Thursday, February 28, 2008

Look East Policy

I still remember how Tun Dr.M when he just assumed the premiership in 1981, set out to look for values and practices which could be emulated for the benefit of the country and thus the "Look East Policy" was born. By default, I attended that meeting where he announced the policy. My Secretary-General and Director-General of Education were away overseas, and the next most senior official was the Deputy-Secretary General at that time, the late Tuan Hj. Yang Amri Kamarudin for some strange reason asked the PM's Chief Private Secretary whether he could send a representative, and the reply was in the affirmative. So I found myself amongst the top senior civil servants and also top officials from statutory bodies including from Petronas. As I understood it then, the PM wanted the sponsoring agencies, responsible in sending students and trainees for all sorts of courses and training to shift their focus from the West to the East. He believed that there are some very positive values such as hard work, efficiency and effectiveness and loyalty to the organisation which could be adopted by sending them to Japan and Korea. To cut the story short, I came back to the Ministry of Education (where I was serving at that time) and told my superior that I was given a tall order by the PM. He wanted the first 100 in-plant trainees to be sent to Japan for attachment to various well-established companies, as early as possible. Without further ado, I set the motion in recruiting students who had just finished their schooling from Technical and Vocational schools for language training before they are sent to Japan. When the Minister came back from his overseas trip, he somehow came to know about the directive and said that Pak Lah who was the Minister in PM's Dept. was also given a similar directive but nothing happened. So when the Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam was informed that the Education Ministry had already started to make arrangements for the first group to attend the Japanese language training, they just joined in the bandwagon. I had the opportunity to be included in the first group of officials headed by Pak Lah to Japan to explore the places where we could send our trainees and students. The most senior official from the JPA was then Tuan Hj. Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid (now TanSri) and another two representatives from UM and UKM. It was interesting to note that even the Japanese was unaware about the 'Look East Policy' and they were keen to know more details. By now there are tens of thousands of our trainees and students who had graduated from institutes and universities in Korea and Japan, and they have been recruited by big Japanese and Korean companies operating in Malaysia and even on their own shores. At the national level we have yet to see the impact in terms of how the virtues and values which are much bandied about have transformed our students and trainees when they come back home. Maybe there are some small incremental improvements at the organisational level happening, but it all depends on how persevering one can be. No amount of total immersion methods would change their attitude if deep in themselves they don't have the commitment to make a difference when they have completed their courses in Japan and Korea and return to their familiar surroundings.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The local dailies obsession on the election

For about a fortnight the people of Malaysia is being bombarded by too much coverage on the General election in the print and electronic media. I can't help feeling nauseated whenever I flip over the pages of the morning newspapers. This is typical of a third world country, with the exception of the Presidential elections in the US, the mood of elections in developed countries like in the UK is very different. When I was in London way back in 1997, the election was hardly noticeable, and it was the turning point when the Labour Party won handsomely over the Conservative Party. But even then there was no jubilation or uproar as what we would normally expect here in Malaysia. What is it that made our situation different? Perhaps it's our obsession with politics as the only avenue to secure power which opens up many easy access to become rich without much sweat. This to me, is primitive thinking and surprisingly it afflicts modern technocrats who are standing for elections. If you are genuinely thinking of serving the people, politics is not the only avenue. In fact there are thousands if not millions who in their own way contribute more to the nation by working hard through honest and legitimate means to make the country prosper. It's high time that the people must be made to be aware that politics in the long run may be detrimental to our future, because in time the voting cohort will undergo a change and it would be too late to prevent the inevitable folly. What we do today is sowing the seeds of failure to ensure survival of the nation if politics become our obsession. The newspapers which are controlled by political interests must go and let the people be served the truth. As long the current trend is not checked, we shall regret very much later.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The "Makam Tuanku Tambusai"

If one cares to look at the signboard after the entering the toll plaza in Seremban, there's a writing which shows "Makam Tuanku Tambusai" amongst the others, on the left hand side of the road leading to the town. The grave site or "makam" of Tuanku Tambusai is situated on a low hill in Rasah about 3 kilometres from the town centre on the way to Port Dickson. Due to the road diversions and the flyovers built near the side road to the "makam", the location is little known, except by visiting groups from our neighbouring country, Indonesia. When the "makam" was officially upgraded with funds contributed by the Provincial government of Riau in Sumatra, and topped up by the Negri Sembilan State government in 2002, it was a pride especially to the descendants of which I am one of them, because he was declared a "National hero" by the Indonesian government in 1996. But today the 'makam' is in a sorry state due to vandals who stole some of the iron-mongery and the marble is blackened by dirt because there's no one who's responsible for the cleanliness and upkeep of the 'makam'. Tuanku Tambusai as he was well known in Indonesia was one of the leaders who fought the colonial invaders during the Padri Wars in 1838 and his contemporaries were Imam Bonjol and Tuanku Rao. His real name is Muhamad Saleh and he was brought up by his father who was the the Chief Kadhi during the rule of the Sultanate of Riau in the 1800's. Today on the 25 February 2008, the Negri Museum invited 10 of our family association members to an event organised by the museum, where a talk on historical events was delivered. I could not make it because only yesterday I was in Seremban paying my last respects to a relative. When I was told that the presenter still talked about our family tree which contains inaccuracies, it just got me upset. It was fortunate that I wasn't there, otherwise I would have just walked out, because I thought this matter had long been settled when there was a written as well as an oral representation was made to the Museum to correct that mistake. It looks like we have to remind them again of the mistake and rectify the error on the family tree of Fakeh Muhamad Saleh or better known as Tuanku Tambusai.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reminiscence of Tun Dr. Mahathir

It was first just an idea by an Old Putra in the E-List which is a grouping in the yahoogroup started by some old boys from the Royal Military College of which I participate actively, that those OP's(old putras) who have worked with the former PM share their experiences of their interactions with him. So the three of us OP Samsudin Marsop, OP Khairil Abdullah and I agreed to share our experiences of more than twenty to thirty years ago with those who are interested. The convenor is Capt Aziz Abdullah, who was formerly working in Brunei and now back here and attached to the Malaysian Maritime Institute who's one of those OP's who contributes his postings frequently on the e-list. So last night, on 22 February 2008 we had what's known as "Teh Tarik Session" which is a favourite term used to denote an informal gathering where teh tarik is served for the evening following the event. The target was at least 30 persons but only 16 turned up, but nevertheless it was a memorable occasion for me. One common denominator which I noticed amongst all the speakers, is that we were "professional" in our dealings when serving with Tun Dr.Mahathir. We served without fear or favour and we gave him advice to the best of what had and it was for him to make a decision. At no point of time we were afraid to speak our minds, even when we knew that it would not be to this liking. And it is this quality of "professionalism" which we shared that's difficult to find now, especially when the top senior positions are now offered on contract, which means the tenure is dependent on acceptability more that competency. If this trend is going to be predominant in the appointment of senior and top positions in the Civil Service, it will definitely demoralise a lot of more capable and better officers from continuing their career and look for greener pastures. The announcement by the DPM at the official ceremony celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Public Services Commission was not well received by many incumbents who are looking forward towards a rewarding career. The lateral entry of outsiders will inevitably cause a lot of unhappiness because the perception by most is that their promotion prospects will be bleak. I hope the Government will not be hasty in implementing this idea before listening to those who might be jeopardised by this proposal. The increases in salary will be negated by a diminishing career prospects of making it to the top and this would spell a disaster for the Government.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Old School Tie

I am quite fortunate that somehow I became a life member of my former schools, namely the King George V of Seremban and the Royal Military College(formerly known as the Federation Military College). My involvement in both is minimal but today when I read in the NSTP on page 30 entitled " Bring back the glory days" by H.S.Sraan of KL, I am prompted to pen my thoughts. What the writer says is nothing new, and since he's writing from experience being a former teacher at the RMC, I am sure he is sincere in making that call.I have not met him because he came much later after I left college in 1964. Perhaps he's not aware that the Old Puteras Association (which is the equivalent of an Old Boy's Association) have embarked on a project called " Return to Excellence" by first improving the facilities, which given the bureaucratic inertia had overcame an important hurdle when the former Chief Secretary was instrumental in speeding up action(he was an Old Boy) but more difficult is revivival of the standards. What I mean by standards is the benchmark of quality in people managing both the military as well as the academic areas of the College system. No matter how committed are the leaders at the College level, if they don't get the support from the Mindef which holds the key to many things, then all efforts shall come to no avail. The staff being posted to the College must be the cream of the cream, and not just any person will do.That was how it all started when Templer envisioned the College to be the home of future leaders in all walks of life, not just the Armed Forces. I might not have been in touch with what is going on in my alma mater, but from just one event which I attended a few months ago, it doesn't augur well on the future. I am not talking about the facilities, that have been taken care of, and in fact there is an allocation of about RM 100 million to expand the physical infrastructure in view of the future expansion in intake and the upgrading of the College. It's the quality of the present "Boys" that somewhat is in the askance. The ethnic balance which was the critical mass is not there, not that there's no effort in trying, but it's just not good enough. Selection must be purely on merit and if this is not adhered to, the poor perception of parents on the quality and superiority of the education provided there will not be erased. This coming friday night, I am attending a so-called "Teh Tarik Session" organised by a couple of old boys ( known as Old Puteras)as a speaker to share with those attending my past experiences of serving in government. I would like to see what are the changes that have taken place in their attitude towards things in life.I am keeping an open mind, and the next posting will perhaps be telling of the new generation which I have not known of.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hate Mail Election Campaign

Today I received an e-mail that seemed to have circulated perhaps a thousand times which is reminiscent of the racial hate campaign typical of desperate agitators or those who are bent to destroy racial harmony of this beloved country. At first I just wanted to ignore it, but on second thought, it might bring more harm than good and if this is allowed to continue, then the process of democracy is going to be a mockery. Let me just give a gist of the contents. It focus on the half-truths on govt.implementation of the NEP which is meant to redress the imbalances in all fields. The blatant allegation that every opportunity is aimed at depriving the Chinese and Indians who are citizens is highly inflammable and seditious.Of course the target is the BN govt and this mail is motivated to arouse hatred towards the ruling party which is now the caretaker govt. pending the elections on March 08, 2008 and the formation of the new Govt. by whichever party that commands the majority in the Dewan Rakyat.I am apalled at the racial overtones of the mail and I felt it is my duty to draw the attention of the Govt. and as such I forwarded the copy to the Chief Secretary to the Government for investigation. Every good citizen has a duty to preserve the racial harmony and if what the IGP promised that he would come down hard on those who incite racial tension in the run up to the election, he better act now than later.

What does a Government Do?

Have you ever wondered what a government does? In view of our state of the nation, we take many things for granted, and one which we rarely asked is what is the function and role of government. During my term as an interviewer with the Public Services Commission, this was my favourite question, but not exactly as I am asking now, but an open question, " What do you understand by the term 'Government'? " and surprisingly such a simple question was the most difficult to answer by the candidates. Many were confused between 'Government' and the political parties that form the government of the day. When candidates who have gone through formal education right up to tertiary level could not understand the demarcation, what more those who have not gone through any formal education at all. There are many reasons why this confusion arises, and one of which is due to lack of understanding of the term. The Concise Oxford dictionary defines government as" system of governing, form of organisation of State" and " body and successive bodies of persons governing a State". No wonder the confusion continues. A student of government would simply look at government as a system which is interrelated and performs the legitimate function of establishment of law and order and ensuring justice as well as the authority to govern.What's more important is it's accountability and transparency in the performance of it's functions. The process of arriving at the formation of a body or bodies that carry out the governance over the people is the most critical part which ensures that we deserve the government we choose. Thus in a parliamentary democracy we elect those who are supposed to represent us in Parliament which is one of the important barnch of government which is the law making body or the legislature.The quality of people who made up the Members of Parliament is of paramount importance, because they have to bring up matters which relate to their constituencies. But when party discipline is imposed, then that theory of representing the people takes a back seat. When a political party dominates the representation and place their political interest above the national interest or their constituency's interest, then the distortion of their role becomes prevalent. That's why we came across MP's who acted like fools and court jesters and treat the hallowed Dewan Rakyat as a stage for their antics. Hardly anything of importance to the very constituencies whom they are supposed to represent are raised. Thus it's a mockery of sorts whenever the Parliament sits and all the laws that are passed seldom gets debated intelligently and passed as a matter of convenience.If this most important role is not performed properly, how does the people who elected them get things done then. So in order to make their presence felt, they open up their so-called service centres. But of what use are such service centres, because we can always go to the respective departments to get what we want. The MP's or Wakil Rakyats too have to follow the law, because they are the representatives who passed them during the debate in Parliament or the State assemblies. They should be able to debate the Bills that are tabled before them as how the majority population be affected. If the law being passed is going to be an additional burden to the people, then they must voice out the concerns of their constituencies. But they hardly had any time to bring up to the attention of their constituencies on any law or enactments brought before them. So in the end we all get shortchanged, and these elected representatives concentrate on matters that do not bring much benefit to their particular constituencies. If this is how democracy works, then we have to think very hard, whether it's worth our time to go and vote for them. Just food for thought.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Election Fever is On

Day before yesterday which was much awaited by the people was the announcement at lunchtime by the PM that the Parliament was dissolved, paving the way for the country's 12 General Elections. A lot of speculation on the date of the elections were in the rumour mill but I was expecting that election day would fall on the school term holiday. So when the Chairman of EC announced it, I took it as matter-of-factly. Who's going to win the elections is not much of a big deal to many as the outcome is easily predictable. But what is most disturbing is that what the recent so-called survey on issues that catch the attention of the people at the moment. First is the economy, followed by crime rate and public safety. Whether it is by default or by design, issues such as corruption and accountabilty do not seem to be raised or perhaps it was conveniently dropped as one of the important issues to be asked in the survey. Probably the party that conducted the survey is so much obligated to the govt of the day, that it does not want to offend the powers that be and obliquely touch on such issues between the lines. It's obvious that if investments which is the FDI goes elsewhere, there must be reasons apart from the political stability and infrastructure. What's more important is the investment climate, such as corruption and judicial independence. These two major factors are enough to drive away potential investors from our shores, if at every step of the ladder to get approvals money must change hands. To make matters worse if the perception of foreign investors that they cannot rely on our judiciary to be fair and impartial, then these will simply drive them elsewhere, even if the political stability and the infrastructure is in place. We must benchmark our country with that of Singapore our closest neighbour and lest we forget that it has no natural resources in abundance like we do, but it's reputation as a corrupt free govt and a judiciary that's independent are the two factors that draw the FDI to the island republic.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Judiciary in Focus

In the last fortnight or so, the Royal Commission of Inquiry to determine the so-called Lingam's videotape on fixing of Promotion of Judges had opened the can of worms on the way Judges are appointed to the top posts on the Bench. In fact it was the first of it's kind in the history of the country's judiciary that this august institution is getting into the hall of infamy. The whole world, particularly our brother judges in the Commonwealth is now focussing their attention to the proceedings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry. The personalities who have appeared before the Commission range from the ordinary to a former Prime Minister. All three former Chief Justices also appeared before the Commission. It's an irony that such eminent personalities were being grilled by their former subordinates or minions after their retirement. There have been apalling and downright shocking revelations made on how the top posts in the Judiciary were filled. If one goes by the provision of the Federal Constitution, it would appear that the appointment of those top judges should be a simple affair between the Agong, the Prime Minister and the Chief justice. But the most glaring fact which came out during the inquiry was the revelation of the process of "consultation" whereby in recommending the appointment of the Chief Judge of Malaya, only letters going to and fro the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister which constituted consultation. In the language of the layman, the very word "consultation" means to deliberate and discuss between the parties concerned. As a general practitioner the former PM cannot be unfamiliar with the terminology because when a patient sees the doctor and deliberated some time in the consultation room, there's face to face interaction and communication. Surely in tendering advice to the Agong as to whom should hold the post of Chief Judge, there must be at the very least some face to face communication between the PM and Chief Justice, though the Federal Constitution does not spell out what is or the process of "consultation" should be. Another shocking revelation was that, even hearsay became a factor in consideration of appointing to the top post in the Judiciary. No wonder there's a virulent call from the Bar Council for a more systematic procedure of appointing Judges should be considered by the Government. If the members of the Judiciary has the courage, they should submit a memorandum to the Government on such a critical and important issue. The procedure must be at the very least withstand the test of fairplay and accountability. As it is now, the perception given is that the PM can do as he pleases without regard to what is the provision in the Federal Constitution.If the Head of Government himself does not have any respect for the Federal Constitution, that spells the end of our Rukunegara which forms the basis of our belief in our democratic principles. We must not allow our democracy to degenerate to kleptocracy. Woe betide us if such a disaster befall our nation.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Our Efficiency Ranking

I have been quite lukewarm about rankings, especially when it's made on some criteria which as a general rule is biased. So when the PM in his address to an assembly of public servants at the PICC glowed on what was published in "The World Competitiveness Yearbook" published by IMD of Switzerland that out government efficiecy level is at number 6 for nations whose population is above 20 million, and we surpassed the developed countries such as the UK, Germany, Japan and France, I was quite sceptical and thought that this is just one of the run-ups for the coming Elections. Today I came across the local daily on the interview with the Chief Secretary and read the full text of the question and answer session. Again I am one of those who do not just swallow every printed word as the truth. Although it's axiomatic that we have improved the delivery time of issuance of passports and identity cards and also the refunds of overpaid income tax, but there's still room for improvement, especially delivery of services from the so-called one stop centres of govt. depts.Our land offices are notoriously poor in executing land transfers and some officials from Selangor had been prosecuted for falsification of such transfers. The inefficiency of land administration is one of the main reason why corruption thrives. As I was curious to see how true is some of the claims made by PEMUDAH which is a joint committee comprising public servants and corporate executives, I just wanted to find out what had been done. One of the claims by PEMUDAH is the no wrong door policy, which means whatever problem is given to the Committee none will be put aside even though the matter is not under their purvies. So I sent an e-mail to the Chief Secretary of the Govt. on sunday morning complaining about the dilatoriness of the Unclaimed Moneys Dept. in settling my claim. I received a reply instantly which was a pleasent surprise. One swallow does not make a summer, but this swallow is not an ordinary one and I replied to praise the Chief Secretary for his quick reply and expressed my wish that all Sec-Gens, Dir-Gens and Heads of Local authorities would follow his footstep, that would be wonderful. Only and if such a "leadership by example" is filtering at all levels of the bureaucracy, then I'll believe that we can reach for the stars. Well done and I take my hat off to the Malaysian Public Service.