Monday, September 30, 2013

Bumi, not booming

The ruling party returns to its old habits of race-based handouts

THE United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is the dominant party in the coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957. Only now, however, is it parading its democratic credentials, so far as its internal appointments go. Nominations have just closed for elections to a broad range of party posts, to be decided in the middle of October by 146,000-odd party delegates at local level. Previously, a mere 2,600 members, those who attended the party’s convention, had a say. UMNO’s boosters claim that these new elections will restore vim to an ageing organisation. They say it will make it the most genuinely democratic party in the country. Not bad for an outfit with a past reputation as a ruthless political machine.
Yet what might be therapeutic for UMNO could prove the reverse for Malaysia. For what has emerged during the electoral process is that the so-called “warlords” who run the party are determined to shift the country in a conservative, indeed reactionary, direction. They want to reassert the supremacy of ethnic Malays. UMNO was formed to represent these and other “indigenous” groups who make up a majority in this multiracial country. They were favoured over other ethnic groups, principally the Chinese, who account for about 25% of the population and run much of Malaysia’s business, and Indians, with 7% of the population and a disproportionate presence in the professions. A return to race-tinged policies represents a repudiation of much of what the head of UMNO and prime minister, Najib Razak (pictured above), claimed to stand for during a general election in May.
How distant that poll now seems. Indeed, UMNO’s regression is a direct response to the election’s outcome. Though the UMNO-led ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), won the election, its performance was its worst ever. The BN’s share of the popular vote fell to just 47%. UMNO blamed what it saw as a near calamity on the defection of a large share of the Chinese vote to the opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, a political veteran—despite Mr Najib’s concerted efforts to woo Chinese and Indian voters. The lesson that UMNO has now drawn is that the more inclusive and liberal style of politics promoted by Mr Najib does not work. So the party has reverted to the bad old ways of race-based politics to shore up the Malay base, at the expense of those who were ungrateful enough to vote for the opposition.
The main casualty of this retreat is Mr Najib himself. Before the election he had come to be seen as a great reformer, winning the centre ground of politics. He repealed outdated security legislation and was slowly rolling back the system of ethnic preferences, begun in 1971, that give Malays a leg-up over Chinese and Indians considered to have benefited unfairly from the colonial economy of the British.
Yet to survive an onslaught from his conservative wing, Mr Najib has been forced to backtrack abruptly. On September 14th he announced a raft of initiatives privileging ethnic Malays. Known as the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme, they are worth approaching $10 billion and will benefit only ethnic Malays and other indigenous peoples (bumiputera, meaning “sons of the soil”, make up 68% of the population). The BEE will dish out loans for entrepreneurs, for instance, and will require every government ministry to carve out contracts from big projects to award to bumiputera-owned businesses. In future state companies will have to establish targets for bumiputera participation.
Mr Najib couched his extraordinary about-turn in terms of fairness and “equity” for ethnic Malays. But it was also a blatant attempt to please party critics who feel that he abandoned Malays at the election. His government threw those critics more red meat when the attorney-general’s office said it was appealing against the acquittal earlier this year of Mr Anwar on charges of sodomy, a politically motivated case that had dragged on for years.
However cynical, these moves seem to have saved Mr Najib’s skin, at least for the moment. He will not face a leadership challenge in the UMNO elections. The prime minister has been helped by the fact that, in the end, UMNO hardliners could find no sufficiently weighty figure to take him on. Yet that hardly matters to them, since they have forced Mr Najib to shift direction. There is no denying the damage to Mr Najib’s credibility. To many Malaysians, even ethnic Malays, Mr Najib has sacrificed political principles to save his job. His campaigning slogan of “1Malaysia”, emphasising racial harmony, now rings hollow.
What is more, says Kadir Jasin, an UMNO critic of Mr Najib, it might prove only a temporary respite for the prime minister. The conservative wing is contesting many of the UMNO posts up for grabs, including the three influential positions of vice-president. One candidate, Mukhriz Mahathir, the governor of Kedah state, is a particular threat. He is the youngest son of Mahathir Mohamad, who dominated Malaysian politics as prime minister from 1981 to 2003. The champion of bumiputera policies remains a hero to many Malays, and his lustre rubs off on his son. Should Mr Mukhriz win, the anti-Najib forces could coalesce around him as a proxy for his father. A weakened prime minister could then be ousted in an internal putsch, a fate that befell Mr Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who also failed to deliver at the polls.
Meanwhile a stuttering Malaysian economy will somehow have to raise the necessary billions for the new BEE programme. A brain drain abroad of talented Chinese- and Indian-Malaysians, disgusted by the overt racism of it all, will continue. And the country’s stated goal of becoming a prosperous economy by 2020 will recede further. So much for Mr Najib’s great reforms.
The Economist

Undue influence?

TigerTalk Ink Splash side banner
SEPTEMBER 27, 2013, 9:00 PM

The world of higher education does not seem so different from the jungles that Tiger roams, with its system of hiring the biggest and baddest as figureheads to scare away dissent. Or perhaps Tiger is mistaken, and these people were hired simply because they were incredible people. Looking at the current commoditised environment of the education sector, Tiger is afraid that may not be the case.
Tiger knows what it’s like to live in a hierarchy. The big cats on top, the small mousedeer and proletariat insects somewhere near the bottom. Even when the big cats are no longer at the top of their game, the rest of the jungle creatures cringe away from them in remembered fear.
Human society works in a similar fashion – although nowadays there seems to be the smell of rebellion in the air from the so-called peasants who don’t approve of how the big cats run things – and those on top are given opportunities to remain on top (or somewhere slightly above the regular person) once they leave their position of power.
Tiger is talking about former ministers and high-ranking ministry officials who go on to comfortably sit on the boards of universities and university colleges and colleges (so many names, but with no significant differences between them).
This kicks off an interesting cycle where they are invited to sit on these boards because of their former influence rather than their academic pursuits – and why would a school go forward with such an action if they do not expect anything in return.
These people are all investments, being paid cushy salaries to provide their experience. But how far does their experience go in an academic environment? If our education system were not so monetised and commercial-driven, perhaps the value of these former officials would be taken as it is. Many of them are former health ministry officials who must have been involved in policy and decision making when they were in office.
Unfortunately, we live in an environment where the misuse of power is rife. Ministers hire their children to work under them on the government’s payroll, million-dollar contracts are given out to spouses of ministers who then squander the money with no repercussions – everything is about who you know and how you can leverage from them.
malaysia-tertiary-education-universitySo when you hear that former director-generals and deputy-director generals of health are now presidents, chairmans and pro-chancellors of medical schools, the mind of the average Malaysian does not go ‘oh good, competent people are taking these positions that involve the education of our future generation who may end up performing surgery on me in the operating room’.
Why not? Because we have a blatant practice of ‘rewarding’ those who have served the government well. And just because they have served the government well, does not mean they have served the people well.
Just look at the appointment of Mohamed Zahrain Hashim as ambassador to Indonesia with no prior diplomatic experience (politics doesn’t count), and even more absurd, the appointment of former Inspector-General of Police, Ismail Omar as ambassador to France. While the education appointments do not have the clear mismatch as evidenced here, the reward system is very much alive and kicking.
One cannot expect a former ministry official to keep him – or herself in their former style with merely a pensioners salary! Tigers cannot change their stripes (Tiger has tried, believing that leopard print would be a pimping change. Didn’t work).
With the Malaysian culture of kowtow and seniority winning every time over transparency and meritocracy, it is difficult to see how these appointments will not affect interactions with their former ministries, or with any ministry officials.
There will always be questions. Did they get preferential treatment when obtaining their license? Were they punished with leniency when they were caught breaking the rules, or worse, was a blind eye turned? Were they allowed to justify actions that would be unacceptable from others?
The education system here is one that is already beleaguered by questionable quality. Education providers should be sensitive to the perception of the public – although the fact it may be detrimental to their monetary benefit is a vital reason to not to consider it. Again it boils down to money, and when it comes to the choice of giving the impression of being aboveboard or the chance to hire someone who may be able to grease some wheels however inadvertently, the latter is an easier path.
This is just a small and rusty cog in the creaky machine of Malaysia’s education system that needs to be cleaned up. Until then, Tiger thinks that maybe private higher education providers should take their eyes off the prize and focus more on the quality.
~ KiniBiz

Ambiga: Did gov't go against AG on PCA proposals?

Did the government sideline the attorney-general when it tabled legislative proposals in the Dewan Rakyat to bring back preventive detention?

Senior lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan raised the question in relation to Prevention of Crime Amendment Bill, tabled in Parliament last week.

NONESpeaking at a rally outside Parliament House today, Ambiga said this is because AG Abdul Gani Patail had made a public statement in July that he is against preventive detention.

"Did the government not take the AG's advice? I want to know whether the AG had been consulted, as he has made it clear he does not agree with this," she said.

Addressing about 30 people, who had marched from the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens to Parliament House to hand over  a protest memorandum to the home minister, she said the argument that the proposal is to control crime does not hold water.

Rather, she said, the objective of curbing crime would be better served if police officers are paid more, trained better and given better technology to work with.

"Don't believe those who say that we need this (law) to fight crime. Other countries do not have detention without trial (to fight crime). They help the police," she said.

NONESpeaking to reporters, she said the worst aspect of the Bill is that Malaysians have been "misled".

"Before the (13th) general election, (it was) ‘abolish preventive detention’. After (the) general election, (it was) ‘bring it back’. (Voters were ) absolutely taken for a ride."

She said Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi himself seems to have "misread the Bill".

"He says there is no detention without trial but this is their appreciation of the Bill. My reading as a lawyer is different ... In the first two years (of detention) there is no real recourse, and no right to legal representation," she said.

‘Bar to continue protesting’

The discrepancy in interpreting the Bill also calls for an urgent dialogue, instead of rushing through the second reading tomorrow in the Dewan Rakyat, Ambiga said.

NONEA former Bar Council president, she said the Malaysian Bar has come out strongly against the proposals and is expected to continue with its protest.

"There is no doubt (the Bar) will do more. They would like to see more discussion, but this is not just the Bar's fight, it is for everyone," she said.

Asked if activists will stage a protest when US president Barack Obama comes to Malaysia next week, she said: "Some people may, (but) it is our battle. Malaysians must fight."

~ Malaysiakini

Shafie Dris and the voice of the ignored Orang Asli

Years ago, when the government came to seize their lands, evicted them and handed their lands over to plantation companies - there was little the Orang Asli community could do to fight back.

NONEOne individual, Shafie Dris (left), called TV stations hoping that somebody would air their case but one station simply responded that they had checked with the land registration office and said "sorry, no story."

"No one came to help us," Shafie Dris said, his eyes started to tear and his voice choked up as he described why, against all odds, he ventured to become a one-man, unlicenced broadcaster for his community.

"My wishes are simple," said Shafie, an Orang Asli from Temerloh, Pahang, who received almost no formal education but speaks fluent Bahasa Malaysia.

"I believe that if the Orang Asli themselves don't speak up and raise a voice of protest, then no one would know that we have a problem... this is my real intention for making videos."

Numbering less than 200,000, or less than 0.1 percent of Malaysian population, the 'aboriginal people' of Peninsular Malaysia are the most vulnerable and downtrodden people group because they have no real political representation.

Some are educated, many still live in poverty and few have any means to articulate their seemingly lost cause.

"Shouldn't we be able to make decisions for ourselves about how we want to live?" Shafie asked an audience of college students, NGO activists, government officers and academicians in Kuala Lumpur last Friday.

Since 2009, 44-year-old Shafie has made more than 80 shortvideos and with the help of some friends, posted them onYouTubeFacebook and also distributed them freely through DVD copies.

shafie drisIt was this self-driven publicity effort that finally yielded some fruit. Last Friday, University Malaya invited Shafie to show a video and tell a packed room of more than 100 people how the government stole the ancestral lands of the Orang Asli and trampled on their rights.

Before this, their protest to Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal against amendments to the Aborigines Act 1954 - a move which could see 60 percent of their land rights lost - fell on deaf ears.

Similarly, parliamentarians and the Malaysian Bar have urged the government to implement the landmark Suhakam report, which was presented in August to the Prime Minister's department.

And the government's response? To form a task force to study it further.

'Best do it ourselves'

Shafie Dris decided enough was enough.

"To have a voice, you don't need to be highly-educated. I don't see anywhere in the laws of this land where it says that only the educated can speak up," he said to an audience of smart people.

Shafie only received three years of formal education and has struggled to make a living as an odd-job labourer, a mechanic's assistant, farmer and rubber-tapper.

He told of how, after taking only a short three-day videomaking course in 2009, he was ready for his calling as a reporter.

NONE"I knew in my heart the story I wanted to tell... that made it easy," Shafie said, almost apologetic to the undergraduates,  slogging away studying in the university.

But of course, he faced other challenges - possibly trivial to others – like having to buy a camera and learn how to use a computer.

"I went to a local shop to buy a camera but they said they won't give me a loan because I am a farmer. Only government workers, with stable salaries, are eligible for loans," he said.

And later, even when he found support from human rights NGO Komas, the hurdles didn't stop piling up.

"At Komas, they used (Apple) Mac laptops instead of the PC," Shafie explained, as the knowing audience laughed. The two competing computer systems initially stressed him out to no end.

He fell sick for days, and nearly didn't finish editing his videos, one of which eventually won the top prize at the Komas Freedom Film Festival in 2010.
These days his eldest son, who is 20 years old, helps him with his videos.

Fighting gov't propaganda

When he first started going around the villages showing his videos, the government officers also kept discrediting him, alleging that he is "not an Orang Asli" and is only an opposition pawn out to fish for votes. He still suffers the same sort of persecution today.

NONE"But I don't care... I will persevere. My work is publicly available and people can decide for themselves if the government is correct or I am," Shafie said.

Shafie stressed that his activist work does not back any political party.

While both BN and Pakatan have sporadically offered support for the Orang Asli cause, which was given token mention in the GE13 election manifestos of both parties, Shafie said no one really cared for their land rights.

The mainstream media perception is that the Orang Asli are a backward, stubborn people with unreasonable demands, that they refuse to embrace the country's economic development. That mindset needs to be altered, Shafie said.

In response to a question from the audience, he said that many Orang Asli villages now have access to the Internet and modern facilities.

"But the problem is they are not all brave enough to speak up," added Shafie, who is also the spokesman for Jaringan Orang Asli Pahang (JOAP), a grassroots movement.

The government has been trying to assimilate the Orang Asli through national education and it is an open secret that some are even rewarded for converting to Islam, he said.

"I have nothing against religion. Religion and culture can be separate... but for the government, they hope that once we become Muslim, we naturally lose our traditions," Shafie said.

NONEThis only reinforces the common view that Orang Asli are an uncultured, ancient and wandering wild group of people who need to 'civilised', when in fact they are a pre-bumiputera race, not aliens who just recently landed.

Another Orang Asli activist from Perak, Abri Yokchopil (left), backed Shafie at the UM-sponsored talk.

Abri said that at the end of it all, the community was simply defending their homes and were not an anti-development or pro-democracy movement.

"This is not wandering grounds that we are demanding for but land that has long been demarcated and inherited for generations from our ancestors. We have farmed some of it, lived for a long time and buried our dead here. The land we are asking for is not a boundless land from Alor Setar to Johor, as some claim."

This desire to "go home" is certainly a universal value that anyone should be able to understand, Abri said.

He said no matter how rich the Orang Asli may become, how highly educated or how far they have ventured, where can the Orang Asli of the future go home to if their ancestral lands are gone?

~ Malaysiakini

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sarawak gov't suffers another embarrassing loss

The Court of Appeal sitting in Kuching yesterday confirmed that ‘pemakai menoa' (territorial domain) and ‘pulau galau' (reserved forests) as native customary land (NCL) under the Iban adat or custom in Sarawak, thus handing another embarrassing and humiliating defeat to the Sarawak government.

The decision by the three-judge panel comprising Ramly Ali, Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim, and Mohd Zawawi Salleh is certain to cause jitters to the administration as well as to scores of giant companies which had cultivated oil palm on such land.

There are more than 200 similar cases pending hearing in the court.
The decision was made on two cases namely High Court Suit No 22-43-2000-I in which Luking anak Uding and two others of Tuai Rumah Luang, Merakai, Serian sued the Superintendent of Land & Surveys, Kota Samarahan and three others and High Court Suit No. 22-249-98-III (I),where Tuai Rumah Nyutan ak Jami and two others sued Land Custody Development Authority (LCDA) and two others. 

In Luking's case the disputed area is about 9,000ha fully planted with oil palm, while in Nyutan's , the area is over 4,857ha, also fully planted with the crop.

In both cases, the three defendants were the same i.e, LCDA, Nirwarna Muhibbah Sdn Bhd and the Sarawak government.

In view of the commonality of the parties in these two suits and because one of the provisional Leases (PLs) overlapped with the NCL of both of the Iban plaintiffs in these two cases, the appeals were consolidated.

Old Malay saying manifests itself

While LCDA is a government subsidiary, Nirwarna Muhibbah Sdn Bhd is owned by Assistant Minister Naroden Majais and his wife.

NONEThe Court of Appeal ordered costs of RM10, 000 to be paid by each of the appellants/defendants and RM5,000 by each intervener to the plaintiffs/respondents.
Meanwhile, Harrison Ngau (left), representing Luking Anak Uding and two others, quoted the Malay saying ‘biar mati anak jangan mati adat' (Let the child die but not culture). 
"This is what the natives had wanted that their ‘adat' of ‘pemakai menua' and ‘pulau galau' must be preserved and respected.

"All natives in Sarawak should defend this sacred ‘adat' and heritage of theirs which our forefathers had passed on to us and which we in turn will have to pass to our future generations," he said.

~ Malaysiakini

Malaysia most corrupt report — proof that Najib and Low have failed, says opposition

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013
Corruption has become endemic in Malaysia, say opposition politicians in response to a report just released by Ernst & Young which ranked Malaysia as among the most corrupt nations in Asia.
They are also not surprised at Malaysia's ranking, saying this was evidence of the failure of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his minister Datuk Paul Low (pic).
Low, the former president of Transparency International-Malaysia, was recruited by Najib as a minister in the Prime Minister's Department after the 13th general election to aid the government's efforts to combat corruption.
He added that all the talk of fighting corruption was rhetoric.
"This is like a slap on Paul Low's face, especially since he recently insisted he was not merely an accessory in the government," said DAP’s Bukit Mertajam MP, Steven Sim.
The report, titled Asia-Pacific Fraud Survey Report Series 2013, said Malaysia, along with China, had the highest levels of bribery and corruption found anywhere in the world.
It also listed Malaysia as among the countries most likely to take shortcuts to meet targets when economic times are tough.
Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari (pic) agreed with Sim and felt that the report was proof that corruption had become endemic in Malaysia.
Saying that the findings were "hardly surprising", Zairil added that the report was consistent with past surveys such as the Global Financial Integrity report, which named Malaysia as one of the countries with the highest amount of illicit capital flight.
"This will definitely hamper not only our ability to attract investment, but it also means that there are real structural issues that inhibit economic efficiency.
"Corruption means money is wasted, and this contributes to our deteriorating financial position, in light of mounting public debt and increasing deficit," he warned.
Zairil cautioned that if the menace was not addressed, the consequences would be severe.
He noted that, currently, the negative outlook rating by Fitch was a clear indication that something was amiss, adding that if the country's sovereign credit rating was downgraded, it would result in higher costs of borrowing, thus impacting the entire country.
In July, global ratings agency Fitch Ratings revised Malaysia's sovereign credit rating outlook from stable to negative as the possibility of addressing public finance weaknesses had deteriorated after GE13.
"The solution in fighting corruption is down to political will. It requires no infrastructure investment as it is nothing radical," said Zairil.
He added that this included making the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission truly independent, as the current scenario was that only the small fish were caught while the major perpetrators escaped.
"For example, until today, no one has been convicted for the Port Klang Free Zone fiasco, when it entailed RM12 billion of public funds. The National Feedlot Corporation scandal is another case in point," said Zairil. - September 27, 2013.
~ The Malaysian Insider

‘No S’wak tribe burns down own homes’

Winston Way

September 27, 2013
Meanwhile the Murum natives have mounted two more roadblocks in a bid to stop ongoing construction works in the hydroelectric dam project.
KUCHING: A lawyer aiding the affected Penans in Murum has rebutted claims by the Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) that burning down abandoned  longhouses in Long Wat was part of  the local community’s “recycling” culture.
“We Penans indeed dismantle our old longhouses when we move to new ones, and recycle all the materials. But we never burned them down, “ said Abun Sui Anyit.
He further added: “The burning of the longhouse in Long Wat was most likely done by the sub-contractors for the clearing and dismantling works there.
“How can people accuse us of burning the longhouse when that is against our own customs?”
Speaking to FMT here following SEB’s widely reported justification for allegedly burning down longhouses in Murum following the impoundment of the dam,  Abun said “no tribe in Sarawak practiced burning their own house”.
“No tribe or ethnic group in Sarawak practices the abominable culture of burning their very own longhouses!
“Even when they move to a new longhouse, the old longhouse would be respectfully stripped of its timber for recycling purposes. Nothing goes to waste and nothing is destroyed by fire.
“For the authorities to suggest that the Penans burned their own longhouse is a complete and utter fabrication!” he said.
Abun said the Penans condemned the use of burning methods used by SEB’s sub-contractors to  clear the area.
Seven longhouse villages are involved  in SEB’s relocation program under its Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) for the natives affected by the Murum Hydroelectric Project.
“Let the incident in Long Wat be the last one. We do not want the same thing to happen in the other (old) longhouses. Let we Penans ourselves dismantle them and recycle the materials ourselves,” said him.
More blockades
Meanwhile, Abun also told FMT that the Murum natives  had mounted two  new blockades  in their effort to stop the ongoing construction works in the hydroelectric dam project.
“I was informed this morning that there are now two additional blockades on the road towards the dam project. There are more people there now, not only Penans but also Kenyah from the longhouses not yet relocated.
“So altogether, there are three blockades now in three separate places. They want to make sure that the (construction) works won’t proceed, and to make sure the government and SEB will come over and talk with them, listen to them and heed to their demands,” said Abun.
On Monday, SEB expressed its concern about the ‘irresponsible act of spreading lies and the attempts to create panic among the public by certain NGOs in relation to the Murum HEP’.
The statement also mentioned  the presence of Penan representatives from the affected Murum area with whom SEB said they are currently in discussion with on a range of matters including faster relocation to the new longhouses and compensation packages.
~ Free Malaysia Today