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.


Tuesday, 31 March 2015

First of April 2015

I sent the piece below to The Star but it was spiked.


I have some fantastic news to share with all of you.

One of my ex-students is currently holding a post fairly high up in government. I can’t tell you his/her name or the department for purposes of privacy but suffice to say it is a position where important decisions go through his/her desk.

I have been told that the government is having second thoughts about the amendments to the Sedition Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They have come to realise that the implications on the human rights of the people of Malaysia are far too grave and whatever supposed plus points from these laws are simply not good enough to justify the infringements on the civil liberties of the nation. This could mean the dropping of POTA and the complete dismantling of the Sedition Act.

Instead there is a new bill in the works which is designed to ensure that any wastage in government expenditure will be severely punished. Departments which spend money wrongly either through incompetence or corruption will face budget cuts. Furthermore if incompetence is the cause then the heads of departments will face demotion and if corruption is uncovered, a criminal charge will be put forward. If enough savings are made, the GST might be scrapped completely.

My source also tells me the Independent Police Commission is going to be a reality especially in the light of how there has been a growing perception that the impartiality of the police force is  questionable. It is vital that the police are trusted by the public and the thinking is this commission will go some way in bringing that faith back.

But that is not all. There is to be an independent inquiry into the entire IMDB fiasco. A cross party parliamentary committee will be created with three members from the BN and three members from the Pakatan and with a non-party aligned chairperson. The purpose of this committee is to select the members of the inquiry. They will have to be men and women of the utmost independence and integrity and they can be from Malaysia or outside Malaysia.

The electoral boundary exercise by the Election Commission has been extended by another year in the light of public concern. Now there will have to be a concerted effort to ensure that each constituency is as close in size with one another as possible in terms of numbers of voters. This is to guarantee that one person one vote has real meaning and to assure the public that no gerrymandering is going to happen. Furthermore all the proposed boundaries changes will be put online and can be examined by anyone easily and freely, making objections easier to be carried out.

Finally, I have also heard that the Printing Presses and Publications Act will be amended again so that there is no longer any discretionary power to withdraw licenses, and the Statutory Bodies Discipline and Surcharge Act will be amended to ensure that universities do not fall under its ambit thus taking away a major threat to academic freedom.

I hope you are as happy as me to have such wonderful news. On this day, the first of April, it looks like our nation can really start moving forward.


So I replaced it with the one below

We need a bit of humour
Brave New World (The Star)
1 April 2015

APRIL Fool’s Day: it used to be great fun when I was a kid. Well, it was fun in theory because I never could think up any really good trick. And even if I did, I was too chicken to carry it out.
Unlike some friends of mine who actually managed to hide our math teacher’s car. To this day I have no idea how they did it.
However, despite my inherent lack of gumption to do something truly mischievous, I always liked April Fool’s jokes.
A memorable one for me is a picture on the front page of a British broadsheet.
It had the back of the unmistakable head of Michael Heseltine, who was a minister at the time, sitting on a park bench with what appeared to be a young lady.
“Minister caught with leggy blond in park” screamed the headline (or something similar).
Of course upon opening the paper, there was a smiling Heseltine on a park bench next to a rather fetching Afghan hound.
Such jokes are, of course, rather dangerous in this country. For one thing, they can be misinterpreted.
A few years ago I got some extremely vitriolic e-mail because a sarcastic piece I wrote was thought to be earnest.
But that is all right. Annoyed punters can always be placated with just an e-mail explaining things.
What is worrying now is that it seems anything at all can be deemed seditious, or incitement, or any other of a host of offences that would result in police action.
The recent spate of arrests may not have dimmed the conviction of Malaysians who feel that democracy is fading away and want that trend reversed. But it has, rather, made us into a sour country.
People are more than a little irritated, but because of this crackdown, the usual safety valve of humour also seems to have disappeared.
Perhaps we see nothing to laugh about. But it is more likely that the powers that be will not tolerate any sort of dissent, even the satirical sort.
This is indeed a sad state of affairs. This country used to be joyful. Now things feel miserable. We have to change things, otherwise we will be the fools.


Rather ironic eh?

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Lee Kun Yew's Passing

Sin Chew Jit Poh
26 March 2015


The passing of Lee Kuan Yew is most definitely a passing of an era. He was so synonymous with the city state that he led for so long that it feels that with his death somehow the identity of Singapore has changed as well.


Was he a successful leader? Without a doubt that economically he was the most successful leader in South East Asia. No other country has developed at the rate of Singapore. It is now a completely developed nation; any claims that it is a “newly developed” country is merely international diplomatic gamesmanship. Its health facilities, education system, public transport and government agencies are amongst the best in the world. And the almost complete lack of corruption is amazing to behold. Anyone can see that Singapore sits more comfortably amongst Western European countries in terms of wealth and prosperity than it does amongst its poor South East Asian cousins.


However in terms of human rights and democratic practices, they are far more at home here!


Apart from being the man who masterminded Singapore’s incredible economic development, Mr Lee was also one of the three “strongmen” of South East Asia (the other two being Suharto and Mahathir Muhamad) who ruthlessly put down any opposition to their rule. They dismissed all notions of a liberal democracy with the excuse that development comes first. Together with Mahathir, Lee was a proponent of the “Asian Values” concept which mistakenly presumes that Asians somehow are not concerned about civil liberties. Of course this “philosophy” was little more than an excuse to ensure their grip on power.


Today we can see that this idea of Asian nations somehow being exempt from human rights is a concept that leads to great problems. Without the checks and balances of a real democracy corruption becomes rampant. The Indonesians were so fed up with it that they had their “reformasi” which ultimately got rid of Suharto and has changed their nation (at least politically) beyond recognition. In Malaysia we are now feeling the fallacy of the “Asian Values” argument as we live with corruption and incompetence but without any real way of changing it (at least not yet).


Yet Singapore is different. Like I said earlier corruption is virtually non-existent and the country cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to be run incompetently. Therefore was Lee Kuan Yew correct?


Many say no, with commentators pointing out that Singaporeans are unhappy. Is this true?


If one looks at the UN’s happiness index, Singaporeans are sort of in the middle of the road. They are neither very happy nor are they very unhappy. Therefore that data does not prove very much. What is more telling are the polls conducted within Singapore itself which show that a huge number of them (more than half in some surveys) would leave the country if they could.


Due to its incredible wealth, this desire to emigrate can’t be for merely economic reasons. There has to be something more than that. I propose it is perhaps the sense of being stifled, of having no real voice, of being stuck in a system that one is powerless to change. In short the intangible qualities of life that provide people with a sense of controlling their own fate; of being free to pursue their own happiness.


I may be wrong of course, I am not Singaporean. But it cannot be denied that so many of them simply don’t want to be there. The lesson here is that as successful as Mr Lee was, and it would be churlish to deny it, that old adage still rings true; money is not everything.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Beyond assurance

Brave New World (The Star)
18 March 2015

The purpose of any law, including the POTA, cannot be determined solely on pledges made in Parliament.


SOMETIMES a government feels that it needs to have draconian laws in order to “protect the people” from very bad sorts.
If this government operates in a country with even a modicum of democracy and the merest whiff of the rule of law, they will try to justify such laws by pointing out the grave dangers the nation is faced with. They will also try to reassure the people that these draconian laws will not be abused.
Therefore the laws will have preambles that state they are meant for only specified purposes (usually to prevent violence), and there may well be impassioned speeches in parliament about how these laws will not be used for political reasons.
If you are above the age of 70 and an avid follower of politics, what I said above may sound familiar.
That is because this is exactly what happened when the Government introduced the Internal Security Act in 1960.
The preamble of the act suggests it is meant to suppress violence (at the time the source of the violence was communist insurgents) and in Parliament Tun Abdul Razak made an eloquent speech about how the Act would categorically not be used against political opponents thus ensuring that Malaysian democracy would not be threatened.
Well, we all know how the ISA was used over the years, don’t we?
Now we are hearing exactly the same sounds with regard to the new Prevention of Terrorism Act, This new Act will allow for detention without trial just like the ISA.
And just like in the past, we hear politicians talking about how utterly necessary this POTA is and how it will not be used for political reasons but only to stop terrorists.
It is like history repeating itself.
Now I can point out many things, like the fact we already have laws that can be used against terrorists.
I could also say that whenever a government wants to introduce something nasty, the first thing they do is try to scare the living daylights out of the people.
Fear makes one blind to many things. I could elaborate on these points, but I prefer to talk about another consideration.
If the ISA could have started life as a law to deal with violence from communist insurgents and with the government of the day’s assurances of its proper use, and yet it later becomes the most notorious law of the country in its use against political dissidents, why then should the new POTA be any different?
I believe that over the last couple of years, the use of laws like the Sedition Act against any voices of dissent against the Government (with the latest target being Nurul Izzah Anwar) is so intensive because the ISA has been repealed.
If the ISA were still around, how many people would now be languishing in detention without trial? Would we be facing another Operation Lallang like in the late 1980s? I submit that this is not outside the realm of possibility.
Therefore, seeing the penchant that this government has in stifling dissent; seeing how they would use any law at hand to do so; seeing as how history has shown us that once a government has a powerful weapon in its arsenal like the ISA, then no amount of parliamentary reassurances and preambles will be of much use against the abuse of power; given all this, then the POTA must be opposed.
Our freedoms are being disrespected so alarmingly that they feel non-existent. The last thing we need is another law to take away what little is left.

1MDB: A Scandal of Obscene Proportions

Rakyat Times
16 March 2015


I just came back from a forum on 1MBD and my mind is full to bursting.
I find economics and finance very difficult to understand anyway, but when combined with a scandal of obscene proportions, I feel like my brain is going to explode.
I will be the first to admit that the entire 1MDB scandal has whizzed by me. I understand very vaguely what has happened, but can't fathom the details.
Therefore, when I found out about this forum where Tony Pua and Rafizi Ramli were going to speak, I simply had to make the time and I am glad I did.
I will not try to provide a detailed summary of what happened here.
What I will say is that I am convinced that there has been serious impropriety. Loans which did not exist and then were transferred to a third party.
Companies created as covers.
The circulation of “investments” that went back to one company. The investments in completely unfeasible projects which failed miserably.
The continued support of failed companies. Extremely dubious legal, accounting and auditing practices. The taking of loans twice the amount needed for the actual investment.
And the list goes on.
So much incompetence and in what appears to be corruption.
And that was without staying to listen to Rafizi (after one and a half hours I thought my brain was going to stop and I had to leave). And all backed up by very convincing evidence such as emails; company reports with documentation that contradict them; and many facts that cannot be denied (like the oilfield which 1MDB invested in and yet is in a part of the world which is in dispute between two countries and, therefore, can’t be exploited anyway).
The trick now is for this shameful waste of public funds to be described in a very simple manner so that anyone can understand it.
This scandal must be understood by people of the country to see how much abuse has occurred.
We must be angry because we are not talking about a few million ringgit here.
Instead, we are talking about billions of ringgit that go into the pockets of a few or are washed down the drain in acts of unbelievable incompetence.
When we think about how they want to impose more taxes on the people, how so many parts of the country are still hopelessly underdeveloped, how so many improvements can be made to our public facilities, this kind of wastage is not only potentially legally wrong, it is also utterly and morally reprehensible.
And we got to this stage because all the checks and balances that are associated with a democratic country - including a free press, independent government agencies, the separation of powers - are not there.
Instead, we have members of a ruling class so used to getting their own way for so long that they think they and their cronies can suck this country dry and still get away with it.
Well, we must make sure they don’t.