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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Paying it backwards

October 17th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Governance, Opinion No Responses
Paying it backwards

by Tricia Yeoh. First published in The Sun 17 October 2014

AMIDST the media frenzy that surrounds the budget each year, not many pay attention to the supplementary budgets. Did you know that the government spends billions of ringgit that is outside the main budget, which is only requested for in supplementary budgets many months later?

Consider this. The budget for 2011 was first tabled at RM211.3 billion, but the two supplementary budgets tabled later (for that particular year) came up to a whopping RM23.48 billion, forming more than 10% of the original total.

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Belanjawan 2015: Defisit, hutang dan perbelanjaan kerajaan

October 16th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Opinion No Responses
Belanjawan 2015: Defisit, hutang dan perbelanjaan kerajaan

oleh Amin Ahmad. Diterbitkan di dalam The Malaysian Insider 17 Oktober 2014

Jumaat lalu perdana menteri merangkap menteri kewangan membentangkan belanjawan bagi 2015. Sebelumnya, ketua pembangkang mengumumkan belanjawan alternatif yang dicadangkan untuk pertimbangan kerajaan.

Dua peristiwa ini untuk saya penting. Pertama, sejak beberapa tahun lalu, khususnya apabila muncul apa yang kini dikenali ramai sebagai Pakatan Rakyat, rakyat Malaysia berpeluang melihat persaingan sihat, bukan sahaja dalam konteks undi semasa pilihan raya, tetapi juga dalam aspek idea dan hujah.

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You will pay for everything

October 14th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Governance, Opinion 2 Responses
You will pay for everything

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published as “How our money is spent” in The Star 14 October 2014

The Prime Minister delivered his Budget Speech last Friday. The speech started very well. I like Dato Sri Najib Razak’s admission that “The biggest challenge I face in administering Malaysia … is how to balance between policies that are populist in nature as compared to those policies based on economic and financial imperatives.”

This is the reality of politics. Politicians must be and must remain popular. Someone who does not worry about popularity shouldn’t even think about entering politics. Acknowledging that shows that Najib is a realistic politician, unlike some others who are extremely populist but always deny it.

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Do boarding schools cause more problems than they solve?

October 13th, 2014 by admin Categories: Education, Opinion One Response
Do boarding schools cause more problems than they solve?

by Tamanna Patel. First published in The Edge 13 October 2014

I recently returned from an insightful trip to the northern states of Kedah, Perlis and Penang. This was part of our study on the strengths and weaknesses of an initiative created to help primary school children from underprivileged families by putting them into a hostel facility. We interviewed the children and parents who took part in that initiative.

On the drive up, my colleagues and I discussed the concept of boarding schools and their relevance towards parents and the education system as a whole. While I am not a parent, one of my colleagues is and he weighed in his thoughts and comments. Another colleague, who is a product of boarding school, shared with us his perspective on studying and living away from home. This got me thinking about the purposes of boarding schools and whether our education system actually needs them.

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Open up the government

September 30th, 2014 by admin Categories: Governance, Opinion No Responses
Open up the government

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star 30 September 2014

The Administration and Diplomatic Officers (Pegawai Tadbir dan Diplomatik, PTD) Alumni Association held their international conference on 9th and 10th September in Kuala Lumpur.

PTD officers are the pillar of Malaysian civil service. Not everyone in the civil service belongs to the PTD category and usually many top government posts, in Malaysia and abroad, are held by PTD officers.

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Inspirations from Raja Aziz Addruse

September 26th, 2014 by admin Categories: Governance, Opinion No Responses
Inspirations from Raja Aziz Addruse

by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail 26 September 2014

Raja Aziz Addruse was best known for being elected thrice to the Presidency of the Bar Council, founding the country’s first human rights NGO, and dealing with profound constitutional issues. To me, he was also a family friend: I knew him only as Uncle Aziz and only later realised his role in fighting for our democracy.

As Malaysia’s foremost constitutional lawyer, Raja Aziz rejected the notion of parliamentary supremacy, arguing that “the fundamental principle which applies under a written constitution is that it is the Constitution itself, and not Parliament, which is supreme”, lamenting the 1988 constitutional amendments that subverted this. Today, the basic structure of our Constitution is under threat from several angles, and there are those who deliberately reinterpret basic premises of our Constitution, citing key articles out of context as justification.

Raja Aziz also wrote on issues such as the independence of backbenchers, freedom of speech, the 1993 constitutional amendments that removed the Rulers’ legal immunity, the mandatory nature of the death penalty, the use of police firearms, apostasy, single-spouse conversion of children, detention without trial and of course the Sedition Act.

His ominous words reflect a general state of cynicism towards politics and government in Malaysia today. Amongst the chattering classes there is no shortage of cynicism to describe the health of our democracy. Institutions are seen to have been compromised by personal or party interests, to the extent that it becomes difficult even for ethical individuals to contribute: several respected NGO and corporate figures have lost credibility simply by becoming cabinet ministers. The prevalent view is that individuals will be corrupted by the system, instead of the system being cleansed by individuals.

This situation has been aided by an intentionally deficient teaching of history which omits the presence of concepts such as rule of law, separation of powers and limits to authority in ancient Malay polities. Even post-Merdeka history is distorted, as the political successors of Dato’ Onn Ja’afar, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman are speciously presented as their ideological successors too. Their attitudes towards authoritarian legislation in the context of a communist insurgency are forgotten, so too their ability to socialise with political opponents. But today, simply supporting a different party leads to accusations of treason.

In such an atmosphere, what hope is there for rule of law and morality? How do we break the cycle of institutional destruction? We cannot rely on political forces alone, as we have seen by recent political shenanigans on both sides.

Rather, we need to cajole political forces into a consensus, to re-forge a shared understanding of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the separation of powers. There were aspects of this during Tun Abdullah Badawi’s administration: democratic space opened up that enabled the strengthening of civil society; his acceptance of the 2008 general election results while others bayed for blood proved that peaceful transitions were possible; the Royal Commission of Inquiry into police reform produced a valuable proposal even though it wasn’t fully implemented; and his attempt to reform the judiciary, accompanied by a statement of regret about the 1988 constitutional crisis, was a step in the right direction in recalibrating the relationship between judiciary, executive, and public.

So there are things that morally courageous can do to realise Tunku Abdul Rahman’s vision of “a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice” – but where moral courage is absent, it is up to civil society to show that the pillars of the Rukunegara can be upheld without the insincere hectoring of the state.

Today, Raja Aziz’s point about the elasticity of the definition of ‘seditious tendency’ in the Sedition Act is prescient. But there is a way out, if the National Harmony Bill can assuage those who are outraged by the recent spate of arrests as well as those who fear that racial and religious slurs will be used to incite violence.

Raja Aziz was a national hero, as attested by the multitude of accounts that remember him, such as: “The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary were to him not mere clichés or fancy words to be uttered at the appropriate time and to be forgotten when it becomes inconvenient. Raja Aziz believed in these values.”

Perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that, despite the 1988 constitutional amendments, there remains a contestation between the supremacy of Parliament and that of the Constitution. The battle that Raja Aziz fought throughout his career can still be won, but only if the Malaysian judiciary successfully asserts its independence and ultimately wins the respect of the people.

This is a summary of a speech given by the author at the 3rd Raja Aziz Addruse Memorial Lecture. Full text is available at ideas.org.my. Click here to download the full text

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Govt and civil society: The gap widens

September 25th, 2014 by admin Categories: Governance, Opinion No Responses
Govt and civil society: The gap widens

by Tricia Yeoh. First published in The Sun 25 September 2014

AN Asian civil society summit I attended in Jakarta recently discussed the often times tenuous relationship between government and civil society in countries within the region.

Civil society in many of our neighbouring countries face great challenges. Lack of funding, accusations of being anti-nationalist, or worse, anti-government, imprisonment and sexual harassment were some examples cited by colleagues from India, Myanmar, Cambodia and elsewhere.

Throughout the two days of discussing the governance of civil society, what became clear though was that all participants agreed there ought to be a more enabling environment to create a safer space for civil society to operate in. With greater freedom to push for more open, transparent and accountable government, this would ultimately allow for improved public service delivery.

The Indonesian example may be useful to cite in this instance, where there is an official government policy to encourage civil society to engage with them through partnerships, and have even set up a “democracy trust fund” to strengthen civil society organisations. On this count, the government itself has demonstrated its willingness to support civil society in building its capacity.

One of the more brilliant examples was a mobile application developed by the government itself, called “Lapor” (Report), which allows citizens to submit reports of any public nature, accompanied with photos or documents, using their hand phones. The receiving government office would then forward the report on to the relevant agency or ministry in charge of the complaint, to take immediate action.

While this is certainly encouraging, there is also a unique balance that civil society must strive to maintain in its relationship with government: being able to contribute to participatory decision-making requires a level of partnership with government (whether local, state or federal), but at the same time there ought to be a reasonable distance away from government such that the organisations are still deemed as independent and not co-opted into the agenda of government itself.

In fact, one question raised during the event was whether or not the government should make it compulsory for civil society organisations to register officially.

In some cases, governments can wield their powers in requiring NGOs to register, and by so doing, set up high barriers to entry in the “civil society marketplace”, regulating them strictly and in the worst case, controlling them. In which case, it is far better not to require societies and NGOs to register. Should people not be free to set up organisations without being officially registered and regulated?

Back home, the Registrar of Societies (ROS) has called up several steering committee members of Negara-Ku, a national unity movement whose charter has been endorsed by more than 80 NGOs, for questioning.

Among the questions asked is why there has been no application for the movement to be registered. Apparently, in Malaysia, your organisation can be called up by the ROS for questioning whether or not you are registered.

And this is just one example in a slew of a recent clampdown by the administration, which seems to be targeted to repress freedom of expression. In recent weeks, more than 20 individuals have been hauled up under the Sedition Act, the latest of whom has been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. NGOs have responded by launching an “Abolish the Sedition Act” movement.

This is all to be expected from civil society in Malaysia. There will be movements, and there will be marches, peaceful protests, or demonstrations, call it what you wish. This is all part and parcel of activism, in Malaysia or anywhere else in the world.

The very nature of non-governmental organisations is that they represent the interests of the non-governmental individuals and stakeholders, and many (if not all) times this may be in direct conflict with the opinions of the powers that be.

The difference lies in how government chooses to react.

As I sat back to listen to the Indonesian President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight (UKP4, which is similar in set-up to Pemandu in Malaysia) wax lyrical about civic engagement, open online platforms, and the need for citizen participation through technology and innovation, I could not help but wonder whether this sort of language would one day arrive at the doorsteps of our bureaucracy.

The reverse seems to be happening on our shores. There is a widening gap between the government and civil society, or at least one segment of civil society. Is it possible for this gap to narrow?

What set the groundwork for Indonesia’s eventual adoption of the Open Government Partnership – a government-led initiative and commitment to openness – was the enacting of the Freedom of Information Act. This is one step that our government could consider if it wants to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and accountability.

But before that, government officials, ministers, and civil servants must be encouraged to eventually step out of their comfort zones, stop viewing civil society as an evil force, and learn to engage them for their own benefit. In the long run, this is the only scenario that would result in a better quality of life for us all.

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Tricia Yeoh is the chief operating officer of IDEAS

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Liberty and justice in practice

September 16th, 2014 by admin Categories: Governance, Opinion No Responses
Liberty and justice in practice

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published by The Star 16 September 2014

Today is Malaysia Day. Malaysia was formed 51 years ago, bringing together Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore under one federation, as one country.

When Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed the formation of Malaysia, he repeated the same words when Malaya was proclaimed as an independent country. He proudly announced that this nation was founded upon the two principles of liberty and justice.

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Daya saing Malaysia, yang baik dan perlu diperbaiki

September 8th, 2014 by admin Categories: Economy & Trade, Opinion No Responses
Daya saing Malaysia, yang baik dan perlu diperbaiki

by Amin Ahmad. Diterbitkan di dalam The Malaysian Insider 8 September 2014

Pertama sekali, tahniah diucapkan kepada seluruh rakyat Malaysia kerana Forum Ekonomi Dunia (WEF) meletakkan Malaysia ke dalam kelompok 20 negara paling berdaya saing daripada sejumlah 144 buah negara yang dikajinya dalam Laporan Daya Saing Global 2014-2015.

Kedudukan Malaysia dilaporkan baik daripada sesetengah negara maju seperti Australia, Perancis serta Korea Selatan. Berbanding 28 buah negara Asia Pasifik, Malaysia berada di tempat ketujuh, di belakang antaranya negara Singapura, Jepun dan Hong Kong.

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