High time for a Civil Service Shakedown

December 15th, 2014 by admin Categories: Governance, Opinion No Responses
High time for a Civil Service Shakedown

By Shaza Onn. First published in The Edge 15 December 2014

Year in and year out the Auditor General’s Report features the same reason for poor public service delivery – the underwhelming capabilities of government officers. So as prison wardens would say, “it’s time for a shakedown buckos”.

A few weeks ago the third series of the AG’s report was released and though there was less hype and not to mention drama over its findings, the message was clear. The people managing large multi-million ringgit public projects are severely unprofessional. And what does this unprofessionalism mean? It means shoddy compliance of procurement procedures, mismanagement of finances, weak project management and inadequate monitoring of projects. These trends also surface in not only the AG’s Report but also in the findings of the Public Accounts Committee as well as the Public Complaints Bureau Annual Report. Cringingly, the AG’s Report attributes these problems to a simple lack of experience and skills with no real call for reprimand save for Heads of Departments to monitor the officers better. Reality check, this is really inexcusable.
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University dan kebebasan akademik

December 15th, 2014 by admin Categories: Education, Opinion No Responses
University dan kebebasan akademik

By Amin Ahmad. First published in the Malaysian Insider on 12 December 2014

Kebelakangan ini persoalan kebebasan akademik kembali heboh diperkatakan.

Baru-baru ini, 8 mahasiswa Universiti Malaya (UM8) yang menganjurkan program “Pidato Anwar Ibrahim: 40 Tahun Dari UM ke Penjara” dikenakan pelbagai hukuman tatatertib termasuk digantung pengajian.

Sebelum ini, Profesor Datuk Dr Mohamad Redzuan Othman didakwa digugurkan sebagai pengarah Pusat Kajian Demokrasi dan Pilihan Raya (UMcedel) dan sebagai dekan Falkuti Sastera dan Sains Sosial Universiti Malaya melalui campur tangan luar. Selain itu, Profesor Madya Dr Azmi Sharom, pensyarah undang-undang dan presiden Persatuan Kakitangan Akademik Universiti Malaysia (PKAUM) didakwa di bawah Akta Hasutan.
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Breaking Silence

December 11th, 2014 by admin Categories: Opinion, Other No Responses
Breaking Silence

 

By Tricia Yeoh. First published in The Sun on 11 December 2014.

 

Abolishing the Sedition Act would not quite result in madness and mayhem, as some would have us believe, but in the likes of towering Malaysians standing up against supremacist NGOs.

Earlier this week, a group of 25 prominent Malay Muslims broke their silence and issued a strong statement – the strongest I have read in a long time – expressing their dismay at the way Islam is being politicised in our country today. This group was able to demonstrate that there clearly do exist moderate Malaysians able and willing to confront and counter those they have termed to be a “rise of supremacist NGOs accusing dissenting voices of being anti-Islam”.
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Are we really free to talk?

December 9th, 2014 by admin Categories: Governance, Opinion No Responses
Are we really free to talk?

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star 9 December 2014

The tradition of political foundations is something that we are not very familiar with in Malaysia. But in quite a few countries around the world, usually those that are more developed and more democratic, political foundations are a norm.

Generally speaking, a political foundation is a not for profit organisation that is set up for a political purpose. This could be promoting a certain set of values, building the capacity of political parties through training programmes, upskilling civil society organisations and community activists, and many more. The ‘political’ nature of their work makes them different from most other non-profits that are normally avoid being political.

The political foundations operate differently from one country to another. In America, the names of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute may create the impression that they work for the Republican and Democratic Parties respectively. But in reality their relationship with the political parties is not as direct as many would imagine.

In Germany politician foundations are directly linked to a particular political party and are funded by taxpayers based on the amount of votes received by their parties. To simplify, the German political foundations exist to promote the values and principles of the parties that they are linked to.

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) has been one of IDEAS’ main funders since before we were officially launched in 2010. They are closely linked to Germany’s Free Democratic Party, and they label themselves as the foundation for liberal politics.

Recently, in mid October, the FNF organised an important regional event called the “Freedom Week”. Together with other FNF partners in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and South Korea, IDEAS too took part in this one week campaign for freedom in the region.

Among others, a short film competition was held in Thailand, an expert meeting on religious freedom was held in Indonesia, a discussion on the experiences of Korea and Germany in conflict and reconciliation was held in South Korea, a group cycling to rural high schools were held in Cambodia to campaign for freedom to education, and thousands of people took part in an anti-corruption freedom run in Manila.

For our part, my colleague Tricia Yeoh and I held an online “Freedom Conversation” via twitter. That was a completely new experience for me and I greatly enjoyed it.

We invited questions from those who follow our @IDEASMalaysia twitter account. Over one hour, people can ask anything that they want, with no restriction. We certainly got what we bargained for!

The questions thrown at us covered many topics. They ranged from the extremism of some rightwing NGOs, to the sudden about turn by the so called “progressive” UMNO leaders on Sedition Act, the limits of freedom and liberty, authoritarianism in PAS, redelineation of electoral boundary, and even the role of the monarchy as well as what do I, as a liberal, think of the royalty.

The thing that struck me about all these questions was how restrained people were. The only ones who tried to be provocative were close friends who were playfully teasing me with their questions. But no one asked difficult hard hitting questions.

When I say that “people” were restrained during the session, I actually include myself too. Looking back at the list of questions and my answers, it was obvious that even I was very cautious with my answers, making sure they are “safe”.

For example, one of the questions I had to answer was on whether religion has played a negative role vis a vis freedom in Malaysia. My answer was “If I answer you honestly, tomorrow I will be arrested. So my politically correct answer is we have seen some good uses, and some awful abuses, of religion in Malaysia.”

When I was typing the answer, I probably had just a few seconds to think about it because the online conversation was happening quite fast. Now, looking back, that impromptu answer was actually quite telling.

With the benefit of hindsight, and if I reflect honestly on the Freedom Conversation session, I must admit that there was an element of self-censorship at play throughout that one hour. As much as I want to speak up, subconsciously I was stopping myself from being totally frank.

Personally, I find that rather troubling. Especially so because at the same time I also feel that we can’t afford to do otherwise in this current environment. Isn’t that a shame?

I wonder how many people out there share my predicament. You know that there is a dire need to speak up. You know that there are so many clowns out there spewing hatred. And you know that for the sake of our country, these extremists must be countered.

But despite all that, something inside says that you must restrain yourself. While the extremists are safely protected, you feel vulnerable despite being on the right, liberal and moderate, side.

Our Rukun Negara says that we as a country are committed to “guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions”. As we come close to the end of 2014, I can’t help but wonder if the liberal spirit of the Rukun Negara actually means anything anymore?

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my)

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Support the Sharing Economy

November 26th, 2014 by admin Categories: Opinion No Responses
Support the Sharing Economy

By Tricia Yeoh. First published on The Sun Daily on 12th November 2014

UBER – the increasingly popular ride-sharing mobile app that has riled up local authorities – has not only been controversial in Malaysia, but also in the Philippines, Australia, Germany and many others. And so, when we were asked to carry out a group campaign as part of a Think Tank MBA programme that I recently graduated from, it was simple enough to decide: we would set up a global coalition to promote the sharing economy, called #WeShare.

The sharing economy is basically peer-to-peer voluntary exchange of goods and services, which rides primarily on the speed and efficiency of technology. The global revenue of the sharing economy currently stands at US$14.5 billion and is forecast to reach more than US$360 billion by 2025. In the UK, 25% of adults already share online. In the global market, sharing in key sectors such as holiday accommodation and car sharing is estimated to reach 50% by 2025.

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The Asian Face of Kiwi Islam

November 14th, 2014 by admin Categories: Opinion No Responses
The Asian Face of Kiwi Islam

by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail 14 November 2014

I was honoured to launch the Crescent Moon Exhibition: the Asian Face of Islam in New Zealand at the University of Malaya Library on 13 November. The month-long exhibition, based on photographs of New Zealand Muslims and accompanying interviews, will hopefully contribute to a dynamic academic life within campus, sparking curiosities and triggering debate.

Many Malaysians might not realise that Muslims thrive further southeast of Indonesia. Last year I visited Australia on a Muslim Cultural Exchange Programme and saw the diversity of Islam there. The highlight for me was visiting the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque in the suburbs of Sydney: I thought it was highly symbolic for the Turkish community there to invoke the site of a World War I battle that remains central to the national consciousness of Australia as well as New Zealand.

Last Sunday I was at the Tugu Negara to commemorate the fallen at the centenary of the start of World War I – organised by the British High Commission but well-attended by Australians, New Zealanders and Malaysians in uniform, some of whom laid wreaths and one of whom played the Last Post and Reveille to frame the solemn silence. Sadly, after World War I there was to be more joint sacrifice in the name of freedom in World War II, the Emergency and Konfrontasi. The cooperation amongst our armed forces continues to be taken very seriously, but the personal links are even more profound, and I’ve had the privilege of witnessing some of these through an organisation of which I am Patron, the World Malay-Polynesian Organisation, whose members include army veterans.

At their kind behest I visited New Zealand (specifically Waitangi and Auckland) earlier this year – and while the purpose of that trip wasn’t to explore Islam in New Zealand, I certainly experienced a tremendous warmth from our Maori and Pakeha hosts towards the Muslim members of our delegation. The astonishing similarities between Malay and Maori vocabulary convinced me beyond doubt of our shared blood and linguistic ancestry: but this exhibition shows that such things are not prerequisites for being welcome in New Zealand.

Indeed, the people whose photographs are displayed have origins and histories in Afghanistan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Indonesia, Cyprus, Singapore, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. They are a microcosm of the pluralism inherent amongst the Muslim faithful around the world. Their stories are important not just because they represent different cultural traditions and may follow different schools of jurisprudence, but because they are Muslim individuals speaking about their faith and country on their own terms, rather than being spoken for by politicians or self-declared leaders who claim to be speaking on their behalf. The diversity of professions too is remarkable: apart from students there’s an IT trainer, a farmer, a butcher, a broadcaster, an imam, a boxer, an accountant, a teacher, a political scientist, a Member of Parliament, several civil servants and activists. They like to swim, ride motorbikes, paint, go bowling, play cricket and row boats. They thrive in the liberal democracy of New Zealand.

Indeed, in the Overall Islamicity Index Rankings published by professors at the George Washington University to measure how countries’ policies reflect Muslim values, New Zealand came first in the world while Malaysia came first amongst countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Of course all such rankings have their critics, but such tools are useful in spurring alternative theories and ultimately help to improve policymaking in the future.

We can also be inspired by values espoused by the great polities of the historic Muslim world: the religious tolerance of Cordoba and Istanbul, the intellectual freedom of Fez and Cairo, the trading activity of Marrakech and Malacca. Yet, I wonder how many Muslim leaders are willing to learn from those examples, instead of resorting to rhetoric capitalising on nationalistic fervour over substance. To be seen to be “defending Islam” captures more political capital than actually applying the religion’s principles to governance.

And yet, many Malaysians forget that the first Secretary-General of the OIC was Tunku Abdul Rahman, and there was no doubt that he passionately believed in the principles of democracy. In the context of the Cold War he placed Malaysia firmly on the side of democratic nations, including New Zealand.

Today the Malaysia-New Zealand relationship is thriving across all diplomatic tracks, despite one or two challenges of late, and this exhibition will augment that relationship. Accordingly I hope UM opens its doors to enable as many Malaysians as possible to see the faces of Asian Islam in New Zealand.

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Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is President of IDEAS

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More free trade should be pursued

November 10th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Opinion No Responses
More free trade should be pursued

by Sri Murniati. First published in The Edge 10 November 2014

Among arguments used by those opposing free trade agreements, especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations, is the potential decline of Malaysia’s trade surpluses if we join a big trade group with dominant players such as the United States.

They argue that Malaysia’s exports to countries in the trade group such as the TPP may probably increase but our imports from those countries may increase even more. This will result in a net reduction in our Balance of Trade (BOT), creating a trade deficit. They argue that this is a bad thing for our country.

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Unlocking the region’s potential

November 7th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Opinion No Responses
Unlocking the region’s potential

by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in the Borneo Post 7 November 2014. A Chinese-language was published in the Oriental Daily 10 November 2014

Since its inception the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has focused on domestic issues, but that will shift with our Southeast Asia Network for Development (SEANET), a partnership of like-minded organisations to promote economic liberalisation in ASEAN. Next year, Malaysia will be Chair of ASEAN and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will be declared. SEANET will argue that ASEAN can reach higher levels of economic dynamism and sustained prosperity by subscribing to three principles.

Firstly, inclusive growth as the key to social stability, by opening up economies to provide opportunities for smaller companies and micro-entrepreneurs. We want to enhance competition, push down prices and drive up the quality of goods, resulting in improved living standards and better protection of consumers. We advocate the eventual elimination of protectionist policies, reduction of regulatory burdens that could dampen innovation, and removal of trade barriers within ASEAN as well as between ASEAN and the wider world.

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Taxing morally

October 28th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Governance, Opinion One Response
Taxing morally

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published as “Tax system should not discriminate ” in The Star 28 October 2014

In my column two weeks ago, I wrote about how taxes are a form of coercion by the government against the people. Since then, I received many comments saying that it is not fair to blame Barisan Nasional for everything.

I want to start this column by clarifying again that when I use the word ‘government’ I do not refer to any political party. A government is the entity that is tasked with governing. It can be at federal, state or local levels. And it can be made up of people from any party. I am not talking about Barisan Nasional government or Pakatan Rakyat government but simply the entity of the ‘government’ generally.

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Save money transparently

October 17th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Opinion No Responses
Save money transparently

by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail Online 17 October 2014

“What’s in it for me?” is the inevitable lens through which most citizens analyse a national budget – rightly so, since it’s their money that the government will be spending, regardless of whether they voted for candidates representing the government party, or how ‘grateful’ they are for the ‘goodies’ they may or may not be getting.

The Finance Minister’s speech is perhaps the only remaining guaranteed set piece of parliamentary oratory in Malaysia; rarely are there long speeches tackling constitutional issues to arrive at powerful conclusions. Now it’s mostly short and punchy statements for easy media consumption, assuming the YB in question isn’t being shouted down by other members or being reprimanded by the Speaker. (For an example of a proper speech, see Tengku Razaleigh’s 20-minute tour de force in denouncing the 1993 constitutional amendments, available on YouTube.)

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