Friday, 22 May 2015

We Must Help the Boat People

Sin Chew Jit Poh
20 May 2015


We have to help the Rohingya refugees who are at the time of writing hanging on precariously to life in the ocean. To do anything less will be cruel and inhuman.


I don’t buy any of the excuses made for not helping them. The one mainly used by the government is that they are a security threat. Just how they are a security threat is a mystery to me. That has not been properly explained at all. Perhaps there is a fear of floodgates opening and that if we show compassion for this lot, then others will come swarming in.


That is a flawed argument because it works on the premise that people come to Malaysia because our country is so great that they can’t help but want to come here. It does not take into consideration that people only leave their homes in a manner which risks all their belongings and even their lives, because they are forced to.


If anyone were to investigate even slightly into the conditions of life for the Rohingya in Myanmar; the lack of legal recognition by their own government; the physical attacks by the majority community; the terrible camps into which they are forced to live; then it becomes obvious that when they leave it is out of desperation and not a simple matter of seeking greener pastures.


Many other criticisms also don’t hold water. The idea that immigrants cause crime does not match the statistics which show that there is in no way a proportionately high number of crimes being committed by foreign nationals. And the fear that they bring disease is just a prejudice based on their general poverty. The H1NI flu that attacked this region did not come from refugees but moneyed travellers who came by aeroplane. We don’t see that stopping us from accepting international flights into our country.


Much has already been said about the obligations Malaysia has under international customary law (we have a responsibility to give basic aid to refugees) and also the need to just show a bit of common decency to people who are literally dying off our shores. So what I wish to discuss here is why we came to this situation in the first place. The Rohingya situation came about because the Myanmar government has treated them appallingly. That is the bottom line. The bulk of the responsibility of course rests there.


However Myanmar is part of ASEAN and what is ASEAN’s responsibility here? What has ASEAN done to stop the situation from reaching this level? I would argue very little or nothing.


ASEAN’s much protected principle of non-interference is said to have kept the peace in the region for decades. But taken too far, it could create terrible situations; like the one we have now. By simply allowing the Myanmar regime to continue their policies with the Rohingyas, and not intervening in any way so as to uphold the principle of non-interference, ASEAN has allowed a national issue become an international problem.


ASEAN has been (mostly) highly reluctant to truly take on board the ideals of human rights. Many of the nations have no wish to practice it and even less to try to get it respected in their neighbours’ jurisdictions. The result is the crisis we are facing now. By not respecting the human rights of the Rohingyas and by not insisting that the Myanmar government does the same in the first place, ASEAN has inadvertently created a humanitarian crisis.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Becoming the 51st state

Brave New World (The Star)
13 May 2015

It now looks like the transformation of Britain into Little America is nearing completion.


THERE is a movie with the title The 51st State. There is also a book with the same moniker. I’ve watched the movie and read the book.
The movie is quite fun, romping through England’s seedy side as we follow the adventures of Samuel L. Jackson’s chemist-turned-drug dealer who is trying to sell off his latest creation; a super-drug made of perfectly legal substances. It’s a lot funnier than it sounds, actually.
Anyway, apart from the fact that the move is about an American in Britain, I can’t really understand the reference to the “51st State”. Normally this term is used to describe, in a patronising way, Britain’s relationship with the United States.

Where they are so subservient to that superpower that they have become, in fact, little more than a rather far-flung state in the great US of A. Like an Atlantic Hawaii.
The book uses the term in a more direct way. In fact, it uses the term quite literally.
In it, Britain does become the 51st state of the United States of America. It can be read in two ways, either a right-wing fantasy or a lefty satire, and I thought it was pretty good. Farfetched, but pretty good.
However, looking at recent events in Britain, I wonder just how far-fetched it really is.
What distinguished Britain from the US for me is the fact that although Britain is fundamentally a capitalist country, they tempered that with a strong sense of social responsibility. The Second World War, which saw large parts of the country destroyed and their people suffering, brought the nation together in a way that the unscathed America never experienced.
There was a determination that no one need suffer when the community could work together. And this meant greater taxes so that education was free (or close to it), the National Health Service (NHS) meant free and good medical care and ultimately in the event that one was unemployed, there was a strong economic safety net.
It just felt so much more civilised and humane to me.
But over the years, these elements that makes Britain great in my eyes (not their colonial rampaging), have been chipped away.
Margaret Thatcher had no patience with society.
In fact, she once famously said there was no such thing. So governing with a degree of humanity was not in her brain at all.
She took laissez faire economics to a higher level and suddenly student grants were gone; privatisation was the new buzzword (infecting even the NHS), and the welfare state was replaced by a colder, more distrusting, system.
The woman who said she supported family values made it so that people would hardly see their children because the need to make money became the be-all and end-all.
It was not uncommon in the 1980s for people to live in (cheaper) Birmingham but work in lucrative London, leave before the kids woke up and get home after they fell asleep. Family values, indeed.
Of course, the Tories are easy targets for lefties like me. They can be caricatured as heartless semi-humans and in the case of Norman Tebbit, there was no real need for caricature (he would have made a great Nosferatu).But Labour too changed culminating with Thatcher’s illegitimate not so secret love child Tony Blair whose policies made it near impossible to know where the blue of the Conservatives ended and the Red of Labour began. (Lines in red taken out by Star - ha ha!)
It now looks like the transformation of Britain into Little America is nearing completion. Funding slashes to the NHS are still going on. Student loans are now here to stay and as for benefits, the recently victorious Tories are planning a 12-billion-pound cut.
And to top it off, they want to repeal their Human Rights Act, because they don’t want to be bound by the human rights standards set by European law and the European Court. They feel so strongly about this that they are willing to break away from Europe and strike off by themselves.
By themselves? Really? Tiny little Britain, which might not be a United Kingdom for much longer if the sentiments in Scotland are correct, wants to face up to the world by itself?
Talk about delusional. The sun has set on Empire a long time ago.
It is unlikely small nations can stand by themselves against the giants of America and China and the emerging giants of India and Brazil. So if they don’t want to be with Europe, whose apron strings will they hang on to?
Well howdy partner, welcome to the US of A!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


Sin Chew Jit Poh
6 May 2015


There has been a suggestion made that any political candidate must have at least a SPM credit in Bahasa Malaysia in order to stand for election. Apparently this is to ensure a high standard of debate in the House.


There are two problems with this suggestion. Firstly, the qualifications needed to be an MP should be as minimal as possible. This is because in a democracy it is up to the people to decide who they want to represent them. Therefore as far as possible the laws should not limit that scope of choice.


If people want to vote in a person who is illiterate because they feel he or she will best represent them, then that is the way it should be.


The second problem with this suggestion is that it somehow implies that a better grasp of the Malay language will lead to better debate. It may lead to a more grammatically correct debate but it will not lead to better debate.


Seriously, we have MPs who are blatantly racist and sexist. They say obnoxious things in the House. They probably say it in perfect BM, but so what? They are still obnoxious.


And what about ministers who don’t answer questions. This happens all the way to the top. Pertinent questions are given stock answers which evade the issue and does not actually deal with the query at hand.


And furthermore let us not forget the power of the Speaker. It is the Speaker who determines what can or can’t be debated and there are many times when a seemingly important matter of public interest is raised in Parliament, any debate is disallowed because the Speaker refuses to allow it.


Then there is the appalling practice of parliament. The way Bills are debated where MPs are given proposed laws literally hours before the debate, means that it is damned near impossible to structure a coherent argument. And parliamentarians do not get any help as they do in more advanced democracies where MPs actually have funding to hire a staff to help them with their work, which includes research so that they may have meaningful and well informed debates.


All these shortcomings cripple our parliament and yet some “genius” comes up with the grand plan to make a credit in BM compulsory in order to raise the standard of debate. Such an idea can only come from a person who is so enamoured at pushing a homogenising agenda in the country to the point that his or her thought process is incapable of delving any deeper than the shallowest of ideas.

Monday, 4 May 2015

To limit or not to limit

Brave New World (The Star)
29 April 2015

There are both pros and cons on whether there should be term limits for heads of governments.


THERE are many reasons why some political systems limit the number of terms their heads of governments can hold office. I would hazard a guess that the primary one is that it is to ensure that power will not be focused too much on one person. Also, any sort of patronage will have a natural cut-off date.
It’s not a bad system, but there are arguments against it. For one thing, if the people really like a particular person, then it seems silly not to let them continue to want him or her as their leader (although this would only apply in presidential systems and it works on the assumption that elections are clean and fair). In other words, let the democratic process take its natural path. Furthermore, two terms might be a bit short if a leader is particularly visionary and wants to see things through. Whichever system is used, it doesn’t really matter though because both have their pros and cons.
Well, now it seems that BN Penang want to have the limited term introduced for their Chief Minister. How very interesting. They said it will give others a chance to be CM, including women. How very CEDAW of them. (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.)
But despite the seeming enlightened reasons coming from Penang BN, I really wonder about their motives. I mean, the late Tun Lim Chong Eu served for five terms, if I am not mistaken. There wasn’t a peep from BN then about limiting the terms of the CM. Why the change of heart?
And why stop at the state level? Why not do it at the national level too? If we had this two-term limit, then the nation would only have had to bear with Tun Mahathir for eight or 10 years, not the 22 that he was in office.
I think it is an interesting idea and as a debate in the state legislature when it gets to it, I think it will be a welcome change from the usual nonsense.
This is after all a fairly complex political question and will have a big effect to Penang’s democratic system.
It’s just that the motives ring hollow when you look at history and also the way they limit themselves to the state. The party political agenda comes dripping through and it’s all rather obvious.
Speaking of party politics, I also ,saw that a PAS leader has asked PasMa not to form a political party but for its members to stay on in PAS and fight together. It was also said that when a splinter group break off due to political infighting, no good comes of it.
There is some truth to that. Semangat 46 had a short and quite sad little life. But again, looking back at history we can see that PAS itself is sort of a splinter group.
They started life as part of Umno as a religious division kind of thing. But seeing as how Umno was not heading in the direction they were comfortable with, the individuals in this division set off on their own and created PAS. And see how successful and long lived PAS is.
It seems to me that if the members of PasMa feel that their aspirations do not gel with the direction that PAS is taking and they want to set up a party, then it would simply be a matter of history repeating itself.
This is particularly true if PAS was to leave Pakatan Rakyat.
Whether a new political party which sprang from PAS would make much difference is hard to say. I doubt that the hardcore PAS voters will be swayed to change sides, in which case PasMA won’t make much of a dent in PAS stronghold areas.
Whether they could play a role in the constituencies outside traditional PAS strongholds would rather depend on whether they can be convincing enough to show their credentials (which would be Islamic credentials) and whether their political stance would be sufficiently different from PAS as to make them attractive to those who may have become disillusioned with that party. That is quite a lot to ask for from a fledgling party. If it ever happens, that is.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Church Protestors

Sin Chew Jit Poh
23 April 2015


What to do about those people that protested against a church in KL recently?


It goes without saying that I disagree with them. I find their reasons to protest as misguided, racist, bigoted and wrong theologically.


But do I want them punished? Not in the slightest. It is their right to assemble and it is their right to say idiotic things looking like fools in the process.


There have been those who call for their charging under the new revamped sedition act. Well apart from the fact that I am unsure if the “new and improved” amendments are in force yet I don’t think anyone should be charged under any law for expressing themselves. The exception being if their words were meant to incite violence.


If one does not like laws like the sedition act to be used against people like opposition politicians and political activists, then one must also oppose the use of any such law against bigots and idiots.


So what can be done?


Well, the best way to battle bigotry is to point out the flaws in their arguments and logic. Also there has to be clear and unswerving condemnation of their actions, preferably by the leadership of the country. And such condemnation has to be consistent.


Along with the condemnation there must also be firm protection of those who are being protested against. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the rights of all citizens. This responsibility takes two forms. First is a negative duty to not restrict one’s rights. And secondly a positive duty to protect those whose rights are being challenged. Therefore in this situation just as the protesters have a right to express themselves which ought not to be curtailed, the church and its congregation and their right to worship has to be protected too.


Let’s face facts, there are nasty people out there with nasty little brains and nasty big mouths. This will never change. But shutting them up would mean disrespecting the very rights which we desire for ourselves. As the philosopher once said “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.


But consistency is the key. Consistent intellectual repudiation of bad ideas and the pushing forward of good progressive ones. And strong leadership which condemns such backward thinking even if it is at a political cost to themselves.


It is only in this way can there be created a norm accepted by the community as a whole. A norm based on humanism, humanity and the respect for one another. No laws can ever do that.


Saturday, 18 April 2015

It’s basically their job

Brave New World (The Star)
15 April 2015

The one thing that they are supposed to do is to be in the Dewan Rakyat and make laws, or oppose them as the case may be.


LAST Saturday, high in the South Stand of White Hart Lane, a little boy was excitedly chattering away to his father. He was going on and on about his hero Harry Kane.
He was describing in detail how he thought that the new wonderkid striker for Tottenham Hotspur was going to score.
And when the game finally started, his excitement was vented by the occasional high-pitched cry of “Come on, you Spurs”.
Ninety minutes later, after Spurs had put in yet another pathetic display of indifference which allowed relegation-threatened Aston Villa to walk away with three points, the little lad was understandably quiet. It’s tough when your heroes let you down.
And that is why so many people, myself included, were so furious last week when we learned that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) could have been defeated if most of the Pakatan MPs were in the House during the vote. We felt let down.
Since then there have been many column inches dedicated to the issue.
One online news portal went so far as to check on the missing MPs and find out why they were not there.
Some of the reasons were undoubtedly justified; critical illness, for example. So much has been said that I don’t really want to add any more to this matter; therefore this will be my last word on it.
Pakatan has not been perfect. No one expected them to be.
They have had some seriously bad hitches, like the ill-advised plan to make Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim the Mentri Besar of Selangor via the dodgy method of forcing a by-election.
They may have had their reasons, but the whole thing looked tawdry and cheap; which made PKR look as capable of low-level political machinations as their opponents are.
Then of course there is the hudud thing. PAS goes off on its own doing something which was not part of the Pakatan manifesto.
They had been supported by non-traditional PAS voters because they gave the impression that they were far more concerned about social welfare and good governance than ancient criminal justice systems.
Furthermore, having portrayed themselves as democrats, their leader is now going around saying Muslims cannot question their version of hudud. Yes, very democratic.
In other words Pakatan has let voters down before.
So why the vitriol and anger about them letting slip the opportunity to defeat Pota?
Well, because if there is one thing that Pakatan has been utterly clear about it is the fact they oppose such draconian laws.
The one thing that was perhaps their strongest appeal was that they will not stand for such unjust and wicked laws.
No matter what their differences, this was the thing that voters thought they would be absolutely united over.
And the manner with which they could have opposed it also matters. For what they had to do was basically their job.
I understand that MPs in this country are expected to do a million and one things which they are not supposed to be doing and their lives are difficult.
But the one thing that they are supposed to do, their raison d’etre, is to be in the Dewan Rakyat and make laws, or oppose them as the case may be.
Nobody is perfect, but there is only so much one can let slide by.
On the one issue that we thought they would be absolutely firm on, the one job that they were voted in for, they let us down.
That is why people are so angry. That is why I was so angry.
And if the Pakatan cannot realise that, if they can only make excuses, then they run the risk of taking the people for granted and in politics, that is suicidal.


Sin Chew Jit Poh
9 April 2015

You may have heard of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. The government has said this proposed law is necessary to deal with terrorism, in particular international terrorism like that conducted by groups like ISIS. Critics of this proposed law say that it is a new Internal Security Act and that it not only tramples over civil liberties but it is also open to abuse. Here are some very worrying points from the Prevention of Terrorism Bill.


The first point is with regard to the person or persons who conducts the investigation. This person is called an Inquiry Officer and he or she is not supposed to be a police officer. The Inquiry Officer is appointed by the Minister and it is his report which will be the main justification whether to detain a person or not.


Under section 10 of the Bill it says that an Inquiry Officer can obtain evidence even if under normal circumstances such evidence will not be admissible in court. Why is this worrying? Because under normal circumstances, evidence such as confessions obtained under duress, is inadmissible. Does this provision mean that a suspect can be tortured in order to obtain a confession?


Then there is the Prevention of Terrorism Board. This Board is the body that decides whether a person can be detained or not. The government has made a big deal about how this is an improvement to the ISA because whereas in the ISA the Minister alone makes the decision to detain or not, the POTA leaves that decision to a Board. Sure, this decision is now in the hands of many and not one, but who is it that appoints the Board? It is the government of the day; and this naturally raises questions as to the Board’s neutrality.


And what are their powers? They can detain a person for up to two years without trial and they can extend that order for a further two years. In other words this is exactly the same as the ISA.


The ISA had been challenged in court before on grounds that the powers of the Minister if left unchecked by the court could be made on spurious grounds. The POTA tries to get around this by having section 19 which clearly states that no decision of the Board can be questioned in court except on procedural grounds. Whether this section can stand the scrutiny of a court is one thing, but what is clear is that this law is designed to try to keep a court of law out of the equation in the decision making of the Board.


But surely we ordinary people have nothing to fear as this law is meant only for terrorists. Well, the ISA was only meant for violent threats to security but it was used on political dissidents, environmental activists and a host of other people not involved whatsoever with violence. Besides, how can we be sure that a person accused of terrorist activities really was involved because the Board which makes the decision to detain is unaccountable to a court and the Inquiry Officer looks like he or she can take any measures to obtain evidence.


For these reasons alone I oppose the POTA completely. The small steps that we appeared to take as a country with the repeal of the ISA now looks like it is going to be completely wiped out and once again the government of the day is going to have far too much power in a law which so easily can be abused.