of Malaysia being an Islamic country. Even so, Malaysia cannot be an Islamic country since alcohol consumption and gambling are permitted.

Again in 2007, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak irked many when he reaffirmed Malaysia is and has always been an Islamic country. He reasoned that Malaysia has been governed all along on Islamic fundamentals and therefore, it merits Malaysia as an Islamic country. But are not good principles of governance universal, irregardless of religion?

It is not a problem for non-Muslims to accept the fact that their country is governed by Islamic principles which are indeed noble and just. After all, good and fair governance is what people want at the end of the day. But to declare Malaysia as an Islamic state is not only unconstitutional but also poses a scenario where acceptance from the non-Muslim community is near to impossible.

If such statements by leaders who declare Malaysia an Islamic state could cause so much discomfort and confusion among Malaysians, where was MCA then to demand UMNO states to make their stand on Tun Mahathir's declaration? Dr Wee said any collaboration between political parties would have a consensus on their political struggle and ideology. So why the lack of consensus among UMNO and MCA then and the holier-than-thou finger-pointing now?
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Friday, December 19, 2008

PM residence costs Govt RM6 million a year

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government spends RM6.01 million a year on the Prime Minister's sprawling residence in the administrative capital Putrajaya for rental and upkeep.[Daily Express Sabah, 12/12/08]

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi admitted RM6.01 million was paid annually to the state-owned corporation, Putrajaya Holdings for rental and maintenance of his official residence, the Sri Perdana. He was responding to an Opposition query in the Dewan Rakyat. Putrajaya Holdings' main shareholders are national energy giant, Petronas.

The Deputy Prime Minister's residence, on the other hand, drains public coffers of another RM4.3 million a year. In total, the government has to fork out a staggering RM10 million annually, simply to keep a roof above the heads of the country's top two leaders.

The official abode of the Prime Minister, known as Sri Perdana, is a complex of three buildings which consists of a reception area, banquet facilities and a residence. The buildings are spread across 16 hectares of land in the heart of the country's administrative capital, Putrajaya.

Kuala Kerai MP (PAS), Dr. Mohd. Hatta Ramli and Penang Chief Minister shared similar reservations for the extravagant expenditure the government has to bear for the both official residences.

"It is wasteful to spend so much money on renting the Prime Minister's house when the country is facing such tough times. Even though the money is going back to a government-linked company, this should not be the case as the Government should really own the building the Prime Minister occupies," Hatta Ramli said. [AFP, 12/12/08]
"We can understand paying maintenance, but rental does not make sense. This also begs the question as to who are the directors of the company and who gets all the profit made by the company, " Lim told reporters. [AFP, 12/12/08]

It is indeed mind boggling as to why the government has to pay rent for its own Prime Minister and his deputy when each of their official residences should be state-owned.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Leave the kids out of JERIT, please!

-A commentary-

The police stopped a team of more than 50 cyclists in Jerit's ‘Ride for Change' campaign in Rawang yesterday in order to "save" the under-aged cyclists from being exploited. [Malaysiakini, 16/12/08]

Not wanting to sound and look like the villain in what has been heavily condemned as a form power abuse, the police reasoned that 50 JERIT members were stopped because it was discovered that more than half of them were children under the age of 18. Apparently, the police were obliged to take action to 'save' those kids from possible 'exploitation' by JERIT members.

Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT), a coalition of various NGOs whose struggles lie mainly on social issues recently embarked on a nationwide, state-to-state cycling expedition to raise public awareness of social injustices. Click here to read more about the expedition.

I believe the we-arrest-because-we-are-the-hero kind of excuse by the authorities this time was somewhat similar to the time when Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said a certain reporter of a Chinese daily had to be arrested because the police were 'worried' for her safety.

Nonetheless, Selangor police chief Khalid Abu Bakar was smart to take any opportunity presented to him to effectively disrupt the JERIT expedition which was labelled an 'illegal assembly'. Ironically, the cycling expedition has been given the thumbs up by three Chief Ministers (Penang, Kedah and Selangor) but has yet to be officially recognised by the police.

That being said, JERIT's action to enlist under aged participants in their expedition was their undoing. Though I may not agree with the police's excuse of 'saving the kids' to justify their arrests, would it be safe to say JERIT handed the police another reason to disrupt their expedition?

Some of these young activists were said to be 'clueless' when asked about their reasons for participating in the JERIT expedition. Whether it's true or not, that was just what the police said. However, it still does not deny the fact that there were minors participating in the expedition. The detained adults, on the other hand, would be investigated under the Child Act on grounds of 'exploiting under aged children'. Tough luck.

With all due respect to JERIT's cause, I am not surmising the idea of the organisation being politically heretical or it being a public nuisance. Personally, I believe JERIT have legitimate issues to raise and are sincere in their campaign to spread public awarness. Members of JERIT should also be commended for their attitude and conduct in the face of incessant police harrasment. They had, so far, not done anything unlawful nor pose any threat to public safety; in the eyes of ordinary Malaysians and not the police, of course!

But, seriously, what are kids doing there? Some of the participants were said to be around 15 years old!

I believe children below the age of 18 should be left out of politics or better yet, in public demonstrations. The JERIT cycling expedition may not look like a mob of banner-welding protesters or were there any political affiliation to their cause but their actions of spreading public awareness on a scale this large is in fact, almost political. After all, social concerns and politics are closely entwined.

Youths below the age of 18 should be left free of any political involvement or public demonstrations. Therefore, they should be allowed to develop their own understanding of politics/social dilemmas for them to be able to draw their own allegiance to a political cause of their own choosing - when they come of age. It does not matter if a 15 year old had achieved the level of maturity comparable to an 18 year old; it is beside the point. There are reasons why minors are not allowed to smoke, drink alcohol or drive a vehicle.

The term 'exploited' being used by the police on the under aged JERIT members may be an over statement. But to be fair, JERIT should not have allowed minors to participate in their campaign lest they be accused of 'child exploitation'. The time for them to demonstrate has not come. No, not yet.

For now, leave the kids out!
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hillside developer sues residents association

KUALA LUMPUR: The Medan Damansara Residents Association has set up a fund to raise money to support its four office bearers who are being sued by SDB Properties Sdn Bhd. [The Star, 14/12/08]

A hillside developer retaliated by filing a lawsuit against a residents association for public defamation. The lawsuit was filed three months ago but was only brought to public attention in the midst of nationwide interest on hillside and slope development projects following the Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy on December 6.

Residents and victims of the Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy have decided to sue the government and its relevant agencies for compensation. Datuk M. Muniandy, chairman of the taskforce set up to lead the lawsuit feels the government had failed to avert the tragedy because residents had reported several incidents from about two years ago that seemed to point to problems in the stability of the slope. Of course, no preventive actions were carried out by the authorities.

The government have since succumbed to public pressure and have suspended all hillslide development projects until proper geographical inspections on soil stability were carried out.

The posh Damansara 21 which involved the construction of five-storey luxury bungalows, priced from RM10mil to RM15mil each on 2.3ha of land was one of the mega projects in the country that had to be shelved; thus incurring huge financial losses on its developer.

The Damansara 21 developer, SDB Properties Sdn. Bhd. who filed a defamation suit against Medan Damansara Residents Association three months ago were now left to lick their wounds following the government's decision to put a stop on high-risked hillside projects.

The association president P. Subhakaran, Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Shukor Abdullah (who was then the association president), Peter Raiappan and Randhir Singh has been named as defendants in the case. It was understood the association have set up a special fund to help finance their court battle.

Randhir Singh, the association's secretary had earlier expressed his intention to demand the government to scrap the entire Damansara 21 project instead of freezing it. The association have since embarked on notifying possible financial institution about the matte, hoping to deter them from providing loans to SDB Properties.

“The authority may continue the project later. We want the government to put a stop on it. The banks talk about the corporate social responsibility and environmental campaign but yet they still finance to these kind of developers. We also appeal to professionals including consultants and lawyers to not be part of such developments,” he said. [The Star 14/12/08]
There is an ever pressing need now for the government to ensure all hillside projects are deemed 'safe' before any work is carried out. The tragic tale of Bukit Antarabangsa is tantamount to the corruption within land agencies of the government and developers who in the name of 'development', have placed themselves in a sticky situation.

The government have shown good faith in suspending all high-risked sites but such a move came too late for the people affected by the tragedy. Nonetheless, the concern lies not in hillside projects but in the level of attention given to the safety of such construction projects.

Granted, it all boils down to 'money'.
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Friday, December 12, 2008

Putrajaya roof leaks an embarrassment to nation

PUTRAJAYA: The Putrajaya Corporation (PJC) chief was left red-faced when the swanky headquarters here was flooded during a high-powered business function. [NST, 12/12/08]

The Putrajaya Corporation (PJC) building suffered several leaks in the roof during a heavy downpour. About 600 high-profile businessmen, journalists and VIPs were there attending a talk on global economic uncertainties. The Regent of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and 2003 Nobel laureate in economics Prof. Dr. Robert Engle were among those who were present.

It was understood that a scuffle nearly broke out between PJC Public Relations officer and journalists who tried taking photographs of the embarrassing situation.

The leaks in the roof of the corporation building left many baffled when PJC president Tan Sri Samsudin Osman said repair work was already in progress a few months ago but he was clueless as to whether it had been completed or not.

"I don't know if the engineers have made it worse, or they simply took out parts of the roof in the repair process. I really don't know why this is happening. This is the first time it has occurred in this building." he told reporters. [NST, 12/12/08]

The latest mishap in the PJC headquarters went on the list of faulty government buildings for in the past few years have attracted public attention into the quality of work done by government contractors.

Last year, both the Immigration Department's information technology division building and the Entrepreneur and Co-operative Development Ministry's multi-purpose hall had their roofs caved in following a burst pipe.

In May 2007, damage to the new Jalan Duta Court Complex which boasts as the world's second largest court complex upsettted Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when a water pipe burst at a service room in the basement cafeteria. That section of the building was covered in 7cm of water. In the following month, the court complex was rocked by an explosion, believed to have been caused by a defective gas valve in the basement.

Even the Parliament House was not spared by shabby work. In April 2005, a parliamentary session had to be adjourned when rainwater started pouring in into the section of the Dewan Rakyat. Ironically, it happened after massive renovation works on the building which cost the government several millions of ringgit. And last year, the Parliament media centre also suffered leaks in the ceiling.

The government should review its list of contractors and existing tender holders from time to time. Likewise, tenders for government projects should only be awarded to competent firms. Last but not least, the government owe an explanation to the people when public funds are not only used to construct but to fix government infrastructures damaged by poor workmanship.
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cycling activists more terrifying than Mat Rempits?

BUKIT MERTAJAM: A non-governmental organisation (NGO) lodged a police report alleging the torching of eight bicycles used in an expedition from Alor Star to Parliament House in KualaLumpur early yesterday while the participants were asleep. [The Star, 8/12/08]

The Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT), an NGO against civil exploitation and oppression launched a nationwide cycling expedition on December 3 to raise public awareness on current issues plaguing the country. The expedition themed, "People Riding for Change" has 65 participants on their list and is been endorsed by Pakatan Rakyat states and several elected representatives in the government.

The two-wheeled entourage plans to track from state to state before proceeding to the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur to hand over a people's claim to the government. For what seemed like a noble cause by JERIT to spread public awareness on current national issues, the campaign had inherently attracted unwanted attention to deter if not sabotage the nationwide tour.

On December 7, expedition coordinator R. Rani Mohanarani claimed that their bicycles were set on fire at about 3am while the participants were asleep at the Yayasan Aman complex, Kubang Semang. Mohanarani told reporters that a crew member had heard explosion-like sounds in the wee hours of morning but none of them managed to see the culprits who torched the bicylces.

Similar attempts to deter another JERIT expedition group where also reported in Johor. This time it was not errant vandalisers but the authorities themselves; who were on high gear to disrupt the campaign. JERIT reported on their website that members of the expedition were constantly harassed by the police, a couple of police cars and a police van were seen following them as they move from one town to another. Many unidentified cars were also reported stalking the expedition group even while the participants were on lunch breaks. According to JERIT reports, roadblocks were also erected along expedition routes.

The authorities in Skudai, Johor have reacted quite ridiculously when they declared a 'state of emergency' on December 6, probably due to the sudden influx of cyclists on the highways of Johor. It was reported that the Skudai police had mobilized their entire unit - from Light Strike Force, FRU to traffic police officers, to prevent 40 youths from taking part in the expedition. They have also gone as far as placing a ban on cycling in Skudai and have issued a public warning that the police would not hesitate to arrest anyone found cycling in the streets. Nonetheless, several members of JERIT were reported to have been arrested on the grounds of 'illegal assembly'.

Had the police likened JERIT members to Mat Rempits so much as to warrant such reactions? The police might just find themselves in a bleaker situation for more public critcism with their misplaced priorities in assuring public order and safety.

However, this begs the question: Could the police display the same prowess and demeanour when it comes to keeping our streets safe from Mat Rempits?

Glossary: A Mat Rempit is a Malaysian term for 'an individual who participates in illegal street racing, usually involving motorcycles and even to the extreme of performing crazy and dangerous stunts for fun.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why, as a non-Malay, I agree with Mukhriz?

-A commentary-

Malaysiakini reported that Jerlun member of parliament Mukhriz Mahathir had called on the government to abolish vernacular schools into a single national school system to enhance racial unity and help non-Malays to better understand the concept of 'ketuanan Melayu'. [1/12/08]

As a non-Malay Malaysian, I agree with Mukhriz Mahathir but only to a certain extent, in which the Jerlun MP said that by unifying the school systems, it would assist non-Malays like me to better comprehend the 'ketuanan Melayu'. In my opinion, vernacular schools that have been established in Malaysia for over a hundred years are NOT to be solely blamed for racial polarization in this country but there is no denial that having different school systems is one of the many lines that divides the multicultural Malaysian society.

That being said, I agree with Mukhriz that all school systems in this country should eventually be unified under a single approach - the Malaysian system. But to say that by doing so, it would help non-Malays to better understand the concept of 'ketuanan Melayu' was out of the question.

Why? That's simply because the 'ketuanan Melayu' is an unconstitutional term and have been UMNO's propaganda taylored to gain Malay support. Mind you, Article 153 in the Constitution protects the special positions of the Malays and the indigenous people but there is no such mention of any 'ketuanan' for any ethnic group in the country. There is a clear difference between the meaning of 'special position' and 'ketuanan Melayu'.

In other words, I believe Mukhriz is wrong to imply that the lack of understanding by the non-Malays on the whole idea of 'ketuanan Melayu' is the core reason for racial polarization in Malaysia. Now, before I am judged as an anti-vernacular school, I must also stress that I am not proposing that vernacular schools are the prime reason for all the racial bickering we are having today. No. They are, I believe, only a hindrance towards the effort to depolarize our society - like a thorn in one heel's, unless he pulls it out, he would never to be able to run.

Despite strong opposition from the predominantly Chinese DAP and Chinese-based MCA on the matter of combining vernacular schools into a Malaysian system, if we could look at whole idea of unifying the vernacular schools, it does not sound a bad idea after all! Of course, that depends on how badly you want to see a united Malaysia by the time you die.

I know that the Constitution allows Malaysians to choose the type of schools we want our children to be in. But for a moment, just think outside the box and consider the implications of having a divided community would have on our children in the future.

One must first understand how far this whole talk of streamlining school systems into a single entity is going to take us into realizing the concept of Bangsa Malaysia. The vision of a Malaysian school system is that students of all races and backgrounds study in a single system with Bahasa Melayu as the language of instruction with exception to science and mathematics which should be taught in English. At the same time, Mandarin and Tamil language classes are also made available to students - again, students of all races. This would provide an excellent opportunity for students to pick up languages not of their own community. Would it not sound right for a member of a multicultural society to be able to speak and write in a language other than his or her own?

I believe there is no place more suitable than a truly Malaysian school that is able to provide a condusive environment for students to interact with Malaysians of other ethnic groups. Vernacular schools are usually dominated by a single race and it would prove a challenge for students to learn what it means to be Malaysian if they are placed in a mono-cultural setting. Therefore, it is imperative that the values of a tolerance and mutual respect for other ethnic groups be cultivated among Malaysians at a tender age.

So, this is my take. Politicians from both sides should not over-react with the idea of unifying vernacular schools into a single system. Likewise, the issue should not be politicize and be blown out of context let alone being turned into a racial dispute. To conclude, while vernacular schools are not the sole cause of racial polarization, unifying the school systems and allowing Malaysians of all races to study in a truly Malaysian environment is definitely a good way to improve race relations among younger Malaysians. I'd say, why reject a possible solution to a problem?

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning in English makes me lesser Malaysian?

- A commentary-

PKR Youth passed a resolution today that described the teaching of science and mathematics in English as "a betrayal of the position of Bahasa Melayu as the national language". [Malaysiakini, 28/11/08]

The youth wing called for the restoration of Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics in national schools. The switch to the English language in these subjects was, according to PKR Youth, 'a betrayal of the position of the Malay language as the national language.'

The teaching of mathematics and science in English began in 2003 and was spearheaded by former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to improve English proficiency among Malaysians.

Nevertheless, there has been several harmless voices from within the Barisan Nasional to once again throw the language switch into dispute. The latest resolution passed by PKR Youth was indeed a piece of disturbing news and could raise an eyebrow or two over the choice of languages as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics.

But seriously, PKR Youth has got to be kidding me.

The appalling standard of English amongst the younger generation are undoubtly one of the major reasons for the substandard performance of public universities in the world rankings. However, both sides of the dispute have sound reasons to believe that either the Malay language or English should be used in teaching science and mathematics in national schools.

Bahasa Melayu
  • The national and unifying language of the country.
  • It is easier for rural students who are not fluent in English to understand subjects in school.
  • The lingua franca of the world
  • The language of information and technology.

Bahasa Melayu or the politically-correct term, Bahasa Malaysia (though both have minor vocabularic differences) is compulsory for all Malaysians, regardless of race. Its role in unifying the races should never be discredited and its status as the national language should never be challenged as it is only right for the people of a country to learn the national language. On the other hand, Malaysians must not be ignorant to the fact that the world speaks English and our inability to master the language would only adversely affect our international competitiveness.

Using English as the language of instruction in science and mathematics does not undermine or disrespect the national language in any way. Other subjects like Geography, History and etc. could still be taught in Malay while school activities continue to be conducted in the national language. However, the Malaysian public should also be considerate of the plight of rural students who have difficulties in mastering the English language. However, it is also not impossible for both languages to be given equal attention and emphasis in national schools.

Reverting science and mathematics back to the Malay language would only be a step backwards. By doing so, there is no guarantee of an external effort to improve English proficiency. It would be a fool's errand to just fold our arms and expect Malaysia to be internationally competitive when the general public could not even converse let alone write decent English.

I'd say what is at fault here is the whole education system itself. The lack of quality teachers with the skills to converse/teach properly in English should first be addressed. The fact that the current crop of young teachers who are unable to coach in the language is truly depressing; a product of the extensive Malay language usage in mathematics and science prior to 2003 perhaps?

In September 2008, the Education Ministry revealed that 35% of teachers teaching science and mathematics in schools nationwide have been found to lack a good command of the English language. All teachers should be able to teach science and mathematics in English without a hitch. Hence, there is no reason then for rural students to have difficulties in improving their command in English if the language is taught by competent teachers at the earliest level of education.

Still not convinced? Take our former Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin as an example. In an interview with a foreign news agency, Zainuddin's poor command of English on live television did not only make our nation an international laughing stock but the fact that he was a cabinet minister was the ultimate blow to our national image. (You may watch the video here or click here to read the transcript of the interview.)

Apart from the issue of competent teachers, it is also needless to say that the standard of English being taught in national schools is abysmal. I have been a student myself and in one of my examination questions, I have been asked to name a place where a swimming pool could be found. My options were: A. Hotels, B.Police Stations, C. Library.

And yes, that was the standard level of English being taught in high school.

Unless there is a convincing guarantee that the standard of English proficiency would not regress by reverting science and mathematics to Bahasa Melayu, I do not see a more effective and better way to improve the command of the English language among Malaysian students.

Now, before I am lambasted for being a 'lesser patriot', let me just say that no one is disputing Bahasa Melayu as the national language to begin with. Likewise, I believe learning science and mathematics in English is no way, an act of betrayal to the national language. Forsaking Malaysia's ability to compete in the developed world is the mother of all betrayals.
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Monday, December 1, 2008

Finally, East Malaysians get attention from RTM

KOTA KINABALU: RTM1 which becomes a dedicated news channel from Jan 1 next year, will air news from Sabah and Sarawak for half an hour during prime time. [The Star, 30/11/08]

Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek announced that the East Malaysian states would be given half an hour of prime time (between 8pm tp 11pm) for state news to be aired nationwide. The channel RTM1 would do the honours of broadcasting East Malaysian news to the rest of the country.

As an added bonus, Shabery said RTM1 might also introduce another 30-minute weekly programme on the indegenious peoples of East Malaysia.

"We will highlight the unique arts, languages and cultures of the various races in Sabah and Sarawak like Kadazandusun, Murut, Iban and Bidayuh. All these are part of the digitalising process where one day we will have many channels and the channels will dedicate to certain fields," he said. [The Star, 30/11/08]
It is a shame that the ethnic diversities of Sabah and Sarawak seem to go unappreciated by West Malaysians. Nonethelss, the Information Ministry should be applauded for their effort in bridging the cultural differences of the East and West. Hopefully, in time, Malaysians would be encouraged to appreciate and embrace their nation's diversity.

But of course, it is not just television air-time that the two states need. Both states probably have the most abundant natural resources in comparison to their Peninsular equivalents but are still stricken with the highest poverty rates in the country. Not to forget: illiteracy, crime rates and unemployment are still major concerns of everyday life.

How about a little more attention from the Federal Government now?

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