Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Aide’s death a tragedy for the entire nation

Brave New World (The Star)
July 23, 2009

"There is need to find out for certain what happened in the case of Teoh Beng Hock and to punish those who are responsible."


I hope there will be an independent Royal Commission of Inquiry formed to investigate the tragic death of Teoh Beng Hock. Anything less will simply not satisfy our demand for the truth.

Unfortunately for the nation, faith in the legal system of this country is very low. Therefore, for the sake of answering the many questions surrounding this young man’s death, a body which is outside the system and is trusted to be impartial must be created and left alone to do its job.

There is absolutely no point in telling the people to place their trust in the police investigation. In high profile political cases like these, the police are, rightly so, seen as little more than the servant not of the people but of the government of the day.

The MACC interrogated this young man for hours. He was not even a suspect, merely a witness. Yet they kept him in custody into the early hours of the morning.

This may appear to be a determination to do one’s duty to the utmost (after all corruption is corruption even if it involves RM10).

But the issue is not simply about fighting corruption, it is about double standards.

The victim was a worker for the Selangor Pakatan government. Specifically, he was working for a DAP member of the state legislative body.

There are huge cases of supposed corruption in Selangor, yet, the MACC or its previous incarnation the ACA has not tackled these cases with even the slightest bit of enthusiasm as they have with the DAP state legislators accused of wrong doing.

Why is this so? It is because this is a political case and if Teoh had not been working for who he did, he would not have been in that building at all.

It is, however, not a racial case. At the small vigil held at the MACC building the day Teoh died, and at the Kelana Jaya rally, not once did anyone mention race.

Not one person accused the MACC of being Malay bigots. It was not mentioned by the speakers or even people in the crowd.

People were angry, yes, but they were angry over the needless death of a young Malaysian man, not a young ethnic Chinese man.

They were angry at what they think was the abuse of power by MACC officers, not the abuse of power by Malay officers.

And here you have some saying that the outrage felt by the people is racially based and an attempt to topple a Malay institution.

Malay institution? The MACC stands for Malaysian Anti-Corrup-tion Commission, not Malay Anti-Corruption Commission. Either these people are too moronic to see the difference, or they are up to something more insidious.

By painting this as a race issue instead of what it truly is, a human rights and democracy issue, they seek to divert attention from the crux of the matter.

It is also possible that they truly believe that government institutions like the MACC are supposed to be Malay institutions, in which case they show themselves to be the utter racists that they are and, if this is so, they should be treated with nothing but the utmost contempt.

A young man with his entire future ahead of him died needlessly last week. He leaves behind a grieving family, a devastated fiancée and an unborn child who will grow up without a father.

On the most basic compassionate level, the need to find out for certain what happened and to punish those who are responsible is imperative.

But the death of Teoh Beng Hock is more than just about the death of one man. It is about the future of democracy in this nation.

At a time when young men and women feel the change in the air, when they feel a difference can finally come and they seek to do nothing more than serve the public in thankless tasks, they see that this desire to do good can be rewarded with death. What does this bode for the future?

Teoh’s story is a tragedy for those who loved him and those who knew him.

It is also, sadly, a tragedy for the entire nation; a tragedy made all the worse if we do not go on striving for the values and ideals that this young man obviously believed in.

The creation of an independent investigative body is necessary.

May you rest in peace, Beng Hock.

View the bigger picture

Brave New World (The Star)
July 9, 2009

"The recent squabbles within Pakatan Rakyat show up its deficiencies, that it still has much to learn about governance."


The importance of the last general election and the creation of Pakatan Rakyat is that it gave the hope of a viable two-party system.

For a true democracy to exist, we need a two- or multi-party system, with governments actually changing every now and then.

Thus when March 8 occurred, the thrill for me was the possibility of Malaysia getting a real and vibrant democracy.

However, for this hope to be a long-term sustainable reality, the Pakatan has a lot to do; it has to consolidate its grip. This ought to be done on three levels with three different roles to play collectively.

The first level is with regard to the state governments. The governments of Penang, Kelantan, Kedah and Selangor just have to knuckle down and work hard as the administrators. They have to prove their ability to keep things running well, and to keep their promises, too. Theirs is an administrative role.

The second level is in the hands of the MPs in Parliament. They should keep the pressure on Barisan Nasional by being more vocal in and out of Parliament, questioning decisions and pointing out wrongdoings. With their larger numbers, they can be a more powerful presence in the legislature. Theirs is a political role.

The third level is with the Pakatan coalition itself. It has to prove cohesiveness in direction, ambition and philosophy. It is understood of course that there are some differences that are insurmountable, but politics in Malaysia is nothing if not a series of compromises. What is vital is that the compromises in the Pakatan be seen to not tear it apart. This is what can be described as the role of leadership.

The past few weeks have seen the Pakatan floundering in at least two of these levels: the administrative and leadership.

With regard to the administrative issue, I believe that by and large the Pakatan state governments have been working hard. There have been successes particularly in Penang, Selangor and, prior to the change, Perak. It needs, however, to concentrate on a few matters.

One of the most important in my view is to act like the government that they are, and to portray this effectively to the people.

Concentrate on keeping election promises as well as proving that corruption will not be tolerated, and efficiency will be improved and real paradigm shifts will occur.

Small political games like taking every opportunity to throw jabs at the Barisan should not be the job of the state governments, in particular the heads of government.

The Penang Chief Minister in particular seems to have forgotten that he is the boss man now, not the hired muscle. Political street fighting should be left to the MPs, and I think they are more than able to do it. Only by acting like statesmen can the state administrations convince the people that they have it in them to govern.

The recent Kedah fiasco is also another sign of poor governance, but I disagree with Infor­mation, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, who says it is an indication that the Pakatan cannot work and that there are inherent flaws in the coalition.

The problem in Kedah arose not because the PAS government acted like PAS; it arose because it acted like Umno. The allocation of 50% of a housing project to Malays is not what the Pakatan believes in.

Why is it so difficult for PAS to stop thinking along racial lines and start thinking along the lines of economic need?

This is not merely a Pakatan ideal; it is also a PAS ideal. It was, after all, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat himself who insisted that in Islamic eyes, there is no such thing as race.

The destruction of the state’s only pig abattoir was insensitive and contrary to the tolerant approach taken by the Kelantan PAS government. If the Kedah PAS government had acted in a way that matched the coalition’s ideals and indeed, PAS’ ideals, then these problems would not have arisen.

The Pakatan also needs to have stronger leadership. Granted that what PKR strategic director Tian Chua says is true, the Pakatan is clearly more democratic than the Barisan as it does allow for quite open disagreements.

However, there is healthy disagreement and then there is outright subversion of purpose.

I am speaking of course about PAS youth wanting to play footsie with Umno youth. These “unity discussions” are an outright disgrace on several levels.

First, the entire premise of such talks is racially based. Malay unity seems to be the primary concern, no matter what language is used by the two groups in couching the terms of their courtship.

Again, we see the race card being played when it is fundamentally against the whole ethos of the Pakatan. One has to wonder then why this game is being played.

If it is done in the hope of PAS politicians securing their future with Umno, perhaps a cushy ministerial post, then the Pakatan leadership must show the necessary toughness to stop such behaviour in its tracks.

And this must be done not in some namby-pamby way but with determination and force. Anything less reveals a lack of backbone to stand by your own ideals and principles.

There has been some good recently coming from the opposition. I like the idea of the shadow Cabinet committees. It is a step in the right direction, although I have reservations about Kulim Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Nordin being in the Higher Education Committee.

I can’t see how a man who can disrupt a peaceful discussion organised by the Bar Council – and thus disrespecting fundamental freedoms – can be of any use in a committee dealing with higher education.

Higher education, after all, is about the dissemination and exchange of ideas. Such a person is not suited to be on this committee and one wonders then if the Pakatan pool is so small that it has to choose this person.

Be that as it may, the committee idea shows a desire to have a more cohesive approach in parliamentary opposition, and it ought to be applauded. However, the Pakatan still has a lot to do to get its house in order. It is important for us, the people, to not forget the bigger picture, and that is the need for a sustainable two-party system.

But such lofty ideals are beyond most folk. They make decisions based on what they can see; and the Pakatan had better show them something solid as administrators, politicians and leaders. It’s only got, at the most, three more years to do so.

It takes two to tango

Brave New World (The Star)
June 25, 2009

"The little sneak was secretly chatting to his ex-girlfriend who he had dated in the 70s and 80s with disastrous results."


Dear Aunty Selma,

I never thought that I would be the type of person to write to a newspaper Agony Aunt, but really I am at my wits end and I do not know what to do.

It all started last year. I met this man and at first I was a little wary of him. I mean he was nice and well mannered, but sometimes he was a little conservative for my tastes.

But eventually after we got to know each other better, I thought that on the more important things, we saw eye to eye.

It was a whirlwind romance and we had such an exciting time. Many friends thought our relationship was a breath of fresh air. So, in this heady atmosphere, we decided to get married. We had a truly amazing wedding last March.

Then, before the honeymoon period was even over, he started to act really strange. He kept making these mysterious phone calls and when I walk into the room, he would suddenly hang up.

I was suspicious but thought that being a jealous wife was just not on. I decided to trust him. Oh how I rue that decision.

It turned out that the little sneak was secretly chatting to his ex-girlfriend. He had dated this girl in the 70s and 80s and it was a disastrous relationship.

He almost lost everything because of this girl. But suddenly he is talking to her again. I really cannot understand why.

She is a rich girl and maybe it is her wealth that is attracting him. I am sure it is not her looks. I am so angry at her. I will bet my bottom dollar that she is the one who has been trying to tempt him away from me.

Anyway, I confronted him and he seems repentant. He swore he is not going to go out with her anymore and that he is mine forever.

The trouble is Aunty Selma, I just don’t know whether I can trust him again. I am so hurt and I cry to sleep every night. Please help.


Desperate and Pretty

Dear Desperate and Pretty,

There, there. Don’t waste your tears. Men are like that. They can be such fickle creatures. Obviously this ex-girlfriend has something that he misses; a sexual quirk perhaps. Who knows?

The point is I admire your decision to stick with him. But even so, you must go into this relationship with open eyes.

Please do not try to make excuses for him by saying it’s the other girl’s fault. She may be a slattern, but it takes two to tango and from the sounds of it, he was getting into the beat quite willingly.

From now on, you must keep a sharp eye on him. It is his responsibility to earn your trust once more. My advice is to simply put your shoulder to the wheel and concentrate on making sure this relationship works.

Of course, if he should stray again, well, he has had his chance. Dump him like the rotten tomato he is. I am certain he will be ostracised by all your friends who have given you two such goodwill and love.

Let him see what it feels like to be shunned and left in the cold. Serves him right!

Dear Aunty Selma,

My boss won’t give me a day off. He expects me to work seven days a week. What should I tell him?


Made to Work

Dear Made to Work,

Your boss sounds like a very unreasonable man. My advice is very simple, go up to him and quote the following passage. It is Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”

I assume you are human and therefore you deserve to be treated as such.

That’s all I have time for this week loyal readers. Join me again next week as I deal with “Broken White Heart Lane” and his depression due to underachieving all the time. Cheerio my darlings!

Sincere greetings

Brave New World (The Star)
June 11, 2009

"The Arabs have a really nice way of saying hello, by just wishing someone ‘peace’."


So, there I was, surfing the Net, looking for something to distract me from work. During the breaks from playing “Flight of the Hamsters”, I chanced upon an article regarding Barack Hussein Obama’s speech in Cairo.

I had heard bits and pieces of the speech on the telly and my feeling was it’s all fine and dandy, but he did skirt around some issues; and unless and until the words are translated into action, it was little more than a feel good PR exercise.

No, the online article I read was not an in-depth analysis of the speech, it was about how a whole bunch of Americans headed for their computers to search what Assalamualaikum meant.

Their president had used the greeting in his speech and they were probably in a tizzy wondering whether their boss man had declared a new-found faith in Islam.

“Gosh, Billy Bob Joe, did he say somethin’ in Ay-rab?”

I can imagine their relief when they found out it only meant “peace be upon you”.

I’m sure there were a lot of Budweiser bottles being clinked together in celebration that Obama was not the closet Muslim that the redneck right wingers were saying he was during the election campaign.

This led me to thinking.

When I was a little boy, the usual greeting that people gave each other in formal events was usually “Selamat pagi/tengahari/petang/malam” or “Good morning/afternoon/evening”.

Over the years, the Arabic Assalamualaikum started to be used more and more often. Then it developed to Assalamualaikum warahmadullah wabarakathu. Then there was a further development of a little doa (prayer) before the whole thing.

I suppose it was yet another facet of the growing Islamisation/Arabisation of the country. Well, you know, whatever.

Eventually, I started to use the greeting, too. That’s not to say I was becoming any holier (although for many Muslims there are religious connotations to the greeting), it’s just that I like it; in the same way that I like to wear blue jeans and T-shirts. We borrow from other cultures all the time, and the Arabs, in my book, came up with a really nice way of saying hello.

I mean, how cool it is to wish someone “peace”?

Not “Good morning” when it could have been a really crappy morning.

Not “How are you?” when the answer will always be “I’m fine” regardless of whether I just discovered that I have piles the size of walnuts.

And “Selamat pagi” sounds like I’m being asked to go on some military mission. “Safe morning, Private, I hope you don’t get your legs blown off.”

In this context “I wish you peace” is really nice. And when said earnestly, is utopian even.

However, over the last few years, I have stopped using it when I speak in public. The reason is we in Malaysia have managed to contort something so sweet into yet another symbol of our continued obsession with dividing ourselves.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s never just “Assalamualaikum”, it is almost always “Assalamualaikum dan selamat sejahtera”.

Even when we greet each other, it is as a divided people. “Hey for you Muslims out there; I wish you all peace. And for everyone else; I wish you well being, man”!

Why do we do this?

No, that is the wrong question.

I know why we do this. For the Muslims, it is because they feel the greeting is exclusive to them.

For non-Muslims, they probably feel the greeting is yet another way of forcing Islamisation onto the populace and thus it is better to have something else just for them.

The question therefore should be “how did we come to this?”

When did exclusivity become such a norm that we experience it without even noticing its divisive power?

When did suspicion become so ingrained that the harmless becomes a symbol of oppression?

For me, much of the divisiveness in our society can be traced to many policy and legislative sources. However, we have a bigger battle on our hands and that is the changing of our very own attitudes towards one another.

It will be useful, of course, if we governed ourselves with as little prejudice as possible, but even if the laws and policies were changed it would matter little if our hearts and minds have not.

It is a tiny thing, I know, but for now at least, in my own pathetic attempt at ensuring I am Malaysian first, I shall continue to use “Good morning” and “Selamat pagi”; even though your piles are making it hard for you to sit down and the most dangerous thing you will be doing all day is boiling the water for your coffee.

Acting to dispel the darkness

Brave New World (The Star)
May 28, 2009

"Large balloons with writings pose a danger to passenger aircraft, and black clothes – the colour is associated with death – will drive investors away."


Below is a transcript of the final exams for the BA (Governance) degree conducted by the University of Malaysia in the second semester of the academic session 2020/2021. It is an excellent example of a First Class exam script.

Policing 101

Please answer the three questions below. Please ensure your handwriting is legible.

Question 1.

In your opinion, what is a threat to National Security?

A threat to national security is fundamentally anything that the police or Government wants to declare as a threat to national security.

In Malaysian policing and governance, what is important to realise is that the discretion to determine national security need not follow any logical thought process. To call something a threat is in effect to make something a threat.

The citizens of the country are safer and happier under such a system, because with such broad powers the police are able to ensure peace and prosperity.

Any citizen who does not understand the need for such powers is either mentally disturbed or a traitor to the nation who should surrender his or her passport and return to where he or she came from.

Question 2.

Give examples of a threat to National Security.

This question deserves much more time and space than a two-hour examination allows. I shall therefore limit my examples to two.

My first example is the dangerous act of flying large balloons. Balloons are a grave danger to the country because they can interfere in our growing air and space industry.

Aeroplanes flying over Malaysian airspace will have difficulty navigating if we allow large balloons to be flown.

There is always the risk that a pilot may mistake a balloon for a cloud and fly through it only to entangle the aircraft in the lethal combination of rubber and cable, causing the plane to crash and resulting in the death of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people.

The problem is compounded if the balloon has writing on it, for a pilot may be distracted and may take the time to read the writing, causing him to lose control of his aircraft and crashing it, killing everyone on board as well as people on the ground.

Another example of a threat to national security is the wearing of black clothes. Black is a colour associated with bad things like death and darkness.

If the people are allowed to wear black, then foreign investors will think that Malaysia is a country of death and darkness. They will lose interest in investing here and they will take away all their money.

This is the reason the Appropriate Malaysian Clothing Act 2015 was passed. Malaysians should wear bright coloured clothes, preferably silk batik, so as to portray a lively and cheerful country, thus attracting investment.

If we do not have foreign investment we will not be the great country that we are. According to the 2018 World Bank Report, we are still richer than Somalia and Myanmar.

This is because of foreign investment, and if anything threatens foreign investment, it is a national security threat; like black clothes.

Question 3

What is the use of Part II of the Federal Constitution?

This is a trick question. Part II of the Federal Constitution is entitled “Fundamental Liberties” and this entire part has been removed by the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2011.

In its place a new Part IIA has been put in. Part IIA is entitled “Fundamental Duties” and it lists the duties of citizens.

Among these is the duty not to light any candles whatsoever – unless in the event of a blackout – and the duty to not show solidarity with any person or cause unless a permit is applied for and obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security.

Note: The candidate whose script this is went on to graduate summa cum laude and is now a personal assistant to a Minister. He is currently being groomed for a leadership role in the near future.

Intention behind the law misunderstood

Brave New World (The Star)
May 14, 2009

"There are limits to freedom, and the Constitution allows for these. However, those limits are subject to certain over-arching protective principles."


Some things are impossible to understand. For example, how on God’s sweet earth could Tottenham Hotspur in their last game against Manchester United go from leading 2-0 at half time to losing 2-5 at full time?

And this is not the first time we’ve done it. A few years ago, we were leading 3-0 at half time only to lose 3-5.

My Liverpool-supporting friends were flabbergasted as Spurs, by their total and complete implosion, have probably destroyed Liverpool’s last hope of winning the Premier League this season.

They tried to make sense of it, but we long-suffering Spurs men and women know that some things just can’t be understood.

But there are some things which must be understood. It is in fact imperative that we understand them. And these pertain to things in our country. Yet, sadly, it appears that some of us can’t.

I am referring here to the Sedition Act and the Police Act. Both, in my opinion, have been totally abused in the last few weeks because those with the power to use them simply did not understand them.

Allow me to explain. The Sedition Act is a remnant of the bad old British days. The English introduced the law to quash dissent among the people who were opposing the Malayan Union, namely the Malayan left.

One would have thought that we would have got rid of this law, seeing as how its formation was for the purpose of oppressing some of the heroes of our independence. But, strangely, we have kept it.

Now, as appalling as this law is, it is not the blunderbuss that the Internal Security Act is. You don’t have the discretion to use the Sedition Act willy-nilly like you can the ISA.

You can’t just arrest someone for sedition for no good reason – for example, for their outlandish hairstyle or their choice of clothes.

The Sedition Act is really meant for those who advocate the unlawful destruction of a government.

If one were to read the Act, it looks pretty broad; on the surface, it looks as if you can’t at all criticise the monarchy or the government.

But if you were to read carefully, you will see that if the King or the Sultans were mistaken in their actions, or if you are advocating a lawful change of government, then it is perfectly OK to criticise them.

This being the case, I could not see any reason whatsoever for Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) activist Wong Chin Huat to be arrested for sedition last week.

All he did was advocate the wearing of black in order to peaceably protest what was considered by many to be a poor state of affairs in the Perak legislature. Something which was perfectly within his rights and the rights of everyone in this country – to peaceably express themselves.

Another law which appears to be misunderstood by the powerful is the Police Act. It was used on May 7 against scores of people for “illegal assembly”. Most were in Ipoh, dressed in black, and some were in Kuala Lumpur gathering to show their support for Wong, who was being held in remand.

The Police Act also looks a bit crazy. Any gathering of more than two people can be deemed an illegal assembly. It, therefore, looks as though the police can do anything they want.

They can charge into a coffeeshop and haul two pals and me away because we constitute an illegal gathering. It appears unbelievable, does it not?

What is misunderstood, however, is that the Police Act is not meant to be used by the police as though it were their personal toy.

Any invocation of it has to be done within the context of the Federal Constitution.

In fact, the use of any law in the country has to be done within the context of the Constitution. And the Constitution does say that we have the freedom to assemble.

Sure, there are limits to that freedom, and the Constitution allows for these. However those limits have limits, too. You can only stop an assembly if it is armed, violent, and a threat to national security and public order.

The people in Ipoh were not armed. They were there merely to express their disappointment at how things were turning out in Perak.

The people burning candles outside the Brickfields police station to show solidarity with Wong were not in any way being a threat to national security.

In this light, the very most the police could do was to control the crowd to make sure that order was maintained. There was absolutely no need to trample on the citizens’ Constitutional rights. Their arrests, in my view, were uncalled for and totally against the Constitution.

It’s perfectly all right to not understand how a football team can play so beautifully for 45 minutes and then crumble for the next 45. I’ve lived in such a state of befuddlement for the past 30 years of supporting the boys from North London.

However, it is not acceptable to misunderstand that our laws are subject to certain over-arching protective principles.

The Sedition Act is to be used for those advocating the unlawful overturning of governments and institutions. The Police Act is not to be used to indiscriminately take away our civil liberties. If these things are not understood, then we have no right to call ourselves a democracy.

A new breath of hope blows

Brave New World (The Star)
April 30, 2009

"That many African countries are in a mess is, to a certain extent, due to the way the colonial powers carved up the continent."


When I landed at KLIA last week, there was an annoying high-pitch whine in my ear. At first, I thought it was the engine of the plane cooling down.

But upon closer listening, I figured out that it was actually a chorus of whining voices saying: “Oh, we have another by-election coming up. How awful. What a waste of public funds. Moan. Moan. Moan. Whine. Whine. Whine.”

It was particularly irritating to hear such complaints, especially in the light of where I had just been. I was in Ghana for work, and speaking to colleagues from West Africa was a real tonic.

The world tends to see Africa as a place where chaos rules; and let’s admit it, when we do, there is more than a hint of smugness on our part.

How often have we heard the pompous comments that Ghana and Malaysia both obtained independence in the same year but look at us now compared to them?

Yes, it is true that many African countries are a mess; and even when they are blessed with natural resources, they are also cursed with corruption and violence.

To a certain extent, this is due to the way the colonial powers carved up the continent, drawing borders that suited their imperialist dreams, but not the natural divisions of Africa.

Thus, communities long at war with one another suddenly found themselves part of the same nation state. Not a recipe for success.

Yet despite all this, there is optimism and hope. Take Sierra Leone, for example. The vicious civil war the country suffered for almost a decade, fought over diamonds, is barely over.

The memories and the pain of that conflict are still fresh. And yet there is optimism there. An optimism borne on the hope that democracy gives.

They have the ability to choose their leaders and speak their minds — and that is a boon in a country that is economically in ruins.

In a nation where 70% are illiterate and electricity is a luxury, radio has become the main source of news and information.

And radio stations in Sierra Leone are blossoming, providing not just entertainment but, more importantly, a critical eye cast upon a government that is suddenly accountable to its people.

And believe me, their radio is way freer than ours. That this has been so in Sierra Leone is because not only have the people gone through the trauma of war, they have also suffered the frustration of having no voice.

In Ghana, the democratic process seems to have re-established itself firmly. A peaceful change of government via elections, a steadily growing economy and public safety make it the shining light among African nations.

At the workshop I attended, the Education Minister gave the opening address. He entered the little seminar room with no entourage, no fanfare, and he gave a speech lauding academic freedom and promising a new Freedom of Information law.

He looked and sounded like a servant of the people rather than some overblown “tuan”.

Of all the new friends I made, only the one from Ethiopia was pessimistic about the future of her country. I asked her: “If you had free and fair elections, would that attitude change?”

She looked at me like the moron that I am and said: “Of course it would.”

Over here, the moans grow loud at the prospect of another by-election and I can only shake my head in bewilderment.

The fact that we have by-elections at all is something to be proud of. And I believe by-elections are worth the cost. Speaking of which, I wonder just what the fuss about costs is all about.

Sure, there will be some overtime pay to the police, but considering how badly they are paid in the first place, I think a few million ringgit of honestly earned OT would be a good thing for them.

Besides, wouldn’t the bulk of the cost be borne by the respective political parties in their campaign efforts? Lest we forget, campaign funds should come from party, not government, coffers.

And lest we forget, if it were not for the ballot box, Sagong Tasi and his orang asli community in Selangor could still be denied the money owed to them for the loss of their ancestral lands.

That case went before the Court of Appeal which decided against the state government, then under Barisan Nasional. The latter appealed against the decision. Then the March elections ushered Barisan out of the Selangor Government.

Now, to the delight of the orang asli, the current state government has said it will drop the appeal.

Would this have happened if there had been no change in government? I don’t think so.

It seems that we Malaysians are so unappreciative of democracy that when the practice of this ideal becomes a little “inconvenient”, we start to get anxious.

The fact of the matter is, our democracy is still infantile and we have a long way to go.

In the meantime, we must press on. For we cannot hope for good governance until all the politicians in this country are made to realise that we can put them in power and we can also boot them out.

Neither can we hope for good governance until we appreciate this power and use it.

Having spoken with my new African friends, I am convinced more than ever that the alternative of not defending and using our democratic right, is unthinkable.

If pressing on means another by-election, then so be it.

Pirate and privateer rolled into one

Brave New World (The Star)
April 2, 2009

"The English were a strange lot and swashbuckler Henry Morgan would sometimes be labelled a hero and sometimes a villaiBy the English government, depending on who held the political reins."


This is a true story. Once upon a time in the 17th century, there was a young nobleman from Wales named Henry Morgan.

Although he was from a blue-blooded family, he and his folks had seen better days and their wealth was not as it was. Henry decided to seek his fortune in the West Indies – Jamaica to be exact, or to be even more precise, the city of Port Royal.

Henry Morgan did not make his money from the sugarcane industry (although it was a very prosperous industry in those days as slave labour was free).

No, Henry Morgan became a pirate. He would of course hate that term because in his eyes, he was a loyal Englishman serving King and Country by raiding the Spanish enemy. In his eyes, he was a “privateer”.

However you may label it, when you attack ships and cities, kill civilians and soldiers alike, and then steal all their property, it’s piracy.

In any case, the English were a strange lot, so depending on who held the political reins, Morgan would sometimes be labelled a hero and sometimes a villain by the English government.

When it suited them, they would “commission” the pirates of the Caribbean as “privateers” to raid the Spanish on behalf of the Crown. This would “legitimise” them.

When diplomatic ties with Spain got a bit touchy, they would condemn them as pirates. As I said, strange.

Anyway, Henry Morgan was very successful in what he did. He was an intelligent man who was also blessed with luck; and there was also the ineptitude of the Spanish.

The Spanish were a hierarchy-bound, bureaucratic empire, whereas the pirates were fleet of foot and flexible. Armed with the most modern and state-of-the-art guns, they were often able to beat the Spanish despite the latter’s superior numbers.

Morgan’s speciality was the land raid. He would land his men many miles from the city he sought to attack and then march them through thick jungle to surprise the enemy and emerge victorious.

He was not averse to resorting to torture when it suited him or even the use of human shields. Thus, despite his well-earned glamorous reputation, he was still not the most pleasant of fellows.

One can be forgiven, though, if one were to forget his occasional acts of barbarity. Especially in the light of some truly amazing exploits that look as though only Hollywood could invent them.

There was one occasion when Morgan disguised a ship to look like his lead vessel when in fact it was basically a giant bomb, loaded to the stern with explosives and flammables. With a skeleton crew, the ship was steered into battle.

The Spanish, confident of an easy victory, met it head on. When the ships collided, only then did they realise that the “pirates” were dummies wearing hats and holding wooden cutlasses. By then, it was too late because in the collision, the Spanish ship itself was blown to blazes.

Another time, Morgan was trapped in a river mouth at which a Spanish fort bristling with cannons was ready to rip his ships to bits if they tried to escape. He put on a big show of landing his pirates to make the commander of the fort prepare for a land battle.

In fact, the pirates would reach shore and then lie flat on the canoes they had come by, so they would not be seen by the enemy in the fort, and paddle back to the ships. The process was repeated so it looked like the ships had been emptied of men.

Then when night fell, Morgan let the ships drift seemingly empty and aimless to sea. When they were out of range, they fired a few shots at the fort, not to attack it but to sound out a cheeky hasta la vista.

Really, you can’t make this kind of stuff up, but there’s more. With his fortune made, Morgan became a landowner and acquired respectability. He even climbed the ranks to become Governor of Jamaica.

And here’s the clincher – with his fortune secure, he set about to destroy the pirate vermin that sailed the waters of the Caribbean. He did this with some success using his usual combination of brutality and trickery.

One story has him regaling a bunch of suspected pirates with fine drink and food. And because he was an ex-pirate and hero to them, they confessed their true profession.

The next day, he had them arrested and, as presiding judge, had them summarily hanged.

Of course, his ex-brethren went on doing what they always had. It was all too hypocritical for a man like Morgan who had made his wealth by piracy to suddenly condemn it.

It was also ludicrous to expect pirates to stop being pirates just because one they held in high esteem told them to stop.

This story finishes quite abruptly. At the age of 53, Morgan died of dropsy, a condition where one becomes hideously bloated with excess fluid; the result of a life of excess.

And Port Royal, a city whose prosperity depended on the pirates, was wiped out by a cataclysmic earthquake. It is all fitting perhaps that such a man and such a city so steeped in corruption would end in pain and utter destruction.

Note: The story of Henry Morgan can be read in the excellent Empire of Blue Water by Stephen Talty.