Sunday, 30 December 2012

What’s in store for New Year?

Brave New World (The Star)
27 December 2012


There will be no more predictions next year. Just like the end of the world fiasco, we have had some loony predictions in this country. And the thing is we have all been proven wrong.


Can he do it? The author's last resolution is to be patient with Andre Villas Boas and not to call for his head until at least one more full season in charge. - AFP
Villas Boas and not to call for his head until at least one more full season in charge. -Can he do it? The author's last resolution is to be patient with Andre AFP

THE failure of the world to end has really messed up my plans.

I thought that one of two things could happen. Either giant meteors/tidal waves/earthquakes/would crush me in which case nothing would matter any more.

Or the world would be in such a total panic facing the Armageddon, that I would not be noticed for a while.

Either way, I would not have to write this week’s column and be able to take a nice little break.

With any luck the accounting department would be in such disarray, they might still even pay me.

Alas, the world did not end, just as the accounting department will never ever pay me more than what they think I am due.

So here I am earning my keep for the last time in 2012.

Usually, end of year opinion pieces take the form of reminiscing about the year that has gone by.

I don’t want to do that. Instead I want to share my New Year resolutions with you.

I must declare, however, that I don’t believe in resolutions and the few times I have tried have ended in dismal failure.

However, seeing that I am still alive and the world has been spared, perhaps an extra effort is due.

I resolve to listen to or read the opinion of people whose philosophies I find nauseating for at least a few minutes/paragraphs before being violently sick.

After all you need to hear what they are saying before you can rebut them, otherwise you would be a knee jerk reactionary. Which is what they usually are.

I resolve to not make any more predictions. Just like the end of the world fiasco, we have had some loony predictions in this country which everybody, yours truly included, have taken part in. And the thing is we have all been proven wrong.

What is it about predictions? I think the people who like making them are those with a serious superiority complex.

They feel the urgent need to be better than others. They get a tingly feeling in the pit of the stomach when they can turn around and say “I told you so. Aren’t I smart?”.

Well, I don’t want to be like that. Especially when my predictions are always so wrong.

The one I am talking about here is of course the next general election.

Over the last year in particular, I have heard and I have given wisely considered possibilities as to when the elections will be held.

All told with a sage knowing look and the gentle stroking of a non-existent goatee.

How wise we all sounded and how utterly stupid we have all been shown to be.

Well, no more. It’s time to be Buddhist about this: we can’t tell when the darned thing is going to be so there is no point pretending we do and we can’t do anything about selecting the date, so let’s not worry about it.

My last resolution is to be patient with Andre Villas Boas and not to call for his head until at least one more full season in charge.

So what if this is the first time I am watching my beloved Tottenham Hotspur play in such a way that I actually nod off.

So what if I can make no sense of his tactical genius. He needs time, he deserves time.

Well, there you have it, my three New Year resolutions.

And you know what, I bet that by the time this hits the newsstands, Spurs would probably have lost to Aston Villa, I would be screaming, “sack the Portuguese”; and if any idiot has a different point of view from me, I’ll vomit all over their shoes.

Whoops! Messed this resolution business up again.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Rotating parties for better governance

Going The Distance (Selangor Times)
14 December 2012


IN my last article I wrote about the importance of changing the system of local government that we have. By that I meant we should reintroduce local government elections as well as overhaul the Local Government Act in order to ensure a more transparent and accountable local authority.

There are also other institutional changes which are desperately needed in this country.

Keeping to local governments, the law which exempts them from any legal action being taken against them is also something which has to be looked at.

For example, the Ampang local government was immune to any legal action for supposed negligence in the decision making which led to the Highland Towers tragedy.

But, in case I appear to be harping on too much on local government, let us spread our sights a bit further.

The Election Commission used to be an independent body and its members had the security of tenure similar to those on the Bench. That was changed in the 60s however. What was also changed was the power of the EC to draw the boundaries for the electoral constituencies.

Now the EC commissioners are there at His Majesty’s pleasure and the power to delineate constituencies lie in the hands of Parliament. This means that the independence of the EC is questionable as they can be fired at will and whoever has the majority in Parliament will undoubtedly draw the electoral boundaries to suit them and not to ensure a fair representation of the people in this country.

There are many other examples of course but I shall not go into them here. Needless to say the system of governance we have now is built around the concept of patronage.

Those in authority owe their position to a master. This leads to a feudal mentality as well as the ever present suspicion that work is done not on a professional level with the interest of the nation at heart, but instead it is done to serve a political patron.

This systemic malaise that we have can of course be changed by anyone with legislative power and the requisite will to do something about it. But is it possible to find anyone or any group with the nobility of spirit and strong sense of fairness to do so; especially if the status quo suits their own purposes.

The answer is sadly in the negative, which is why changes in government are crucial.

When one is on the other side, then one suddenly longs for neutral government machinery and a level playing field. Take Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for example; the paragon of Southeast Asian authoritarianism. When Tun Abdullah Badawi was in power and Dr Mahathir was simply an old age pensioner who was not in favour with the current administration, he found himself blocked out of the mainstream media.

Suddenly the man who was in charge during Operasi Lalang which saw the shutting down and subsequent cowing of the print media, was lamenting about the lack of freedom of expression. He had to resort to writing a blog to get his, oh so numerous, gems of wisdom across.

Of course now that the reins of power have passed, you don’t see him lamenting any more as he has all the platforms that an octogenarian can possibly want.

My point is that political parties must be kicked in and out of power because this will have a positive effect on the mundane government of machinery; the civil service, the various commissions, the judiciary, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, local government and numerous other public institutions.

As long as any one political party feels that they will govern forever, this change will not occur.

Overzealous officials on ‘khalwat’ trail

Brave New World (The Star)
12 December 2012

Religious departments across the country have many and varied responsibilities. Arguably one can say there are far more pressing matters than making sure couples don’t smooch.


AREN’T there more important issues to make a big deal of? Seriously, is this khalwat thing really of national interest?

First off, there is no way a non-Muslim can be charged for khalwat.

It is a syariah offence and thus simply does not apply to those who do not profess the religion of Islam.

So the incessant use of the term khalwat to describe the “offence” that these non-Muslim people have been charged with in Kelantan is inaccurate.

The term may spice the story up somewhat, but the real “offence” is that of “indecent behaviour”.

Secondly, and this is the subtext, I have seen in the reporting of this issue, is that this is a problem caused by PAS.

Come on, are our memories so short? A few years ago there was a non-Muslim couple fined for indecent behaviour or something like that in Kuala Lumpur; hardly a PAS bastion.

Therefore any attempt at making this a political party issue is totally missing the point. It is not.

The real issue here I submit is two-fold.

Firstly, it is about overzealous civil servants who obviously have taken it upon themselves to be the moral guardians, nay, moral guardian superheroes, of this country.

What can one say about such folk? Some people just love throwing what little authority they have around.

However, what is more important is the second issue which is systemic.

Fix the system, and the first problem will disappear too.

The second issue is about the existence of these laws themselves. And just to be crystal clear they exist in Pakatan states and Barisan states too. This is not a party political issue. This is an issue about the role of the Islamic departments in the nation.

Why do we have such laws in the first place?

For me, it seems a bit creepy and slightly perverted. I mean, who are these people who go lurking around parks in the dead of night?

Do they have to pass a test before they can get the job? Perhaps, they must have the ability to crawl through bushes with minimum sound. Khalwat Ninjas in other words.

Frankly, I think that this “job” is demeaning. No matter how you may couch the job description, at the end of the day, you are a peeping tom.

Looking at the responsibilities of religious departments across the country, it is obvious that there are many.

Arguably, one could say there are far more pressing matters than making sure couples don’t smooch.

For example, education is a big job for these departments, because it covers not only religious primary and secondary schools but also pre-school.

Perhaps it would be better to ensure that these institutions are not only well run and of high quality but that they also prepare their school leavers for the challenges of life in the twenty-first century.

And if you really want to nab people, I gather that a lot of divorced fathers are not living up to their end of the bargain and are escaping payment of maintenance and the like.

And what about finding new and innovative ways to improve the effectiveness of the tithe collections and distribution?

There are also research units in these religious departments and there is a plethora of subjects facing the Muslim community that could do with research.

Unemployment, corruption, substance abuse are just some of the ills faced by the Muslim community and work can be done here. And by work I mean progressive forward thinking work, not the usual knee jerk reaction of “these problems exist because people are not religious enough”.

The Islamic Studies Faculties in our public universities are huge and they produce graduates who are well versed in Islamic law, economics and theology.

There is in other words a pool of highly qualified workers who can delve into substantively trying to improve the lot of the community.

These are merely suggestions of course but I believe that with focused effort and energy much can be done to have a profound and positive effect on the community. And surely this would make these bodies far more relevant to the development of the nation.