Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where is the sense of conscience and responsibility?

IPOH: Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir said today he was not "the menteri besar of the court" who did not have the support of the Perak people as claimed by Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat. [ 25/5/09, Bernama]

May 22 is the darkest day for democracy in Malaysia - albeit having many 'darkest days' of late following the coup d'etat in Perak. The Court of Appeal declares Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir as the rightful Chief Minister of Perak despite the Federal High Court ruling in favour of Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin just 11 days earlier. The Barisan Nasional (BN) may have had the last laugh in this political scuffle but their despicable deeds will forever be etched in the minds and hearts of the Perak people who have been robbed of their state and democratic rights.

In the midst of the unrest, one can only ask: Where is the sense of conscience and responsibility?

Zambry has even the guts to say he is not the Chief Minister of the Courts [source]. His apparent ignorance of the truth is nauseating . If not of the courts then of who? The people?

The only way to prove how far his statement is true is to have a state-wide election again and let the people of Perak decide who they want to be their Chief Minister - Zambry or Nizar? Unless Zambry and his band of state representatives return the power to the people, he will always be a Chief Minister of the court - not of the people.

Thus, Zambry has no right (other than his right to freedom of speech) to claim he is NOT the Chief Minister of the courts. Has he forgotten that his status as Chief Minister was restored or rather, 'given' to him by the Court of Appeal and not through the votes of citizens?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his much-marketed philosophy of 1Malaysia appear evermore hypocritical now when '1Perak' itself is unachievable. If the Barisan Nasional is truly about serving the people then Najib -as Perak UMNO Chief- should not have allowed the power-grabbing that had placed the state into political turmoil to take place.

Zambry states that the Barisan Nasional 'had tried its best to ensure stability and harmony in the state' during the crisis - which begs the question: Would Perak be tosed into such disarray if and only if Barisan Nasional had not attempted a power-grab?

It is easy to ask the Pakatan Rakyat to 'respect the rule of law' or to 'place the peace and stability above all else' but did it occur to Zambry and Najib that the Perak crisis is borne of Barisan Nasional's actions? The people of Perak are not to be taken for a ride!

In the UK, the recent parliamentary expenses scandal has left the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin no choice but to resign. The Speaker is to quit in June following his role in diminishing public confidence in the Parliament and accusations of bias in in the handling of the scandal. Would Malaysians see the same pattern in our own backyard, following the Perak crisis? Like many Malaysians, I long to see the restoration of God-given conscience and sense of responsibility among politicians and leaders.

So, this is my take on the Perak issue: Political appointments and the formation of state governments should never be placed in the hands of the Courts for it defeats the purpose of Malaysia being a democratic nation. Whether it is the Pakatan Rakyat or Barisan Nasional at the helm, the only way to settle a dispute such as this is through elections. I'd call for the return of democracy to the hands of the Perak people and let them decide which party would best represent them. Period.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Meritocracy - There is no better time for it than now!

PUTRAJAYA, May 18 — Only 20 percent, or one in five, of Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships are given based on merit while the rest are allocated based on racial quotas. [The Malaysian Insider]

Meritocracy - A system of a government or other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities are given based on demonstrated talent and ability. Nonetheless, meritocracy is a philosophy not clearly defined here in this country, given the many aspects of government dealings that do not seem to adhere to it. One notable government policy to go under that notion is the racially-biased New Economic Plan (NEP). Though noble at first, many Malaysians are now beginning to question its use or rather the ethical purpose after 30 years of its implementation.

It is revealed that only 20% of government scholarships by the Public Service Department (PSD) are given based on merit. The remaining 60% are given out based on the population ratio of respective races while East Malaysian bumiputras and underprivileged students are allocated 10% each.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had last year told the Parliament that the PSD follows the 55:45 ratio when giving out scholarships i.e. 55% for bumiputra students and 45% for the other ethnic groups.

In an attempt to defend the shocking finding, Tan Sri Ismail Adam, the PSD director-general said it was unfair to direct the blame at his department over allegations that top students were being overlooked as there are too many students applying for limited number of government scholarships.

“Over 8,000 students are qualified to be considered for 2,000 scholarships. Please be fair to me. Perception without having an understanding and perspective of the issue can bring about conclusions that may not be right or fair. I understand the unfortunate ones can be emotional. But please be fair in your comments, " he said in his email to the Malaysian Insider in response DAP's Lim Kit Siang who brought this matter to public attention recently. [16/5/09, The Malaysian Insider]
"Overwhelming demand" is certainly not exactly the best excuse when 80% of the scholarships are given out based on skin colour. That means only 20% are allocated for students who have truly earned a scholarship through good grades. Is academic excellence not the top priority when granting such scholarships to students? The public has the right to know if it is not.

Also, how far would the 20% have gone to help underprivileged students whose families cannot afford the luxury to send their children to universities or colleges? What is achieved when students who have mediocre academic grades or who are from wealthy families are given scholarships to study abroad at the expense of those who are more deserving?

Nonetheless, it is encouraging news that the Cabinet has decided to look into this matter. More than 800 straight-A students who failed to attain a scholarship will have their appeals taken up to the Cabinet for discussion, according to a news report by the The Star.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong cited a case of a student with 6A1 and 4A2 who obtained a scholarship to study engineering but students with 13A1s and 14A1s that they were given places to do matriculation instead of being awar­ded with scholarships. Such incidents are not uncommon with hundreds of thousands of students graduating high school every year. The question is: How long shall the shenanigans continue before meritocracy is restored?

The PSD has to be transparent in their process of short-listing eligible students and awarding scholarships. The lack of public accountability can only serve to fuel continued public suspicion and unhappiness over the matter. It was suggested some years ago that the PSD should publish the names of scholarship recipients but unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. Being transparent is the only way the PSD could be free from such criticism if it is too much for Tan Sri Ismail Adam to handle. But then again, shouldn't all public agencies be transparent to begin with?

Above all, I believe government aids like scholarships in Malaysia should one day cease to be governed by race or skin colour. Instead, students who are underprivileged or those who have done their extremely well in their studies should be given the priority in receiving scholarships.

Society can only thrive under meritocracy where people are awarded based on their qualifications and talents. And in Malaysia, there is no better time for meritocracy than now.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Royal M'sian Police - They watch over us. But who watches over them?

The recent power struggle in Perak has opened a can of worms to show yet another ugly of side of a body that has the royal mandate to serve and protect - the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM). The role of the PDRM in the coup d'├ętat by the Barisan Nasional to wrest control of the state government unconstitutionally is highly questionable, especially to those who believe in the true spirit of democracy.

I, for one, disapprove what the PDRM had done in the handling of the Perak Constitutional crisis - from a civil stance. It is elementary knowledge that an institution like the police should always remain above politics and place the best interest of the public first, above everything else. Sure, there are some who concede that the PDRM had little or no choice but to do what had to be done in Perak in the midst of political and civil chaos but I beg to differ. I feel the PDRM could have done better.

And of course, I am not alone with such a notion that the PDRM had somewhat crossed the line. The Bar Council on May 7 condemned the police's 'unwarranted' interference in the course of events relating to the Perak crisis - that includes putting down protests and physically removing V. Sivakumar from the Speaker’s chair in the Perak state assembly [source].

Consider the following:

  1. On March 3, the police sealed the Perak State Assembly building - preventing all 28 Pakatan Rakyat (PR) state elected representatives from entering to hold a sitting. However, on May 7, the police warned the public not to participate in street protests and would not hesitate to arrest anyone found 'preventing' state representatives from entering the Assembly building.
  2. Police officers in plain clothes physically removed V. Sivakumar from the Assembly even though he was the rightfully appointed Assembly Speaker and had not stepped down from that position.
  3. The police arrested BERSIH activist Wong Chin Huat under the Sedition Act on May 6 in less than 24 hours after his press conference to propose the 1BlackMalaysia campaign - a spin-off to Najib's 1Malaysia slogan, urging Malaysians to wear black on May 7 to protest against the Perak coup.
  4. As many as 14 people were detained for participating in a peaceful candlelight vigil outside the Brickfields police station where Wong Chin Huat was held.
  5. Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan imposed a ban on the colour black and warned the public not to turn up at the State Assembly building in that colour or risk being arrested.
  6. At least 60 people were arrested on May 7 for wearing black and for 'gathering illegally' in Ipoh.

Speaker V. Sivakumar being forcibly removed from his seat.

Perhaps, the issue here is not what the PDRM 'had done' but rather what they had 'failed to do' which I believe, is to be above politics. Judging from what the PDRM had done - from the arrest of an activist to the ban on black attires - little can be said about whether the PDRM is truly above politics. It seems to me that the very institution tasked to serve and protect the public is wrongfully being used to serve a political agenda. Is the PDRM politically neutral? It should be.

The belief that the police favours a particular political entity over the other is rather apparent and it takes no effort to actually identify the institution's political inclination. One fine example is the PDRM's objection to the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), saying there is no need for one [source].

The proposed IPCMC would be an independent, external oversight body whose principal function is to receive and investigate complaints about the PDRM and its personnel. Having a watchdog would certainly help to make the police more accountable and transparent. [More info on the IPCMC]

And in a published document [pdf] by the president of the gazetted Senior Police Officers Association, ACP Jamaludin bin Hj Khalid, the association which claims to represent 95,000 members 'threatened that it would support the Opposition' if the IPCMC is given the green light. The following are a few of the 'threats' as listed in the document by the association which I find rather preposterous:
  1. The police would allow the crime rate to rise further.
  2. A 5-day working week/8 hours a day rule would be demanded for all police personnel.
  3. The police force would vote for the Opposition.
  4. The mass resignations of police officers.
The failure of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to implement the IPCMC is one of many unfulfilled promises made during his premiership. And apparently, the lack of decisive implementation of such policies can only come back to haunt us, as the Perak crisis have already shown. Hence, I believe the best course of action would be setting up the IPCMC nevertheless. This is because the IPCMC is essential for the check-and-balance we so desperately need when the PDRM is responsible for so many unwarranted actions of late.

If the police has the audacity to act like thugs - throwing about such childish threats of 'potential severe repercussions' and its ignorant refusal to acknowledge the fundamental need for public accountability, then it is high time that the government look into how things are actually run in the force - starting with the leadership.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Malaysia needs to overtake Gabon to achieve First World status

KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 - Malaysia will have to fundamentally rework its economy to become more productive and R&D based if it is serious about making the quantum leap to become a high income economy and move out of the income bracket currently occupied by countries such as Gabon and Botswana. [The Malaysian Insider]

"Gabon? Where in the world is that?" It is an honest question many Malaysians would ask (with all due respect to the Gabonese people, of course) when they hear that their country is lagging behind the west central African nation.

Latest figures from the World Bank revealed that Malaysia has now fallen behind Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore in terms of gross national income (GNI) per capita and is now trying to play catch up - much to our embarrassment.

In 2007, Malaysia had a GNI per capita of US$6,420, far behind countries such as Singapore (US$32,340), South Korea (US$19,730), Japan (US$37,790), Hong Kong (US$31,560), Australia (US$35,760), Finland (US$44,300), and Switzerland (US$60,820) and Norway (US$77,370).

Gabon has a GNI of US$7,020.

Many Malaysians would be shocked to learn that despite Gabon having a population of just 1.5 million, they are still able to generate such wealth, compared to Malaysia's 27 million.

It is indeed heartbreaking for Malaysians to see their country fall behind nations like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore - countries which were once economically on par with Malaysia just three decades ago.

What had shoved Malaysia into such a demise is anyone's guess but it is definitely not a surprise to find ourselves so low in the world rankings. If we have an MP who had once the courage (I'd say shamelessness) to celebrate Malaysia's achievements, saying Malaysia is 10 times more developed than Ghana, then it is no wonder that the real-world figures would eventually come come forth to prove our lack of ambition. If beating Ghana, which became independent in the same year as Malaysia, is a cause to celebrate, would it then be suicidal to know that Gabon has overtaken us, given the west central African nation achieve independence later than Malaysia?

From left: Libreville, the capital of Gabon and Kuala Lumpur.

And recently Lee Saw Hoon, a senior director of the Malaysia Productivity Cor­­poration said Malaysia had done well to maintain its 21st position in the World Economic Forum’s la­­test global competitiveness report [source]. According to the report Malaysia was the sixth most competitive Asian country after Singapore, Ja­­pan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.

I don't know about Lee but I can't take that lying down. We should be up there with Singapore, for goodness' sake! Mind you, we were the ones who kick them out of the Federation and left them in the dark without having any natural resources of their own. Today, they are one of the financial powerhouses of the world.

And when international performance is concerned, Malaysia's dismal FIFA World Ranking never seems to escape the public's attention. Malaysia is currently ranked 161st in the world and yes, you've guessed it - countries like Eritrea, Myanmar and Turkmenistan are above us. Gabon, on the other hand, is ranked 48th.

However, the lack of ambition is not the only cause for our shortfall. It is because we have misplaced our priorities over the decades; further condemning ourselves to remain as a Third World country even after half a century of independence. It is high time for certain sectors of the government to take heed and stop the racial bickering, policies and propaganda. It is imperative that we devote precious time and resources to put Malaysia back onto the world map before we find ourselves overtaken by Cambodia.
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