Saturday, August 30, 2008

Budget 2009: Initial Thoughts

I wrote an immediate short column for Malaysian Insider yesterday after my budget forum on my thoughts with regards to the Budget for 2009 announced yesterday.

Not surprisingly, the media is full of praise of the RM35 billion allocated towards building a better public transportation system between 2009 to 2014. However, big numbers and big headlines aside, the actual allocation may not be that impressive.
Despite an impressive headline figure of RM35 billion allocated for public transportation, it actually only works out to RM5.8 billion a year over the next six years. In fact, if one looks carefully at the budget for the transportation sector, it has declined by RM1 billion to RM11.5 billion.
But what is of greatest concern will be the reckless spending spree the government seems to be undertaking. Barisan Nasional Pulai MP, Datuk Nur Jazlan wrote in his piece in Malaysian Insider that we should "Grow the Economy, Not Give it Away". Although he meant it in a different way, but I thought the title was apt in describing how we are just spending literally all our windfall (as opposed to hard-earned) tax revenues, particularly from the oil and gas sector, without a thought about saving for a rainy day.
Next year, the budgeted operational expenditure is another record RM154.2 billion. This figure is both shocking and scary as operational expenditure for the government when Abdullah Badawi first became prime minister in 2004 was only RM80.5 billion.

In just a short period of four to five years, government operational expenditure has increased by 91.5% or RM73.7 billion. This raises the question as to what the government is spending its money on which requires such substantial increase in operational expenses?

Even more worrying is the fact that most of the government's revenue is sourced from the petroleum sector. Last year, the estimated contribution of the sector to our government's coffers was 37%, but for 2009, this is estimated to increase to 46.4%.
There are a few separate tracks of criticisms that are worth further developing. And as I flesh them out over the next few days, I'll blog them here. So watch this space. ;-)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Malaysia Budget 2009

Flash updates:

Government's 2009 Budget

Record government expenditure: RM207.9 billion (2008: RM176.9b)
Operating Expenditure: RM154.17 billion (74.1%)
Development Expenditure: RM53.73 billion (25.9%)

Budget Deficit

Budgeted deficit 2008 - 3.1%
Revised anticipated deficit 2008 - 4.8%(!)

Budget deficit 2009 - 3.6%

Public Transport

RM35 billion allocated for 2009 - 2014
(Average of RM5.8 billion per annum)

Public Sector

To expand by 4.7% in 2008
1.1% contribution to GDP growth in 2008
Share of GDP high at 24.1%

2008 Operational Expenditure (OE) Exploded

2008 OE Budget (announced last September) - RM128.8 billion
2008 Revised OE Budget - RM151.0 billion
Variation of 17.2% or RM22.2 billion(!)

2008 Development Expenditure (DE) Shrunk

2008 DE Budget (announced last September) - RM48.1 billion
2008 Revised DE Budget - RM46.2 billion

Government Revenue

Original 2008 Budget revenue: RM147 billion
Revised 2008 Budget revenue: RM161.6 billion (increased by 9.5% or RM14 billion)
Budget 2009 revenue: RM176.2 billion (increase by 9.2% or RM10.6 billion)

Petroleum Sector Contribution to Government Revenue:

Direct Taxes: RM35.826 billion
Indirect Taxes: RM2.939 billion (Export Duties)
Non-Tax Revenue: RM30.0 billion (Dividends) + RM6.272 billion (Royalty)
Total Revenue Contribution: RM75.04 billion (46.4%)

Education & Training Expenditure (Major Beneficiary - Yay!)

Operational Expenditure 2009 (2008) - RM37.7b (RM35.5b)
Development Expenditure 2009 (2008) - RM10.1b (RM8.5b)
Total Expenditure 2009 (2008) - RM48.8b (RM44.0b)

Transportation Expenditure

Drop despite public transport plan
Operational Expenditure 2009 (2008) - RM3.9b (RM4.7b)
Development Expenditure 2009 (2008) - RM7.6b (RM7.8b)
Total Expenditure 2009 (2008) - RM11.5b (RM12.5b)

OK, that's all the updates for now. I'm off to a series of interviews and a budget forum @ Sin Chew Jit Poh tonight (come if you are free and understand Mandarin, 8pm). More later ;-)

DAP Budget Brief 2009

The Government's 2009 Budget is being tabled in a couple of minutes, and I'm ploughing through the reports which include the Auditor-General's reports, which are approximately 3 feet tall i.e., not much leg-room now.

A few days ago, DAP released its budget brief for 2009, on how we expect to deliever our budget should we be in government. It's adapted from our complete 2008 budget delivered last year as most of the policies have not been adopted by the Government and are still relevant.

You can download the budget brief (10 pages) or you can download the complete version for last year for a more detailed understanding of the party's economic policies (60 pages). Or you can also read The Star's report yesterday on DAP's CAT Budget.

In summary, we are anticipating a small increase in government revenue of approximately 3%, largely driven by oil and gas revenues but limited by a decline in corporate taxes to RM154.5 billion. However, we intend to maintain budget expenditure to RM177 billion as per the Government's budget 2008.

However, the allocations for operational and development expenditure will be restructured to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government expenditure. Operational expenditure will be reduced from RM129 billion to RM120 billion or a 7% reduction. On the other hand, development expenditure will be increased from RM48 billion to RM57 billion or an increase of 19%.

Reductions in the government operating expenditure which has ballooned by more than 43% since 2005 will be achieved through strict enforcement via the policy of competency, accountability and transparency. The effects of such policies will create greater expenditure savings over the next few years.

Savings from reductions in operating expenditure will instead be channelled towards development expenditure which will have a greater economic multiplier impact. The major beneficiaries of the increase in development expenditure in the DAP Budget 2009 will be the education, transportation and health sectors.

As a result of financial prudence, increasing the effective utilisation of the Government's revenue, the Government will be able to reduce its budget deficit from its estimated 3.1% in 2008 to 1.4% in 2009, without compromising its ability to pump-prime the economy in a weak global economic environment.

The 14 key measures to lift our economy proposed are:
  1. Protecting Oil Revenues
  2. Investing in Education
  3. Creating an Efficient Transportation System
  4. Renegotiating Unfair Contracts
  5. Implementing FairWage and Malaysia Bonus Scheme
  6. Open, Competitive & Transparent Tenders
  7. Open, Competitive & Transparent Auctions
  8. Seeding Creativity & Innovation
  9. Revitalising Malaysian SMEs
  10. Restructuring Personal Income Taxes
  11. Introducing Green Taxes
  12. Increasing Women Workforce Participation
  13. Reviving the ICT Sector
  14. Participation from the Civil Society
As mentioned earlier, details on these policies and others are available from our 2009 Budget Brief as well as our 2008 Budget.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Malaysia-Today Censored?

Update: It has now been confirmed. Malaysia-Today has been censored by the Government and it spells the end of Mahathir's Multimedia Super Corridor. When a Bill of Guarantee deemed sacred is infringed, then there is nothing else credible in it. Let's hope it spells the end of this UMNO-led government as well.

I have received information that the ultra-popular Malaysia-Today website operated by Raja Petra Kamaruddin may have been blocked and censored altogether by the Malaysian authorities, and cannot be accessed via TMNet connections.

You can still access the website via the mirror site @

Well, it may look like the end of the Multimedia Super Corridor Bill of Guarantees which has promised no censorship and there may be plenty of truth in the exposé by Malaysian Insider yesterday on the fact that bloggers are being targetted next.

Let's just hope that we are wrong about all this.

Monday, August 25, 2008

DNA Bill Gets Priority

The picture says it all about UMNO and Barisan Nasional.

But the actions weren't limited to Permatang Pauh where the mother of all by-elections is reaching its climax. At the start of this parliamentary session the new "DNA Bill 2008" was introduced to the Parliament for the first reading.

On the very next day, this bill was then placed on the agenda for second reading and placed 4th out of a list of 6 bills to be debated. The first was the "National Kenaf and Tobacco Bill 2008", followed by the "Education (Amendment) Bill 2008", which is currently being debated.

Next due was supposed to be the much "anticipated" "Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill 2008" to be debated.

However, that has just been changed in the order paper today. The DNA Bill has now been moved up, for reasons on the Government would know, while the UUCA Amendment bill pushed back to 5th on the Agenda. This also means that it may be unlikely that UUCA amendments will get approved by the House this week.

Once again, the Government is clearly in a rush to pass the DNA Bill before the room to debate bills end this Thursday as the Budget will be announced on Friday, followed by debates on the Budget after the puasa and raya recess.

To quote one of my colleagues who just smsed me after being informed of the news, "what the hell are they doing? The ass is more important than the uni."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

On Publicity & Recruiting Malays

I've been elected as the new National Publicity Secretary for DAP and I certainly hope to do a good job over the next 3 years. The Malaysian Insider spoke to me about DAP's publicity machinery and I credited the bulk of our success to changes in the mechanism by which messages are delivered - with formerly alternative media becoming the "mainstream" media, as well as the major role civil society played in it.
DAP's "stock" might have skyrocketed since the March 8 polls but new publicity secretary Tony Pua acknowledges that it was the public that poured in their own resources to make it happen.

"As much as we would like to take credit for it, credit actually goes to people outside the party," said 36-year-old Pua, who has previously been editor of the English edition of Rocket, the party newsletter.

"We can never match the resources of civil society, the NGOs, the bloggers and electronic media. But what we can do is to tap into this potential to bring out the message," he told The Malaysian Insider after being appointed into his new role at the 15th DAP National Congress.

At the same time, one of the most onerous task in my hands as the publicity chief is to project DAP as a party for all Malaysians i.e., all races and religions. In particular, it has been highlighted ad nauseam both here on this blog and at our party congress that we need more Malay members and produce more Malay leaders. Much work is needed, and all efforts must be made to ensure its success.

But I can tell you right now, it's much easier said (and criticised) than done. It is the role of everyone who believes in the principles the party adheres to, to play their individual roles to increase the intake of Malays into the party. While the leaders can say all the right things, and produce all the right publicity materials ("Roket" has been in production over the past 2 months) but it will have to be the grassroots and supporters to convert open-minded and right-thinking Malays into members. Otherwise, all efforts made will be in vain.

The Malaysian Insider also interviewed some of our existing Malay members, Sdr Ahmad Ton, an elected central executive committee member as well as an outspoken Hj Azahari Ismail from Bukit Bintang on their views on attracting Malays.
Despite only Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim holding office in the newly-formed top leadership, Malays in DAP seem unperturbed and determined to increase their numbers. For them, it is not that the party has shunned Malays but the other way around.

"We have very few Malays who are professionals. In the end, the democratic process in the party has resulted in the makeup of our central executive committee. Besides Ahmad Ton and Tunku Aziz, who else is there to appoint?" said Azhari Ismail, a 57-year-old delegate from Bukit Bintang Baru at the party's 15th National Congress.
Let's hope by the next party elections, we will see a fair few more Malay members participating in the Party's organisation and activities. But make no mistake about it, it's one uphill task!

Full DAP Central Executive Committee

10 new members have been recruited into the DAP Central Executive Committee who were elected yesterday evening. They are selected based on a mix of young and old, different races and comes from different parts of Malaysia.

They are:
  • Teo Nie Ching, MP Serdang, Selangor
  • Thomas Su, ADUN Pasir Pinji, Perak
  • Leong Ngah Ngah, ADUN Triang, Pahang
  • Liew Chin-Tong, MP Bukit Bendera, Pulau Pinang
  • Jeff Ooi, MP Jelutong, Pulau Pinang
  • Ronnie Liu, ADUN Pandamaran, Selangor
  • Gunasekaren a/l Veraman, ADUN Senawang, Negeri Sembilan
  • Hew King Cheu, MP Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
  • Vincent Wu, Perak
And based on the meetings to elect the various position holders in the party's leadership, the following are the results. I've been elected as the National Publicity Secretary, with Nie Ching as the Assistant. Teresa Kok who was the former National Publicity Secretary is now a National Vice Chairman.
  • Chairman: Karpal Singh
  • Deputy Chairman: Dr Tan Seng Giaw

  • Vice Chairman: M Kulasegaran
  • Vice Chairman: Chow Kon Yeow
  • Vice Chairman: Teresa Kok (new)
  • Vice Chairman: Tunku Abdul Aziz (new)
  • Vice Chairman: Chong Chien Jen (new)

  • Secretary General: Lim Guan Eng
  • Deputy Secretary-General: Chong Eng
  • Deputy Secretary-General: Ngeh Koo Ham
  • Deputy Secretary-General: Prof P Ramasamy (new)

  • Organising Secretary: Tan Kok Wai
  • Assistant Organising Secretary: Vincent Wu

  • Publicity Secretary: Tony Pua (new)
  • Assistant Organising Secretary: Teo Nie Ching (new)

  • International Secretary: Liew Chin Tong (new)

  • Political Education Director: Anthony Loke
  • Assistant Political Education Director: Jeff Ooi (new)
Overall, out of the complete list of 30 Central Executive Committee members, that is after including the appointed members, there are a total of 9 or 30% of new faces in the committee. This, in my opinion is certainly a good sign and represents healthy renewal in the party's leadership. ;-)

Tunku Abdul Aziz Joins DAP

Our search for talent, regardless of race or age, to join DAP has not ended in the last elections. And the latest talent to have joined DAP is certainly no small fry, but instead someone whom many would regard as a towering Malaysian, and he is none other than Tunku Abdul Aziz.

Tunku was formerly the vice-chairman of Transparency International and founder President of the Kuala Lumpur Society for Transparency and Integrity, the Malaysian Chapter of Transparency International. He was also formerly Bank Negara adviser, Group Director of Sime Darby and Director of Commonwealth Secretariat. He has even been appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the Special Adviser on the Establishment of the Ethics Office. Read his short bio here.

Many of you would definitely have read his many columns and reports in the media as well.

At the same time, he has been co-opted into the Central Executive Committee as one of our five national vice-chairmen. I certainly think that Tunku is one big catch. ;-) The full CEC list is blogged here.

DAP CEC Elections Results

With keen expectations of the outcome to the DAP triennial leadership elections to be held today, see write ups in The Star and The Malaysian Insider in the last 2 days, the results are finally out.

There are 2 new faces among the elected 20, and that's Gobind Singh and myself. I'm thankful for the confidence and trust given to me by the parties delegates and grassroots and I'll certainly do my best to help take the party to the next level (with all your support of course!)

The list of 20 elected central executive committee members are (number of votes in brackets):
  • Lim Kit Siang (624)
  • Lim Guan Eng (620)
  • Tan Kok Wai (571)
  • Foong Kui Lun (504)
  • M Kulasegaran (500)
  • Teresa Kok (495)
  • Dr Tan Seng Giaw (492)
  • Chong Chieng Jen (476)
  • Karpal Singh (471)
  • Ngeh Khoo Ham (455)
  • Anthony Loke Siew Fook (452)
  • Ahmad Ton (448)
  • Tony Pua (446)
  • Chong Eng (434)
  • Teng Chang Khim (417)
  • Nga Kor Ming (417)
  • Chow Kon Yeow (410)
  • P Ramasamy (340)
  • Dr Boo Cheng Hau (332)
  • Gobind Singh Deo (305)
The results while possibly didn't meet expectations fully in bringing in 1-2 more "new blood" into the top leadership, was nevertheless understandably a ringing endorsement of the leadership which too DAP to its best ever election performance on March 8th.

At the same time, while there were only 2 new faces, there are 5 members under the age of 40, with Anthony Loke being the youngest at 31. Hence this committee is a fairly good representation of youth and experience.

There will be up to 10 additional CEC members to be appointed where the factors in consideration will be the number of votes polled (whether ranked top 30), geographical representation (whether most states are evenly represented), as well as other traits such as gender, age group as well race. I believe this list will be decided on Sunday and will be announced together with the specific leadership positions.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Public Transport Commission Still In Freezer

In my supplementary question to the Minister of Transport in Parliament yesterday, I asked the Minister on the status of the Commission of Pubic Transport (Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam) promised by the Prime Minister in his speech to the parliament on the 26th June 2008. I also asked if the chairmanship of the commission will rightly be given to the Minister of Transport.

In reply, the Minister of Transport announced that no decisions have yet been made on the set up of the Commission.

Needless to say, I'm extremely disappointed with the response, and total lack of urgency by the Government.
  1. The absolute lack of progress, even on the simple act of appointing the chair of the Commission, clearly shows the lack of seriousness and priority placed on public transportation by the Barisan Nasional government. Despite the steep fuel price increases in the past 2 years, and despite promises that the Government will take immediate measures to provide efficient alternative public transport for the people.

  2. Even to my original question of when and how much it'll cost to build the extensions to the existing LRT lines, the Minister announced that they have yet to be established.

  3. Clearly, if the Minister of Transport is not appointed to lead the Commission, then once again the Minister, traditionally held by the President of MCA is marginalised within the Cabinet from responsibilities relating to public transport. It'll only prove that we have a Minister of Transprot which is not in charge of transport in Malaysia. And this brings to question the relevance of MCA in the cabinet led by Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

  4. If the Ministry of Transport does not lead this Commission, then the consequence will be the creation of another government agency in addition to the existing quagmire of 13 agencies in-charge of public transportation in Malaysia.
It is time that the Government wakes up from its slumber and understand the difficulties and inconvenience suffered by the Malaysian public especially in the urban cities where they suffer from the double whammy of high fuel prices, but no efficient and viable public transportation sytem as an alternative.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Funny, This MCA...

I had no intentions to put down my thoughts on the on-going public campaign for the presidency of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), due for elections this October, on this blog - lest I be accused of being nosy (okay, maybe a little). Well, that was until I read this article in The Malaysian Insider (which also confirmed UMNO-MCA's master-servant relationship).

Presidential hopeful, Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek declared that Datuk Ong Tee Keat was unfit to lead MCA because he will not speak up to UMNO.
When asked which MCA leader could lead MCA to such reforms, Dr Chua only indicated that Datuk Ong Tee Keat, the only candidate to declare his intentions to run for the party presidency in the October elections would not be capable.

"He is always regarded as a vocal leader but if it is a controversial issue, he tries to avoid it. During the keris incident, where was he?"

Chua commented, referring to Umno youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein's repeated brandishing of the Malay dagger during Umno general assembly meetings.
Ummm... as far as I can remember, Dr Chua was one of MCA's four cabinet ministers in Pak Lah's administration while Ong was a deputy minister. And "during the keris incident, where was he [Dr Chua]?"

The reporter must be commended for daring to ask further.
Asked specifically if [Dr Chua] himself could do it, he refused to answer directly, saying only that "at least I would dare to articulate these concerns."
Ummm... so Dr Chua will at least be vocal about these issues, but he just said that Ong was a 'vocal leader' too! So what's the difference?

Funny, this MCA.

Find Out More on US Undergraduate Education

Hear from current students and alumni!

"There's something all of us speaking at this panel have in common. We've had the benefit of an educational philosophy that emphasises more than professional training - an education system that avoids the mass production of cookie-cutter citizens, unlike the universities many other countries. We've enjoyed incredible opportunities to grow as individuals, and often at the expense of the very institutions we attend. But for every one of us, there are many who could have had the same experience, yet for some reason simply ended up elsewhere."

This Saturday the 23rd 2.00pm they're doing their little bit to change this sad situation. At the Descartes Education Counselling Centre in Damansara Utama, a group of us - current students and alumni from various American universities and liberal arts colleges - will be speaking on the hows, the whys, the whats of applying to American institutions of higher education.

Speakers include:
  • Mohd Hafiz Noor Sham (Michigan)
  • Nathaniel Tan (Harvard)
  • Andrew Loh (Swathmore)
  • Ng Eng Han (Dartmouth)
  • John Lee ML (Dartmouth)
But more than that, we hope you'll help us spread the word. There are many bright students out there who do not realise the scope of financial aid available, or the life-changing possibilities of a liberal arts education. If you have any friends who are interested in learning more, please, invite them and bring them along. If you have contacts at local colleges or secondary schools, please let them know about this upcoming talk. Even passing this email along is enough. And if you run a blog or website, please help us get the word out.

Or you can view the details on Facebook.

In the group pictures are a map to the venue, and a poster for the event. If you're interested in helping distribute the poster, please get in touch with and we can talk about reimbursement for photocopying costs, etc.

Topics include:
  • Introduction to the Liberal Arts Concept
  • Liberal Arts College vs Research University
  • The advantages and disadvantages of a Liberal Arts college
  • Future Prospects of a Liberal Arts Degree
There will be an open-ended Q&A session at the end for further discussion. Please help spread the message. The hall can sit 80 persons.

"College" to "Institution": Form or Substance?

Before the much anticipated University and Unviersity Colleges Act (UUCA) gets debated, probably on Monday next week, there's a less significant amendment to the Education Act 1996 which is currently being debated in Parliament. For those interested in a preview of what I intend to touch on with regards to UUCA, can visit Education in Malaysia, where I will be blogging the issue in parts.

However, as the Speaker was clearly giving leeway for MPs to speak on this Education debate, and the fact that many MPs were absent (probably in Permatang Pauh), I decided sort of last minute to participate in this debate as well and managed to get my voice heard earlier in the afternoon.

The key amendment was really the "upgrade" of the status of teacher training "colleges" into teacher training "institutes". Graduates from the institute will then be awarded degrees instead of the current diplomas. The Deputy Minister of Education said that this is part of the overall programme to raise the quality of teachers. Hence teachers became my main topic of debate during the speech, provided below. Apologies however for the many simple language errors below, as I wrote it in a hurry, and it served more as a guide than an actual script during my speech.

Parts of the debate was quite lively especially when I started discussing the standard of English (and other subjects like Mathematics and Science) in Malaysian schools. I'll see what I can dig out from the transcripts from the Hansard later.

Terima kasih kepada Tuan Yang Di-Pertua yang memberi peluang kepada saya untuk sama berbasas suatu Akta untuk meminda Akta Pendidikan 1996 ini.

Antara punca pindaan yang terpenting sekali dalam akta ini adalah penukaran sesebuah Maktab pendidikan guru kepada sebuah “institusi pendidikan guru”, dan pada masa yang sama, graduan daripada maktab ataupun institusi ini akan bertaraf ijazah dan bukannya diploma.

Saya memang tidak membantah pindaan akta ini. Akan tetapi pindaan ini tidak akan dapat meningkatkan qualiti bidang perguruan di Malaysia dengan sebegitu sahaja. Penukaran takrif ini merupakan satu penukaran “form” ataupun penamaan sahaja dan bukannya satu rombakan yang bersubstance.

Penukaran status “maktab” ke “institutsi” tidak akan membawa apa-apa manfaat jikalau tidak disampingi oleh rombakan yang lebih penting. Jika rombakan asas ini tidak dilaksanakan, kita tukar nama maktab kepada universiti pun sia-sia sahaja.

Tahniah dihulurkan kepada pengurusan Maktab perguruan kerana mencapai tahap ISO9001 seperti yang diumumkan oleh Timbalan Menteri dalam ucapannya. Akan tetapi, tahap ini adalah hanya menilaikan sistem proses dan dokumentasi sahaja dan bukannya menilaikan taraf mutu ataupun kandungan pendidikan. Yang Berhormat akan mendapati bahawa, universiti-universiti terkemuka di dunia langsung tidak membelanjakan berpuluh-puluh ribu untuk mendapatkan ISO ini. Sebabnya jelas, ISO ini tidak dapat menilaikan taraf intellectual ataupun kemantapan fikiran pihak perguruan dan akademik.

Tuan Yang Di-Pertua, ada 2 masalah yang penting yang Kementerian mesti selesaikan sebelum kualiti maktab dapat dipertingkatkan untuk berhak digelar sebagai “institusi”.

Pertama sekali, kementerian perlu meningkatkan qualiti pelajar ataupun siswazah yang diterima ke dalam kursus perguruan. Buat masa ini, Kementerian ditanggap sebagai mementingkan kuantiti ke atas qualiti “quantity over quality”. Repot-repot yang diterbitkan selalunya meraikan pencapaian maktab-maktab mengikut jumlah “graduan” dari maktab dan bukannya qualiti graduan yang dikeluarkan.

Saya sebagai wakil rakyat telah menerima pelbagai aduan mengenai mutu pendidikan di sekolah-sekolah kita di mana guru-guru mengajar fakta-fakta yang salah ataupun tidak tepat. Saya juga menerima aduan mengenai ibubapa yang sering kena membetulkan ajaran guru di sekolah, terutamanya dalam bidang bahasa Inggeris, Matematik dan Sains. “Saya pergi sekolah” telahpun menjadi “I go school”. Ataupun apakah “prestasi” dalam Bahasa Inggeris? “Prestation”(!?)

Menurut pengalaman New Straits Times punya Deputy group editor-in-chief yang lalu, Datuk Hishamuddin Aun, dalam satu temuduga dengan seorang calon wartawan:
Hisham: How many are there in your family?

Calon: I number three.

Hisham: What does your father do?

Calon: Father die already.

Hisham: What does your mother do?

Calon: Mother not yet die.
Habis-lah. Walaupun contoh yang diberi tadi adalah sedikit lucu, akan tetapi, ianya menunjuk dengan jelas kelemahan yang serius dalam qualiti perguruan pada masa ini, terutamanya di antara guru-guru yang lebih muda.

Malah, dari segi kelakuan, disiplin dan tatatertib seorang guru pun, terdapat banyak aduan. Kami baru sahaja mendengar aduan di mana seorang guru di Telok Panglima Garang menghina dan mempertikaikan kaum India dengan perkataan yang kasar dan racist, ataupun bersifat perkauman yang negatif.

Selain daripada dialih ke kementerian untuk membuat kerja administratif, seperti yang dilaporkan dalam suratkhabar semalam, apakah tindakan yang akan diambil supaya perkara ini tidak akan terjadi sekali lagi?

Di kawasan saya sendiri, terdapat banyak perasaan ketidak puasan terhadap pihak gurubesar ataupun guru menghalang aktiviti budaya kaum minoriti seperti tarian singa dan penubuhan persatuan agama seperti “Christian fellowship group”. Adakah pihak perguruan diberikan pengajaran dan taklimat mengenai kepentingan mempertahankan budaya berbilang bangsa di Malaysia, yang menjadi satu ciri yang amat membanggakan? Adakah pelajar Maktab Perguruan diuji supaya tidak mempunyai sifat perkauman yang negatif?

Kementerian hendaklah mencuba seboleh mungkin untuk menarik bakal pendidik yang cukup berkualiti ke dalam bidang perguruan, dan bukan seperti yang dihujahkan oleh Yang Berhormat Kubang Kerian semalam di mana bidang perguruan telah menjadi “employment of the last resort” bagi siswazah yang mengganggur. Kalau bakat rekruit kurang berkualiti, adalah tidak memeranjatkan jika kualiti guru yang dihasilkan tidak memuaskan. Simpulan bahasa Inggeris ada berkata “rubbish in, rubbish out”.

Oleh itu, saya harap Kementerian akan mengaji semula skala gaji guru-guru Malaysia supaya bakal calon yang lebih cemerlang akan tertarik untuk masuk dalam bidang yang mulia ini.

Negara jiran di selatan Selat Johor mempunyai satu sistem pendidikan yang diakui bertaraf dunia. Malah Menteri Pendidikan pun pernah mengunjungi sekolah-sekolah di sana untuk mencari resipi kejayaan. Antara satu faktor yang penting sekali ialah bayaran gaji guru yang bermula sebanyak 2,800 dolar Singapura bagi siswazah untuk menarik bakat perguruan yang cemerlang. Ini merupakan gaji “above market rate”.

Manakala di Malaysia, kita bayar gaji bawah kadar pasaran. Kalau begitu, macamana kita dapat menarik bakat cermerlang untuk masuk bidang perguruan? Sebaliknya, ramai siswazah cemerlang berhijrah bukan sahaja ke Singapura, tetapi juga ke negara lain untuk menyertai bidang perguruan dan akademik.

Golongan polis dan askar telahpun mendapat peningkat gaji yang lebih sebanyak 20% ke atas peningkatan sebanyak 40% yang diberikan kepada pekerja perkhidmatan awam. Saya harap demi kepentingan masa depan orang muda di Malaysia, kerajaan akan mengambil kesempatan dalam belanjawan yang akan datang untuk meningkatkan gaji pihak guru-guru sekurang-kurangnya 20% untuk menjadikan bidang perguruan, satu bidang yang menarik.

Pendekatan ini juga akan mengurangkan beban seorang guru yang pada masa ini sering bergantung kepada rezeki pengajaran tuisyen untuk menampung kehidupan mereka. Saya selalu dengar kes di mana seseorang guru akan enggan menghabiskan sukatan pelajaran dalam sekolah supaya pelajar terpaksa mengambil tuisyen bersama guru tersebut. Pada masa yang sama, ramai yang mengambil tuisyen akan mendapat petunjuk kepada topik yang akan diperiksa, dan kadangkala soalan yang akan dikemukakan dalam peperiksaan akan diberi secara langsung!

Jika pihak perguruan dapat menerima gaji yang lebih, Kementerian juga dapat mengetatkan penguatkuasaan terhadap pihak guru yang tidak mematuhi syarat-syarat pekerjaan.

Apakah cara yang mudah sekali untuk meningkatkan bakat calon yang menyertai bidang perguruan? Semasa saya menjadi pengurus syarikat saya sendiri, saya selalu bertemuduga dengan siswazah yang baru selesai pengajian yang ditaja oleh kerajaan. Akan tetapi ramai siswazah ini yang mempunyai pencapaian cemerlang tidak menerima apa-apa tawaran pekerjaan daripada kerajaan. Selepas setahun siswazah ini akan dilepaskan daripada kewajipan mereka untuk berkhidmat dengan kerajaan. Sebaliknya, kita sering mendengar Menteri menyeru supaya kerajaan membekalkan kerja, termasuk dalam bidang perguruan kepada siswazah yang tidak dapat mencari kerja yang lain.

Bukankah ianya lebih bermanfaat jika pemegang biasiswa JPA ini terus ditawar pekerjaan dalam bidang perguruan yang semestinya akan meningkatkan mutu pengajaran di sekolah kita. Ramai antara rakan universiti saya di Oxford yang ditaja oleh kerajaan Singapura telahpun berkhidmat sebagai guru di sekolah menengah dan maktab rendah di sana. Janganlah kerajaan Malaysia membazirkan peluang emas untuk memperkukuhkan mutu perguruan di Malaysia dalam masa yang singkat.

Tuan Yang Di-Pertua, peningkatkan bakat calon yang diterima ke dalam maktab perguruan adalah faktor kepentingan yang pertama. Yang kedua, selepas bakat ini diterima, perlulah mereka diberi latihan yang cukup “rigourous” dan berstandard.

Kualiti para pensyarah di maktab-maktab guru ini perlu dipertingkatkan, terutamanya selepas maktab-maktab ini dinaiktarafkan sebagai institusi. Apakah kriteria yang digunakan untuk perlantikan pensyarah di maktab ini. Pensyarah dalam institusi-institusi ini perlulah sekurang-kurangnya mendapat kelulusan “Masters” daripada universiti yang terkemuka dan bukannya universiti daripada negara yang kurang maju.

Oleh kerana institusi pengajian tinggi di Malaysia telah berkembang dengan sengit sekali sejak tahun 1990-an, negara kita sebenarnya menghadapi kekurangan pensyarah dan akademik yang berkeupayaan dan berpengalaman. Akan tetapi jika pasaran tenaga buruh negara kita terlalu ketat, kita perlu menjemput pensyarah yang berkeupayaan dan berpengalaman daripada negara yang maju untuk berkhidmat dalam universiti tempatan, terutamanya dalam maktab perguruan dan dalam bidang seperti bahasa inggeris, matematik dan sains.

Hanya dengan mutu yang mencukupi, dapatlah pelajar perguruan kita dapat memenuhi dan mencapai tahap kebolehan mereka. Kalau sesesiapa dapat meningkatkan mutu pengajaran dalam maktab perguruan kita, kita tidak patut kesah mengenai bangsa, agama ataupun kewarganegaraan mereka. Kita tidak perlu bimbang kerana ini merupakan satu langkah jangka pendek sahaja untuk “jumpstart” kualiti pendidikan di Malaysia supaya generasi muda hari ini akan mencapai potensi mereka dengan sepenuhnya.

Dengan pelajar maktab perguruan yang berbakat tinggi, bersama dengan pensyarah yang benar-benar berkeupayaan dan berpengalaman, barulah kita dapat membina satu kelas profesion perguruan bermutu yang dapat membimbing anak muda Malaysia untuk mengatasi cabaran sengit globalisasi yang akan ditempuhi.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Avril Lavigne Too Sexy

You must be kidding me. Avril Lavigne has attitude. She wears the grunge look with dark eye-shadows. Yes, I'm a fan. But Avril Lavigne "too sexy"? Unbelievable.

Unfortunately, our very own Minister of Culture and Heritage agrees with the PAS Youth leadership that Avril is inappropriate for Malaysian youth. So permit has been denied for the concert, and I should think, unless you are Tom Jones or Cliff Richard, one should just forget about visiting Malaysia.

In fact, I think sooner or later, the famous Hong Kong and Taiwan artistes will be banned as well, for as far as I can tell, singers like Jolin Tsai or Karen Mok and many others dresses much more sexily than Avril Lavigne (without in my opinion being inappropriate).

Malaysian Artistes’ Association (Karyawan) describing the move as “ridiculous”.
“Their narrow-mindedness will definitely not get the support of the rakyat. They are always looking at the world through blinkers. They cannot see any other point of view except theirs.”
We can forget about Malaysia becoming a "cultural and entertainment" centre in the region, and one of the biggest victims will be our tourism industry in itself. Of course, that obviously isn't the concern of PAS Youth. Inul was asked to be banned. Same for Gwen Stefani. They even our very own Malaysian Ella and Mas Idayu's concert, much to the consternation of Selangor's Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm quite certain that after watching these concerts I won't suddenly get the urge to consume drugs, rob banks, go on a murder rampage or even cheat on my wife. And I don't even drink! So what's the problem?

I wonder if these PAS Youth members even looked out of the windows in their house? Or more pertinently, do they have windows?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

New DNA Bill

The parliament is reconvening for the 3rd session this year tomorrow. I was just going through the Order Paper yesterday and I found a little surprise packaged in there.

For start of the session, the first item on the agenda after question time, the Government is presenting a new bill for the first reading. Guess what bill is so important that it has to be rushed into Parliament at this time?

"Rang Undang-undang Indentifikasi Asid Deoksiribonukleik (DNA) 2008"

Yes, that's the new DNA Bill 2008 put forward by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Are laws being changed just to ensure that a successful upcoming prosecution of some prominent personality? Are goalposts being shifted against the natural course of justice?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Nut Graph

Ah, Malaysiakini had dominated the online journalism scene in Malaysia for almost 10 years now. And when you suddenly find a plethora of other online news sites sprouting very quickly, you know that online news reporting has "arrived". And certainly, one cannot underestimated the role it played in the last general elections.

Many of you would have read The Malaysian Insider by now. Oon Yeoh has written previously on the transformation (sort of) of into, and written again on another new site, Project Malaysia.

Well, TheNutGraph is finally launched today. DAP city councillor for MBPJ, and former journalist with The Star Metro, Mak Khuin Weng has his column "Ampersand" kicked off with his thoughts on being appointed a councillor.
I have much to learn as a first-time councillor and newbie in politics. Already, the learning curve is steep, and time has become more precious than ever. But here is an opportunity for me to walk the talk. As a journalist, I was critical from the outside; now I am on the inside, and perhaps can make a difference from this vantage point.
I have also been approached to write for TheNutGraph, which I have agreed to, but probably on a less regular basis due to the many other writing commitments, weekly columns in the Oriental Daily, China Press plus of course, my very own blogs. So watch out for my first article, probably out in the next few days - it's got a little to do one of the most popular FAQs, what do you do in your life as an MP.

And for the many of us curious about the real meaning behind the idiosyncratic name, "The Nut Graph", well, it's now all revealed here. And it's got something to do with nutshells and paragraphs ;-).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

DAP Elections - Independence vs Feudalism

Over the next 2 weeks, you'd certainly expect to read more commentaries on the upcoming DAP party elections which have been overshadowed by elections in Barisan Nasional component parties. I've written a piece here earlier, but I thought I'll do a short response to a report published in Malaysiakini today.

A party leader who requested anonymity said that should the party’s "feudalistic" ways be maintained, it would make the new talents uncomfortable and lead to an exodus.


"Now there are new faces like Tony Pua and Hannah Yeo. Should they face problems in the CEC, it would be interesting to see how long they last. Those capable of thinking independently will not see eye-to-eye with the party leadership," said the leader.

I've got no clue who the party leader who was quoted is. Accusations that the party is run in a "feudalistic" fashion is not new, and I won't go into that. But having been in the party for coming to 2 years, I've yet to see such feudalism in practice. Of course, detractors will tell me (and have been telling me) that "you ain't see nothing yet".

What is however more mind-boggling is the argument that if you are capable of "thinking independently", then you "will not see eye-to-eye with the party leadership". Which also means that if I'm in agreement with the leadership's policies and views, then I lack the capability to "think independently".

Hence since I've been to a large extent been in agreement with the party leadership's views over the past 2 years, clearly, I'm now part of the feudalism. What type of nonsense is that?

To extend the argument further, does it mean that most of our experienced MPs and state assemblymen, ranging from Teresa Kok to Karpal Singh to Tan Kok Wai to Kulasegaran who are sitting in the current 30-men Central Executive Committee are not capable of "thinking independently" because they support and form the leadership's position?

In any committee, there are often likely to be majority views and minority views. And I'm sure that I'll be in the minority for certain views of mine. But that is part of the democratic decision making process. It doesn't always work out for the best, but it's the best system to ensure that the best overall is worked out. All of us will have to respect that principle.

I'm certain this "feudalism" thing will be played up by interested parties and the media over the next week or so. I can only hope that the reporting is fair and it incorporate weighted views from both sides of the equation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

MCA Supports Bar Council Forum?

For once, that's very good to hear. But please tell that to your Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and best friend, UMNO!

We have read with interest that the MCA leadership has come out strongly via statements to the media the party was “extremely upset at the protesters' actions” which resulted in the event having to be wrapped up early. They said the forum should be respected by everyone as the council had conducted it in a rational and peaceful manner.

Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting was quoted to say that the “forum never intended to question the special position of the Malays or Islam as the religion of the federation as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Never once were the organisers, speakers or registered guests critical of Islam”.

However, at the very same time, both the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and other top leaders from UMNO has been unapologetic and even threatening in their condemnation of the forum conducted by the Bar Council.

The Prime Minister said the Bar Council had been advised against holding the forum that touched on sensitive matters like religion and race. He has state that he“hope[s] such an incident won’t repeat itself. Last Saturday’s forum is proof that issues relating to religion and race are sensitive in the country.

The Deputy Minister went further to say that the Bar Council’s persistence in going ahead with a forum on conversion to Islam has triggered extreme reaction from certain quarters, which in turn would threaten the country’s harmony.

The country's top leadership has even not discounted the possibility of utilising the Internal Security Act against the forum organisers, clearly a threat which is no less “extreme” compared to the actions of the demonstrators!

Therefore, while we welcome MCA's views on the controversy, they must face up to their responsibility to challenge the views of the Prime Minister and UMNO, who are clearly abusing the race and religious card recklessly to create an atmosphere of fear. It is noteworthy that while the protesters were condemned, no comments were forthcoming on the opposing views espoused by the UMNO leaders.

Without doing so, it would appear that Barisan Nasional is perpetuating its system of divide and rule, where UMNO stokes the racial and religious sentiments of Malays while MCA plays its subservient role to placate the minority communities. That, will only strengthen the case that MCA has lost it total relevance in Barisan Nasional.

The DAP stands firm that there are probably no better party to organise and lead discussions on the Constitution and the laws of Malaysia than the Bar Council. It was also a constructive forum to ensure that unintended victms as a result our laws will be given humane and justifiable treatment. It will make a complete mockery of our legal and judicial system if its very practitioners are denied opportunities to discuss or explain our laws.

A New Era for DAP?

Amidst the much more controversial and exciting political party elections in the country at the moment (think MCA and UMNO), DAP will be holding ours as well in 2 weeks on August 23 at Crown Princess Hotel.

Unlike the rather complicated election structure and mechanisms in many of the other parties which are often difficult to understand, DAP's election processes are pretty straightforward. Nominations are directly by branches, our very grassroots, and only 2 nominations are required to make yourself a candidate for the Central Executive Committee (CEC).

The CEC on the other hand is the only position you will be elected to, and it will comprise of 20 elected members. Between these members, the DAP Secretary-General and other relevant positions will be determined.

CEC members are elected via branch delegates. Each branch is at least eligible to send 1 delegate or more, depending on the number of members (e.g, a 26 member branch will get to send 3 delegates, 51 member 4 delegates etc.). Delegates are voted by the members of the branches itself.

Together with many other new faces in the party, I've been nominated for a position in the CEC. There has been quite a few reports in recent weeks on the upcoming elections. 73 members were nominated, whilst 15 have turned them down leaving a record 58 candidates contesting for the 20 elected seats.

Wan Hamidi of The Malaysian Insider wrote "the political tsunami of March 8 general election is going to sweep DAP too. For its coming party polls later this month, 44 new faces will challenge the 29 incumbents, mostly DAP old guards." After August 23rd, will you see "a new era for DAP?"

Jocelin Tan of The Star thinks that "the new CEC will definitely be a lively mix of experience and youth and newcomers like Pua, Liew and DAP's guitar-playing MP for Jelutong, Jeff Ooi, are quite likely to make their debut in the line-up.

If they succeed, they will lend the DAP a more contemporary image that will help the party connect with the younger crowd as well as change the way non-Chinese perceive the party."

Well, come what may, I have every confidence that while the Party may still come up short in several measurements at the moment, we are certainly heading clearly in the right direction and playing our roles in making Malaysia a better place for all Malaysians ;-)

(Oh, and for you guys out there who are interested in the party's rejunevation process, please join us as a member! Email me for details ;-))

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Constructive Parliamentary Discussion

OK, this was one of the posts in draft format for a while now. Yes, it's also one of the many Pasir Salak episodes during the last parliamentary session.

I wasn't directly involved in this particular exchange, well, besides laughing out loud, but it occured when my colleague Manogaran who sits just behind me stood up to pose the question the poor quality of graduates from our local universities to the Minister of Higher Education who was holding the floor at that point in time. This is extracted from the Hansard on 9th July 2008.
Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Terima kasih Yang Berhormat Menteri dan Tuan Yang di-Pertua. Berbincang tentang pelantikan graduan-graduan ke institut pengajian tinggi ini, tadi Yang Berhormat Menteri katakan adalah amat competitive. Competitive ini kerana tidak cukup tempat atau universiti di negara kita atau sememangnya competitive. Oleh sebab saya tengok ramai graduan-graduan yang keluar dari universiti tempatan kita tidak ada standardlah, tidak ada daya saingan, we are not competitive compare...

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: Saya daripada universiti tempatan.

(I can't possibly tell you how this totally cracked up the opposition bench!)

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Patutlah macam ini, inilah contoh. [Ketawa]

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: What contoh?

Timbalan Yang di-Pertua [Datuk Ronald Kiandee]: Yang Berhormat Telok Intan, tak
payah respons Yang Berhormat.

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Don’t talk like that, biar saya habis.

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: Dia daripada universiti mana ni? Hebat sangat.

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Kita cakap universiti tempatanlah. India is better-lah.

Timbalan Yang di-Pertua [Datuk Ronald Kiandee]: Yang Berhormat Pasir Mas, duduklah.

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Mungkin you pergi India lebih bagus.

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: Tamil Nadu!

Dato’ Ibrahim Ali [Pasir Mas]: Pasir Salak, bukan Pasir Mas.

Timbalan Yang di-Pertua [Datuk Ronald Kiandee]: Yang Berhormat Pasir Salak,
minta maaf ya Yang Berhormat Pasir Mas.

Seorang Ahli: Ini universiti tempatan ni, contoh.

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: Fasal dia merendah-rendahkan universiti tempatan, you don’t, jangan duduk di Malaysia lah.

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Apa pun berdebatlah di luar. How much do you know?

Timbalan Yang di-Pertua [Datuk Ronald Kiandee]: Yang Berhormat Pasir Salak, sila duduk Yang Berhormat Pasir Salak. Yang Berhormat Telok Intan, teruskan.

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Yang Berhormat Pasir Salak suka menyalak ni.

Timbalan Yang di-Pertua [Datuk Ronald Kiandee]: Tak payah respons Yang Berhormat, teruskan.

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Suka menyalak, itu yang problem. Yang Berhormat Menteri, jadi saya, I’m concern ...

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: Dia tidak layak untuk jadi rakyat Malaysia kalau duduk macam ni.

Timbalan Yang di-Pertua [Datuk Ronald Kiandee]: Yang Berhormat!

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: I’m concern ...

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: What concern? You are downgrade local university of this country.

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: Jadi apakah langkah-langkah yang akan diambil untuk...

Dato’ Haji Tajuddin Abdul Rahman [Pasir Salak]: [Bercakap tanpa pembesar suara]

Tuan M. Manogaran [Telok Intan]: ...untuk memastikan bahawa penuntut-penuntut kita yang keluar dari universiti tempatan ini boleh saing dengan penuntut dari universiti luar sebab employability mungkin, there is must be employable dengan izin. Itu soalan saya. Terima kasih.
I know many of you have asked that I ignore the honourable member from Pasir Salak, whom I've blogged about quite a few times. I am and I will, but sometimes, the entertainment value is just too high! ;-)

I won't post the reply by the Minister, which was an issue to be blogged about in itself, here but I'll do so at my other blog on Education in Malaysia. Will post the link when it's umm..., written. ;-)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Disappointing Protest Against Bar Council

I must express my deepest disappointment at the protest led by Kulim-Bandar Baharu Member of Parliament, Zulkifli Noordin on the forum held by the Bar Council to discuss the issue of Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution.

It has been reported that the "protesters, many of whom are from Muslim welfare organsation Perkida and Islamic party PAS, shouted, “Hancur Bar Council” (Crush Bar Council), “Hidup Islam” (Long Live Islam) and “Batal forum” (Cancel the forum). They are carrying placards saying “Jangan cabar Islam” (Don’t challenge Islam) and “Bar Council, Don’t play with fire”.

I am deeply disappointed because the protest is not only misguided, it was also immature and unconstructive. I had issued the following press statement yesterday to emphasize the fact that if even the Bar Council, comprising of members of the legal fraternity, is not allowed to hold open discussions in relation to our constitution and its laws, then it makes a complete mockery of our legal system.

What what probably most ironic was that when the organisers agreed to end the forum early and "when those who attended the forum made their way out of the building, they were greeted with loud boos, obscenities and vulgar words". This type of behaviour certainly makes a mockery of the very religious principles which they claim to want to uphold.

And when asked by Malaysiakini why should the protesters not participate via dialogue and engagement in the forum instead, Zulkifli said that he was open to dialogues but the Bar Council’s intention was to provoke Muslims. “For us, this forum is merely (for) Islam-bashing.”

Well, for me, the statement is absolutely uncalled for, totally unjustified and provocative and completely brainless. If discussing our constitution and our laws is equivalent to "Islam-bashing", then he needs to have his head inspected. The forum did not create the "hoo-haa". It is "leaders" like him who fail to understand simple principles who misleads others into thinking that the whole world is against them.

The group had earlier threatened "many times to storm into the building if the forum was not stopped." In addition, the police had allegedly "found two bottles of alcohol by the building that were believed to be unlit Molotov cocktails."

Well, it appears that this type of thuggish and loutish behaviour is unfortunately not only limited to UMNO Youth.

Bar Council Forum on Article 121 (1A)

In the light of protests made over the forum which was scheduled to be held today, I had issued a press statement defending the forum and the Bar Council yesterday. My comments on what happened at the forum today with protests led by the Member of Parliament from Kulim-Bandar Baharu is blogged here separately.

The Bar Council intends to hold the forum entitled “Conversion to Islam: Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini and Shamala Revisited” within its premises on Aug 9.

However, its plans has been met with immediate protests from UMNO Youth, PAS and even the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak himself.

Executive Council member of UMNO Youth, Datuk Pirdaus Ismail was reported to have issued the warning “Don’t play with fire! Don’t ever touch religious and racial (matters)!" He even asserted that “It is pointless to organise forums based on intellectualism, professionalism or controversial issues when the safety, peace, harmony and stability of the country were being compromised.”

PAS party president, Abdul Hadi Awang argued that “although, PAS accepts the freedom of expression of various parties to dialogue and discuss issues of public interest, nevertheless, issues concerning Islam is something already guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.” According to Hadi, any discussion pertaining Islam, said Hadi, should involve those who had sufficient knowledge and are authorities in the subject as it will otherwise “only confuse the real understanding of Islam and cause undue tension.”

At the same time, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak chipped in that the Bar Council Malaysia's proposed forum entitled Conversion to Islam is unsuitable to held in an open manner.
  1. Firstly, the entire basis of such a forum being held is due to the controversies and parties victimised as a result of difference in interpretations of Article 121 (1A). Hence a forum held to discuss these differences is certainly constructive towards setting a foundation for “safety, peace, harmony and stability of the country”, as opposed to the threats issued by UMNO Youth.

  2. Secondly, the question that is discussed is a question of law and not a question of religion. This means that the status of Islam as the official religion of the Federation is unquestioned. The forum does not seek to interpret Islam which is the role of the theologians, but to understand, interpret and make constructive suggestions on the law in the interest of all Malaysians.

  3. Thirdly, by demanding that the forum be “closed” in nature, the Deputy Prime Minister is in fact denying the rights of Malaysians to better understand the laws of the land. If ignorance of the law is not a justifiable excuse in the courts of law, then surely, law-abiding citizens must not be denied opportunities seek a better understanding of the law and its implications.
The DAP stands firm that there are probably no better party to organise and lead discussions on the Constitution and the laws of Malaysia than the Bar Council. It will make a complete mockery of our legal and judicial system if its very practitioners are denied opportunities to discuss or explain our laws.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dikir Barat

Can you find me? I'm the only Chinese in the picture.
(But I'm certainly not the fairest of them all ;-))

Haven't managed to find the time to blog properly, what with the many Hungry Ghost Festival dinners all around Petaling Jaya being held these two weeks ;-)

But I've just reconnected with a friend from school in Singapore via Facebook and he had some old photos that certainly brought back some sweet memories. The one on top is after a Dikir Barat performance, probably on a cultural performance night(?) in Raffles Junior College while the one below is the combined team photo of all the inter-faculty Malay language debating teams. ;-)

You'd hardpressed to identify me in this photo as the faces are quite small.
I'm sort of the back row, 4th from the left.
I was representing the Arts Faculty which won that year ;-)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Khairy Face-Off

I've been off only for a few days from blogging and I'm getting complaints already ;-)

Well, besides a day which I took off to quietly enjoy my 36th birthday (and to remind myself that age is certainly catching on...), there just wasn't time to sit down and blog properly despite having at least 7 posts in draft mode(!).

But skipping the drafts and coming to the most recent event yesterday when I had a "face-off" with the honourable Member of Parliament from Rembau, Khairy Jamaluddin as well as the Selangor state assemblyman for Seri Setia, Nik Nazmi. Nik is also the youngest candidate in the last general elections, and is now doubling up as the political secretary to the Selangor Menteri Besar. The forum was held at the Malaysian Student Leaders' Summit, hosted by the UK and Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC).

I won't go into the details of the session which lasted some one and a half hour long, which was certainly lively on the issue of subsidies and the tongkat mentality in Malaysia. Nik has blogged it here, with the Star headlining Rembau here and Malaysian Insider terming the debate as a "stalemate".

(Heh, Nik and I must have done a real crappy job of it if it was 2 against 1 and still ended stalemate ;-))

Khairy gets squeezed in this threesome

And there are other bloggers who blogged about it as well so far, Rajan R with a specific reference to the issue of foreign labour and low wages, and Shannon Shah, who will be writing for the soon-to-be-launched "The Nut Graph", was happy to see a democratic debate alive in Malaysia. I'm sure there'll be other sites which I've missed who have blogged the event.

Khairy revealed that I will be crossing over to Barisan Nasional on September 16th

I've only got a few points to add from the debate.

Firstly, possibly the only bit which I thought I could have answered better when pressed by the moderator with regards to the issue of forcing the hands of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to renegotiate the purchasing power agreements (PPAs) versus the concern of upholding the sanctity of contracts.

I had ended the line of argument by saying that the Government must have the political will to act in the interest of the public. I could probably have better express my point by making the Government weigh the cost (if any) of the grossly unfair PPA contracts which benefits very very few, versus the cost to the public and the overall Malaysian economy in the years to come. In my opinion, a mistake has been made by the government, and a responsible government will have to take the side of the people it serves.

Secondly, it was a rebuttal which I had wanted to make while debating a point with Khairy, but I didn't, so that the debate can move on to subsequent points. But I thought, definitely worth putting in the rebuttal here at the very least.

In a gist, Nik and I have argued that gradual reductions in subsidies should be done only after 2 key issues, a comprehensive social safety net as well as a efficient public transport system has been put in place.

Khairy had argued that funds were diverted to other important functions such as the RM4 billion food security fund, hence the savings from the "reduction" in subsidies could not be sufficiently allocated to public transport.

I, in return argued that the overall government budget has increased by some RM40 billion since 2004, hence there is no excuse for the lack of expenditure in essential projects like public transport. This increase was largely contributed by payments by Petronas to the government which increased in tandem with the rise in oil prices.

Khairy then argued that while there was an increase in government budget, the funds were utilised for development projects in the interest of the people, hence it was a question of priorities.

I then replied that the priorities were obviously wrong because over the past 10 years since 1998, the government has increased development expenditure from approximately RM20 billion to RM42 billion (2008), while, operational expenditure which comprises rental, wages, pens and paper, maintenance etc., ballooned from about RM40 billion to RM129 billion (2008)! Hence most of the increase in expenditure, financed by our Petronas money was not going to development.

Khairy responded that I have underestimated the importance of maintenance, as it was certainly critical to upkeep our infrastructure, for there is no point building new schools if we don't maintain them.

I let the argument rest there because I thought my point has been made and the audience should be able to judge it accordingly. But I was certainly eager to add on that the reason why our maintenance cost is so darn high is simply because it costs so much more to maintain our infrastructure than to actual build them! The case in point was the RM120 million MRR 2 flyover, which had cost RM70 million to repair in 2004, and now the pillars are cracking again! Or the countless other examples of bailouts - LRTs, MAS, MATRADE etc. Or the schools maintenance scandal, where RM30,000 was paid for RM3,000 worth of renovations. Not to mention of course, our Proton Perdana repair bills!

Khairy obviously doesn't take "no" for an answer ;-)
(Pictures courtesy of Nik Nazmi)

Well, the debate wasn't ever going to have any clear cut winners or losers. Such debate rarely does, unless one party is completely doofuss. What was important was the fact that a meaningful debate was carried out and the panelist has the opportunity to present their views and the audience gets to make (hopefully), a more informed opinion.

I hope that the 500+ audience who attended the forum yesterday had a good time and as I mentioned during the forum, I certainly hope that more will be inspired to join us in playing our part of change and make Malaysia a more progressive nation, whether with the government or the opposition (DAP preferred of course! ;-)) at some point in their lives.