Monday 31 October 2011

'Great day for democracy' in UUCA ruling

A Court of Appeal judge has won praise as “the future of our constitution” for handing down a ruling declaring Section 15(5) of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to be unconstitutional.

NONEConstitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari’s (left) comments on Justice Hishammudin Yunus included the remark that the ruling has provided a "great day for democracy and constitutionalism".

The 2-1 ruling delivered this morning voids Section 15(5) which allows tertiary institutions to punish students for participating in politics.

Aziz, who is attached to University Islam Antarabangsa, warned however the joy over the ruling could be short-lived.

"The fact remains that the good decision might be overturned by the Federal Court, the highest court of the land," he explained.

Describing the legal process as tedious, time consuming and expensive, he said that best way to rid of undemocratic laws is to elect a government with the political will to do it.

"Doing it through the political process is obviously faster and cheaper. (We should not) forget the Court of Appeal decision only deals with Section 15. To me the entire law should go; universities do not need condescending laws any more."

Aziz added that the government has spent too much time and money on amending the UUCA when it can be "thrown out of the window".

The judgement was delivered in the case of four Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia students who had been found to be involved in the Hulu Selangor by-election campaign.

'Decision a green light for involvement in politics'

Lawyer Ashok Kandiah, who is representing the four students in the UKM4 case, said the majority decision in the Court of Appeal means that students in universities and university colleges can express their views on politics and have the right to freely express themselves.

“They can express sympathy or opposition to the political parties. That would be the net effect of today’s decision. It is a landmark decision as it is not every day that the court decides on a constitutional matter,” he said.

“The decision today has no effect on the four UKM students as they were found not guilty by the board. However, the net effect or the pleasure of the decision today is to the present and future students in the universities that they can get involved in politics (without any worry of action being taken against them by the universities),” he said.

In today’s decision, Court of Appeal judges Justice Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus and Justice Linton Albert ruled that section 15 (5) of the University and University Colleges Act to be unconstitutional.

NONEAshok (right in photo) pointed out that the decision today is still pending UKM’s appeal over today’s decision as indicated by senior lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, where the appeal will be heard in the Federal Court.

However, leave would have to be gained at the Federal Court before the full appeal could be heard.

Normally, Ashok said the court would grant leave on constitutional matters.

For the record, although Ashok appeared for the four former students today, the submission in this appeal was handled by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar.

The four affected students who had graduated last month with their degrees in political science were Mohd Hilman Idham, Ismail Aminuddin, Azlin Shafina Mohamad Adza and Wong King Chai.

They were arrested by police during the Hulu Selangor by-election campaign for allegedly taking part in political events, an activity barred by the UUCA.

Moral victory for university students

Hilman, in commenting on today’s decision, said this is a huge victory for university students who had over the years opposed UUCA.

“The majority decision gives a clear indication to students to justify their actions to be involved in politics and also being given the right to freedom of expression. University students have long been wanting such a decision on such a declaration against UUCA.

NONE“However, we will have to wait further upon the appeal by UKM over today’s decision,” he said.

Asked whether he had expected such a decision, Hilman (right) said he and his friend Wong had found the majority decision in their favour as surprising owing to the harsh realities of the courts.

“We welcome today’s decision and this is a historic day for university students. From what we heard as to the majority judgment that university students as tomorrow’s leaders should have been given the avenues to express our feelings.

“University students should be able to make their own decisions and choices as we do not want tomorrow’s leaders to be indecisive in arriving at a right decision. Hence, the universities are a good training ground for us to express our views before the students could make further decisions on the country and the community,” Hilman explained.

Bar: Decision restores constitutionalism spirit

In a related development, Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee applauded the recent majority decision of the Court of Appeal today in ruling Section 15(5) of UUCA as unconstitutional and violates the freedom of expression.

“The grounds of the majority judgments of Justice Mohd Hishamudin and Justice Linton are clear, and this has restored the spirit of constitutionalism in Malaysia by interpreting the federal constitution as the framers intended it to be.

“It has been some time now that our appellate courts have struck down draconian laws on the grounds of it being unconstitutional. The Bar looks forward to future decisions of the appellate courts which would continue with upholding the true meaning of our federal constitution,” said Lim.

The Bar, Lim said, has been voicing its objection to this provision in Section 15 of the UUCA which negates the freedoms of expression, assembly and association.

Section 15 of Universities and University Colleges Acts unconstitutional, rules court

The Court of Appeal today ruled that Section 15 (5) of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) is unconstitutional and violates freedom of expression.
The provision allows public universities to take disciplinary action against students found to be involved in political activities.
In a landmark majority decision, two Court of Appeal judges overturned the Kuala Lumpur High Court decision that declared the UUCA as constitutional in imposing restrictions.

Today's ruling was a majority decision.
Justice Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus and Justice Linton Albert allowed the appeal by four former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) students.

Justice Low Hop Bing, who led the three-member panel, dissented.

Low upheld the KL High Court's decision on Sept 28 last year, ruling Section 15(5) of the UUCA as being in accordance with the federal constitution.

The four students had sought a declaration that the UUCA is unconstitutional. Their application had been dismissed by the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s Appellate and Special Powers Division.

The High Court’s Justice Aziah Ali ruled that Section 15 of the UUCA does not infringe Article 10 of the federal constitution which deals with freedom of expression.

Mohd Hilman Idham, Ismail Aminuddin, Azlin Shafina Mohamad Adza and Wong King Chai had been arrested by police during the Hulu Selangor by-election campaign for taking part in political events, an activity barred by the UUCA.

Popularly dubbed the ‘UKM Four’, they had faced disciplinary proceeding initiated by the university on July 4 this year.

However, they were found not guilty by the board. All political science students, they graduated last month. The four students had named the Malaysian government, the higher education minister and UKM as the respondents.

NONEWhat the decision means is that university students can now freely express their opinions as long as they do not violate public security.
The four UKM students were represented by lawyers Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Ashok Kandiah and Jenine Gill.

UKM, which was represented by Muhammad Shafee Abdullah (left), has indicated that they will appeal the decision.
'For all individuals to enjoy'
Justice Hishamudin, in his 21-page judgment, wrote that freedom of expression is a fundamental right that all individuals should enjoy.

"It is fundamental to the existence of democracy and the respect of human dignity. This basic right is recognised in numerous human rights documents such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"Free speech is accorded pre-eminent status in the constitutions of many countries."

Hishamudin said he fails to see how the section of the UUCA in question relates to public order or morality.

"I am at a loss to understand in what manner a student, who expresses support for, or opposition against a political party, could harm or bring about an adverse effect in public order or public morality," he said.

"Are not political parties legal entities carrying out legitimate political activities? Are not political leaders, including ministers and members of the federal and state legislatures, members of political parties?"

He said most university students are of the age of majority.

"They can enter into contracts. They can sue and be sued. They can marry, become parents and undertake parental responsibilities. They can vote in general elections if they are 21 years old. They can be directors of company. They can be office-bearers of societies.

“Yet - and herein lies the irony - they are told that legally they cannot say anything that can be construed as supporting or opposing a political party," he noted.

Justice Hishamudin said that, in his opinion, Section 15 impedes the healthy development of the critical mind and original thought of students - objectives that seats of higher learning should strive to achieve.

"Universities should be the breeding ground of reformers and thinkers and not institutions to produce students trained as robots. Clearly the provision is not only counter-productive but repressive in nature."
Hishamudin also noted that in the parliamentary Hansard cited by the senior federal counsel representing the government, there was no mention of public order or morality.

Linton: Section 15 manifest absurdity

Justice Linton in his 15 page written judgment described the enactment of section 15 (5) (a) of UUCA as of manifest absurdity.

“It is not necessary to embark on a judicial scrutiny to determine its reasonableness because it is in itself not reasonable. What better illustration can there be of the utter absurdity of Section 15 (5) (a) than the facts of this case where students of universities and university colleges face disciplinary proceedings with the grim prospect of expulsion simply because of their presence at a parliamentary by-election.”

“A legislative enactment that prohibits such participation in a vital aspect of democracy cannot by any standard be said to be reasonable. In my judgment therefore because of its unreasonableness, section 15 (5) (a) of the UUCA does not come within the restrictions permitted under Article 10 (2) (a) of the federal constitution and is accordingly in violation of Article 10 (1) (1) and consequently void by virtue of Article 4(1) of the federal constitution.”

He pointed out Article 4 (1) states the constitution is the supreme law of the federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this constitution shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.

“Notwithstanding the presumption of constitutionality of a legislative enactment and the rule that the court must endeavour to sustain its validity, the validity of Section 15 (5) (a) of the UUCA is nevertheless patently unsustainable,” he said.

“For the reasons aforesaid, the appeal (by the students) is allowed with costs. The orders made by the High Court are set aside. The declarations prayed for in the appellants originating summons are according allowed,” he said.

Following the majority judgment, lawyer Ashok Kandiah, representing the students, asked that costs not be imposed as this was a vital case.

Justice Low made no order as to costs and noted Shafee’s application to appeal the matter at the Federal Court.

Certainly today’s decision manifests the university students’ rights to freedom of expression as protected under the constitution. It is seen to have severe ramifications on university administrations which so far had restrict students’ involvement, especially in opposition politics.

Sunday 30 October 2011

PAGE warns BN of polls backlash from PPSMI snub

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) said both parents and children were "devastated" by the government’s move to deny schools the option over the Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) policy.

“After running this policy for nine years, all science and mathematics teachers, should be able to teach in either language so there is no shortage,” said Page chairperson Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.
NONEYesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin rejected the idea of giving schools the option of continuing the learning of Mathematics and Science in English as it would complicate matters.

"If (schools are allowed) choices, there will be a mess (kucar-kacir) in the education system. It will be hard for the ministry to plan. If a school chooses to teach in English, or in Bahasa Melayu, how will we provide teachers?" Muhyiddin had said.

Noor Azimah, howver, explained that if the number of schools that choose English are small, then it would be even easier to provide the teachers.

“The reasons should be addressed head-on and not swept under the carpet after spending RM3billion of the rakyat’s hard-earned income. We want an explanation,” said Noor Azimah in another statement.

The government speaks of ‘1Malaysia’ but is yet to show us the ‘1Malaysia’ school, she added.

“The education system has only succeeded in dividing children into race-based schools and now with the relaxation on international schools, dividing the children further through wealth ownership.

“The government speaks of, “People First”, but we feel that we are being treated as “Parents and their Children Last”.
"There are 5.4 million school-going children and just as many parents who are voters,” she said.

“The government says, “The days the government knows best are over”, but it continues to force down inferior education policies on to our children,” she said.

She reminded that the if the decision to abolish PPSMI was not political, parents should be given the option choose.

“If it is political, give us the PPSMI option in national primary and secondary schools, and we will give you the two-thirds majority, which you are making increasingly difficult for us to do. Do not make us give the opposition our vote,” she warned.

“PPSMI is not ‘flawed’. The government made the right decision by introducing PPSMI and will continue to do the right thing if it allows the option,” reiterated Noor Azimah.

Page will be seeking to hand over memorandum to the Prime Minister’s Department on the matter tomorrow.
Children, parents 'devestated'
DAP, meanwhile, wants the Education Ministry to allow for flexibility in the PPSMI policy to develop the human capital needed to achieve the high-income economy goal.

ukec forum 300711 tony pua in yellow shirtIn a statement, the party’s national publicity chief Tony Pua (right) stressed that reversal of the policy would not make the learning of the compulsory subjects easier.

“The reversal of the 10-year-old PPSMI policy should not be a complete one - one that throws out the baby with the bath water - but one which takes into account the advantages and disadvantages learnt over the past two decades.

“The new policy must incorporate the flexibility where PPSMI remains an option for schools in the country where parents express support for it,” said Pua, who is also the Petaling Jaya Utara MP.

More effort would be required to roll back the policy, as schools have been conducting Mathematics and Science lessons in English over the past 10 years, he added.

“Secondly, and more importantly, every effort should be made to ensure that our schools are able to produce the best human capital for Malaysia as we seek to be part of the knowledge economy, to become a high income nation.

“The important principle that the Education Ministry must adopt is that advanced students should not be held back because of students who lagged behind academically.

“If parents prefer English as the medium of instruction and the students are more than able to cope, then every effort should be made to allow such schools to continue with PPSMI,” he urged, arguing that reasons of administrative difficulties are “completely unacceptable”.

He called for the ministry to review its complete withdrawal of the policy and allow schools that can cope with the PPSMI policy to continue its efforts.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Data shows better Maths, Science results during PPSMI

The Parent Action Group for Education (Page), who are at the forefront in the struggle to have Maths and Science taught in English, today said that research findings found that the performance of students in the subjects of English, Mathematics and Science improved when the latter two subjects were taught in English.

Quoting research by the 2010 update report for the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals for Malaysia, Page said that results show that the policy was starting to work when the decision to abolish it was made.

The results also showed an improvement in performance in mathematics and science in rural schools.

english medium for maths and science education in chinese school“PPSMI is working, even for the rural students... (The examination results) show improvement in English, no reduction in Bahasa Malaysia and improvements in Science and Mathematics in the last few years,” Page said, referring to the policy by its Malay language acronym.

Tracing performance national and vernacular school performance in science and mathematics from 2001 to 2009, the research found that the passing rates were “the highest in 2007”.

It took a dip in 2008 but picked up again in 2009, which was the same year the government decided to phase out the policy. The policy was introduced in 2003.

“The best achievement in English was in the year 2008, and the trend is on the incline since the start of PPSMI,” Page said.

Student performance in Bahasa Malaysia remained constant, showing that the policy had no effect on mastery of the national language, although some decline was seen in vernacular schools.

The study traced a big dip in passing rates for  lower secondary assessment (PMR) in Science and Mathematics in 2004, but marked improvement from 2006  to 2009.

“English improved, evident in the year 2003 and 2009 with PPSMI in operation. Bahasa Malaysia remained constant throughout,” Page said.

‘Rural students did better’

The Education Ministry also refutes claim that rural students are left behind by PPSMI, as these students consistently outperformed their urban friends in the subject of Science while it was taught in English.

“The highest achievement in Science (pass rates for SPM) was in 2008, by rural students... Clearly the rural students were able to cope with PPSMI,” the NGO noted.

Rural students also showed improvement in Mathematics, with SPM pass rates for the subject on a significant upward trend since the introduction of PPSMI.

“The best percentage increment (of pass rates for mathematics for SPM) took place between the year 2009 and 2010, recorded by rural students,” it said, referring to a leap of about four percent.

Rural students followed an upward trend in English with the passing rate for the subject up from 61.4 percent in 2004 to 71.2 percent in 2010, while in urban areas, students performed 7.3 percent better in 2010 compared to 76.4 percent in 2010.

Consistent with PMR and school examination results, passing rates for Bahasa Malaysia in SPM remained fairly constant from 2004 to 2010.

According to Page, this evidence clearly goes against claims by the government as well as anti-PPSMI PAS-led Gerakan Mansuhkan PPSMI (GMP) who claimed that only 3 percent of pupils benefit from the policy.

Insisting that the issue of education is above politics, Page opined that GMP’s move was politically expedient as they are appeasing nationalists without fear of losing the votes of parents who support the policy.

This is because frustrated parents who support the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, it said, would by default vote against the BN government to PAS’ benefit.

Last-ditch effort

“It is not about politics. It is about the children, and parents want what is best for their children. The Education Act 1996 stipulates that ‘pupils are to be educated according to the wishes of their parents’.

“Not teachers, not principals, not parent-teacher associations and most definitely not politicians or deluded national language linguists,” the NGO said.

It added that this “last-ditch effort to urge the government to offer the PPSMI option to parents” already has the support of 100,000 parents who have registered with the group.

muhyiddin yasin and ppsmi english language educationEarlier today, Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that offering such an option would be “a mess” as the ministry would have difficulty providing teachers to cater for schools who opt for the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English.

As such, the ministry has closed its doors for discussions on such matters and will not be offering choices to parents.

Aziz Bari receives bullet, death threat

UPDATED @ 02:46:30 PM 29-10-2011
October 29, 2011
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 — Controversial International Islamic University (UIA) professor Abdul Aziz Bari received a bullet this morning with a death threat warning him not to disrespect the Selangor Sultan who he allegedly criticised. 
The constitutional law expert told The Malaysian Insider he received an envelope containing a bullet and a note saying “Jangan kurang ajar dengan Sultan, maut nanti (don’t be rude with the Sultan, you may die later)” at his Bandar Baru Selayang home around 11.45am this morning.
“I have a function in Ipoh, I will make a police report later,” he said, adding that he would speak with his lawyer first.

However, when contacted at about 12.45pm, Aziz’s lawyer Zulqarnain Lukman said he has not been able to contact his client.

Aziz, whose suspension for allegedly attacking Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah was lifted by UIA on Sunday, has said he is “expecting charges very soon” for sedition after police completed investigations on Monday.

UIA suspended the professor last week after he said the Ruler’s intervention in the raid on Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) in August was “unusual and inconsistent.”

Aziz’s statement caused a furore among Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs in Parliament, who urged that action be taken against the don.

He has chosen not to apologise for his remarks even after a police report was lodged against him, insisting he had not meant to challenge the Sultan and was only fulfilling his role as an academic.
Hundreds of UIA students gathered at the university’s Gombak campus last week to demand the lecturer’s reinstatement.

Aziz’s colleagues and lecturers from other universities as well as Opposition leaders have also backed the academic.

Rights group slams ex-police chief Rahim Noor

The association of ex-human rights commissioners (Proham) has taken issue with the assertion by a former police chief that human rights is a threat to Malaysia.

"Advocates and promoters of human rights in Malaysia must be regarded as true defenders of the spirit of the federal constitution and not viewed as a threat as argued by (former inspector-general of police) Abdul Rahim Noor," said the group in statement yesterday.

Proham said that it considered Abdul Rahim's remarks, delivered during a speech at the second annual general assembly of Malay rights NGO Perkasa on Wednesday, "with great concern".

abdul rahim noor perkasa 2nd agmThe former top cop has described the new threat as a "human rights wave", akin a new religion and comparable to the previous "wave" of communism that swept through Malaysia.

Abdul Rahim also posited that the "human rights wave is threatening the principles upon which the nation was built".

While recognising Abdul Rahim's right to speak his mind, Proham however strongly refuted his stance.

"The founding fathers of Malaya in 1957 and Malaysia in 1963 made a clear commitment to human rights as contained in Articles 5 to 13 such as equality, freedom of speech, assembly and association, and also freedom of religion."

In addition, Proham said, Malaysia has adopted a form of government which is based on parliamentary democracy with separation of powers - a form of governance that puts human rights as its highest consideration.

Proham argued that even if Malaysia has not ratified the Civil and Political Rights convention, it has made a commitment to respect human rights. Malaysia is also a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

It also pointed out that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has made a fresh pledge to make Malaysia a global example of human rights practice by reviewing some of the legislation which curtail fundamental liberties.

Based upon these two bulwarks, Proham contended that "the human rights movement is not a new wave which is threatening the nation but has been the cornerstone of our nation".

Rights group 'appalled'

Meanwhile, human rights advocacy group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) was "appalled" by the statements made by the former IGP and that of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamed, who came out in support of his former underling.

perodua tea time with mahathir function 271011 05"Such remarks made by Rahim Noor, Mahathir and other anti-human rights figures is a major embarrassment to our nation," argued LFL.

However, the NGO said that it was not surprised that Abdul Rahim came up with the statement, as during his time in office the former IGP "was guilty of widespread human rights abuses carried out by his police force under his directions, particularly during the Reformasi period".

"Nobody in their right mind can fathom his poor analysis in trying to dismiss human rights as a communism-like wave," LFL stated.

The group also alleged that Mahathir himself was another blatant violator of human rights since during his tenure as PM, there were mass arrests such as the Ops Lalang in 1987 and rampant police brutality.

"The attitude of BN governments since independence is that human rights advocates and activists are mere pests who should be disregarded and persecuted. In taking this position, they are absolutely wrong and failing in their duty to the rakyat."

Schools not allowed to opt for Maths, Science in English

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin insisted today there will be no leeway for schools to continue using English to teach mathematics and science despite sustained pressure from parents’ groups.

The deputy prime minister told reporters today that allowing schools to choose whether to stick with teaching science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) or convert to Malay would result in a “mess”.

“It will be difficult to plan. If a school chooses English, or Malay, how will we provide teachers?” said Muhyiddin (picture), who is also education minister.

Pro-English lobby groups like the Parents Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) have sought the reinstatement of PPSMI after it was abolished in 2009.

PAGE has urged that schools be allowed to teach science and mathematics in English, stating that it has phone numbers of 100,000 parents who are in favour of it as it opens more doors for their children.

It said in a press release today that exam results at all levels have shown “improvements in English, no reduction in Bahasa Malaysia, and improvements in science and mathematics” since PPSMI was introduced in 2003.

“PPSMI is working, even for the rural students. That is the conclusion that can be derived from the (UPSR, PMR and SPM) examination results,” the group said.

PPSMI was first introduced under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration but the Education Ministry decided that it will revert to Malay by 2012 after consulting teachers and parents around the country.

In the uproar that ensued, Putrajaya introduced MBMMBI, which will see the teaching of mathematics and science revert to Bahasa Malaysia next year with more contact hours for English in order to improve students’ skills in the language.

In May, The Malaysian Insider reported that the Najib administration had decided not to switch back to PPSMI because several Cabinet ministers felt any change would be seen as another embarrassing flip-flop.

“There are teachers who are not good at English. So what is the use? Parents’ aspirations won’t be met,” Muhyiddin said today.

Friday 28 October 2011

Who's responsible for the AG's Report being late? By Lim Kit Siang

Who must bear responsibility for the deception and sleight-of-hand delaying tabling the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report on the annual and  continuing “horror of horrors” of government financial hanky-panky, mismanagement and misappropriations of public funds until after the general debate in Parliament on the 2010 Budget (except for the official Ministerial winding-ups) is over?

Is he the prime minister or chief secretary? Or nobody need be held responsible for this gross parliamentary disrespect and deception?

Although the Auditor-General’s Report for 2010 rated most ministries and government departments as “excellent” in their financial management, the Auditor-General nonetheless made history producing two thickest and most voluminous reports in Malaysian history on the federal government’s accounts totalling over 1,330 pages - retailing the hair-raising pecaddiloes and major transgressions in the government’s public finances in the first full year of Najib’s premiership in 2010.

The first public conclusion from the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report is that there is no difference between Najib Abdul Razak’s National Transformation Policy and his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s ‘Islam Hadhari’ - as horror tales of financial hanky-panky, mismanagement and misappropriations continue unchanged, year in and year out, whether under Najib, Abdullah or even Mahathir Mohamad’s time as prime minister.

Just before the political tsunami of the March 2008 general election, Malaysians were outraged by the revelations at the end of 2007 of financial hanky-panky in the 2006 Auditor-General’s Report, eg:
  • National Youth Skills Institute (under the Youth and Sports Ministry) project where a car jack that cost RM50 was bought for RM5,700, a digital camera that cost RM2,990 was bought for RM8,254 and RM1,146 was paid for a set of technical pens with a market price of RM160;
  • Police Air Wing - purchase of two helicopters worth RM117.75 million, which could not be used, as they did not meet specifications. Another RM15.4 million was spent to train pilots to fly these helicopters.
  • Customs Department under-utilised its RM290 million information technology system but was planning to spend another RM451.30 million to develop a new one.
Continuing financial scandals
Now, on the eve of the 13th general election, Malaysians are equally outraged by the revelations of the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report on the continuing financial scandals, hanky-panky and gross financial negligence in government, eg:
  • azlanNational Sports Institute acquired 23 horses totally RM5.66 million without a Financial Ministry go-ahead with none of the horses competed in two recommended international championships;
  • the RM142 million RazakSAT malfunctioned barely a year after being commissioned;
  • The Malaysian Marine Parks Department spent a whopping RM56,350 for a pair of night vision Marine binoculars, 29 times more than its market value of RM1,940; and paid the same amount for another pair of night vision Bushnell binoculars, or 1,893 per cent more than its actual price of RM2,827.
  • Decimal point and accounting mistakes which should not happen if there are efficient and proper internal audit systems as  resulting in a pensioner receiving RM21,433 a month instead of RM214.33 for 16 months and the Giatmara Centre mistakenly paying RM170 per kg instead of RM1.70 per kg for sugar for a poverty eradication programme or RM25,500 for 150 kg of sugar!
mohamad sidek hassan chief secretary of governmentIn his response to the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report, the chief secretary to the government, Sidek Hassan (left), has repeated his annual reaction and call to  all departments and agencies to take heed of  the Auditor-General’s comments and views.

Clearly, the chief secretary’s past responses to previous Auditor-General’s Report had been ineffective, or there would have been no need this year to resort to the parliamentary sleight-of-hand of delaying the tabling of the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report to ensure that it would not completely overshadow Najib’s 2012 Budget by focussing on the over 1,300 pages of exposes of financial irregularities, hanky-panky as well as misappropriation of public funds in the first full year of Najib’s premiership.

Malaysians are still waiting for the prime minister or the chief secretary to own up to the parliamentary deception in delaying tabling the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report until after the end of the parliamentary debate on the 2012 Budget - so as to prevent the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report from becoming the foremost parliamentary issue.

BMF exposes Sarawak CM's 'foreign helpers'

In a name and shame exercise, native rights advocacy group Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has issuedd a “blacklist” of individuals it claimed are “secret foreign helpers” of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

These “helpers”, the BMF alleged, helped Taib and his family “conduct international business transactions, hide foreign assets or gain undeserved respectability outside Malaysia”.

Amongst the most prominent of the 30 individuals from nine countries named were a head of state and three public officials.

NONEMonaco’s Prince Albert II has been accused by BMF of maintaining too cosy a relationship with the Taib family.

The prince made a state visit to Sarawak in 2008 and received an anonymous 100,000 Euro donation for his Prince Albert II Foundation.

The BMF is demanding that Prince Albert cut ties with the Taib family and freeze potential Taib assets in Monaco’s banks.

Two of the  public officials are FBI director Robert Mueller and Laura M Laughlin, the Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office accused of whitewashing Taib family assets in the US.
While James McWha, Adelaide University’s vice-president-cum-president, was accused of “disgracefully honouring” Taib in December 2008 by renaming a plaza on the university campus the ‘Taib Mahmud, Chief Minister of Sarawak Court’.

Other more prominent “helpers” who have made headlines for their involvement with Taib are Australian national Kharleen Tashman or “Stella”, said to be Taib’s witch doctor and spiritual medium.

NONEBefore the April 2011 state election, Stella (right) appeared in public on the occasion of Taib’s re-nomination as a candidate. This resulted in a row with a competing candidate, Salleh Jafaruddin, who later called for Stella and two other foreign bomohs to be expelled from Malaysia.

The next is former US journalist Alan Friedman, who is Taib’s public relations man and chairman of the British FBC Media group, recently embroiled in a scandal for allegedly inappropriate use of documentaries pushed to media like BBC and CNN, to erroneously promote Taib and other leaders who are their paying customers.

Family members, agents or proxies

NONEThe rest of the list of “helpers” are mostly extended family members and business representatives or proxies who allegedly ran business interests for the Taib family overseas:  

  • John Antoine Kiosoglous (MBE), who is a former member of the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and Sydney lawyer Gary Patrick Doherty who allegedly hold various directorships for the family.
  • Sean Patrick Murray, Taib’s Canadian son-in-law, married to daughter Jamilah and and alleged to be fronting for the Taib’s north American property empire.
  • Chinese national Shea Kin Kwok, founding director of Regent Star and a number of other Taib-related companies in Hong Kong.
  • Mrs Romney-Leue, allegedly facilitating concealment of illicit foreign assets by Taib linked companies, Astar Properties Ltd, Tess Investments Ltd, Tagus Investments Limited and CMS (Cahya Mata Sarawak) BVI in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Deutsche Bank CEO Joe Ackermann, blamed for joint venture with the Taibs’ Cahya Mata Sarawak-Deutsche Bank’s Taib ties from a money-laundering compliance perspective.
  • Norwegian executive Torstein Dale SiĆøtveit who heads Sarawak Energy and directly responsible for the Sarawak state government’s dams which are threatening the livelihood of tens of thousands of natives in Sarawak’s interior.
  • Ta Ann Tasmania’s director David Merrick Ridley a who handles Taib’s logging interests.
  • Robert Geneid, is a key helper for Taib businesses inside and outside Malaysia.
Two other listed however appears to have gone missing or been found dead.

Farok Majeed, a former business associate to  Onn Mahmud (Taib’s brother) went missing after a New South Wales court awarded him A$2.2 million in damages against Onn Mahmud for unpaid work by his construction company.

azlanThis seem to be similar with the case of the late Ross Boyert, a former Taib US aide who was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel in September 2010 in an unusual case of suspected suicide, after systemically harassed following the filing of a civil case against his former employer, the Taibs’ US-based Sakti International Corporation.

Taib, the longest serving chief minister of Malaysia’s largest state since 1981, has been accused of plundering Borneo’s rainforest and massive abuses of power for personal gain.

Perceived to be one of South-East Asia’s most corrupt political families, members of the CM’s family are involved in global business operations estimated at several billion US dollars.

Numerous complaints and exposes have led to authorities in Malaysia, Australia, Germany and Switzerland to investigate the legality of the Taib family’s business holdings and assets.

The Bruno Manser Fund is calling on the international community to carefully monitor and scrutinize the Taib family's international business transactions and investments as they are likely to be linked to illicit activities in Malaysia.

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Ambiga tags ex-IGP Rahim Noor as a ‘dictator’

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 — Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan labelled today Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Mohd Noor an “oppressive dictator” after the country’s former chief of police likened the rise of the human rights movement to communism.

The chairman of electoral reforms movement Bersih 2.0 said that Abdul Rahim’s opening speech for Malay rights group Perkasa’s general assembly yesterday “shows a lack of understanding of both human rights and the status of communism today.”

“It is a view that would only be held by dictators and oppressive regimes who abhor dissent,” she told The Malaysian Insider.

Yesterday, Abdul Rahim called the human rights movement a “new religion” that would lead to Malaysia’s social contract being questioned.

The former IGP warned that civil liberty activists saw the US and UK as their spiritual home, and drew parallels to how the Comintern had engineered the global spread of communism from its Moscow base.

But Ambiga, who led tens of thousands of marchers into the capital on July 9 to call for free and fair elections, said Abdul Rahim should read the Federal Constitution “that enshrines fundamental liberties and therefore human rights.”

“It is evident that the former IGP is unaware that Malaysia is on the Human Rights Council and that we sought membership on that council by making pledges and a solid commitment to human rights,” she added.

Bersih went ahead with its July 9 demonstration in defiance of a government ban and police action. Nearly 1,700 were arrested, scores injured and one ex-soldier died during the rally.
International condemnation of Putrajaya’s clampdown led Datuk Seri Najib Razak to announce in August a parliamentary select committee on electoral reforms.

The prime minister also initiated a raft of democratic reforms including the repeal of the Internal Security Act to give Malaysians more freedom.

A coalition of Muslim NGOs also organised a rally last week to stand up to the “challenge of Christianisation” after repeated allegations of proselytisation levelled against the church.
Abdul Rahim resigned from the police force after confessing to assaulting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when the former deputy prime minister was under custody over sodomy charges.

Ex-cop: Why is the gov't afraid to act on Gani Patail?

A former senior police officer alleges that the Najib Abdul Razak administration is not willing to take action to form a tribunal against attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail for his alleged wrong-doings, following fears that it (the government) could also be similarly implicated in such crimes.

Mat Zain Ibrahim, in his open letter sent to Najib last week and made available to Malaysiakini today, claims that he briefed Najib in 2008 when he was still the deputy premier about Gani’s alleged misconduct.

NONEIn the open letter titled ‘Rule of Law government breaks its promises’, Mat Zain stated there is a public perception that Najib refuses to take action against Gani (right) because the premier feared the AG may expose some so-called secrets with regard to Altantuya Sharibuu or the Scorpene submarines purchase.

“I am of the opinion that YAB Datuk Seri and the government will do everything possible to avoid any criminal charges being preferred against Gani. The government is worried that should Gani be proven to have abused his powers for cheating or falsification/corruption, then simultaneously the government would then be guilty of having done the same thing since 1990.”

tajudin ramli mas 070910Mat Zain revealed that his investigations found three letters of undertaking dated April and May 1990 signed by three well-known entrepreneurs (Abdul Halim Saad, Wan Azmi Hamzah and Tajudin Ramli) which confirmed they held several hundred million ringgit of assets for Daim Zainuddin.

Daim was finance minister from 1984 to 1991, and again from 1999 to 2001.

Mat Zain noted that he had investigated the allegations that the three entrepreneurs had held the assets in trust for Daim when an official complaint was made in 1999 by Anwar Ibrahim.

In the three letters concerned:-

  • Abdul Halim  confirmed he held 52,208,500 Faber Merlin (M) Bhd shares and 130,000,000 Renong Berhad shares for and on behalf of Daim based on a letter dated April 30, 1990.
  • Wan Azmi also affirmed he held RM150 million in cash in trust on behalf of Daim.
  • Tajudin, in his letter dated May 24, 1990, confirmed he held RM70 million cash in trust on behalf of Daim.
‘Letters are material evidence’

Those three letters, Mat Zain said, are material evidence to implicate the entire cabinet at that point of time.

“Most people still remember when even a little letter from the Johor state secretary’s office in 1953 could cause not only the loss of Pulau Batu Putih to Singapore, but most importantly resulted in “loss of face”, our dignity and the sovereignty of our country.

“If such a brief letter from the Johor office can be accepted as material evidence by the International Court of Justice, then, I believe, the 1990 letters and the three fabricated expert reports prepared on Gani’s instructions could overcome any attempts to twist the facts.

“Personally, I am of the view that the documents are enough to destroy the credibility of the government since the 1990s. They can be used as proof that the abuse of powers,  corruption, cheating and falsifications that have occurred all this while, were never done for the sake of the country, nor the rulers nor for any particular race or religion,” he said.

Mat Zain claims that Gani knew of the three letters as he had personally dealt with him (Gani) and extended all the documents pertaining to this case to the then-Anti-Corruption Agency in July and August 1999.

“Perhaps YAB Datuk Seri is fully aware of the facts from the very outset, being a full minister and a member of the cabinet since 1986,” he said.

daim zainuddin“Even though YAB may not be in a position to order a full-scale investigation on Daim (right), at the very least YAB should assume the responsibility to clarify the dubious relationship between Gani and Tajudin in the context of the investigation into the Malaysia Airlines scandal.

At the very least, Mat Zain said, Najib as the Finance Minister should explain to the people whether the RM 70 million held by Tajuddin on Daim’s behalf had been returned to its original owners or otherwise.

That is why, Mat Zain said, he would be not be surprised if Gani had a role to play in the much talked about multi-million suit settlement between several government linked corporations and Tajudin.

He also said that the recent allegation that Gani performed the haj trip together with Tajudin’s proxy, and followed by another that he received gratifications from Ho Hup Berhad, are not therefore unusual or surprising.

Guan Eng: Act on audit report or see repeat of abuses

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 — DAP has called for punishment to be meted out over abuses exposed in the 2010 Auditor-General report to ensure these are not repeated next year.

Secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said in his Deepavali message today that the report was a reminder “of everything that is wrong in the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government.”
“The abuses of power, wrongdoings and financial malpractices exposed... will be certainly repeated next year unless action is taken against the departments, officials and even the ministers responsible,” the Penang chief minister said.

He cited cases such as RM56,350 being paid for night-vision marine binoculars that cost RM1,940, a LCD television and DVD player worth RM195 being bought for RM16,100,

RM770,000 spent to supply electricity to one house, and a RM73.6 million cattle-farming project linked to minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil that met only 40 per cent of breeding targets.
“The federal government has failed to stop the rot of wrongdoing, abuses of power and financial malpractices over the last 54 years. Only a change of government can bring about the transformation for good to win over bad,” the Bagan MP added.

The Auditor-General’s report is a financial audit of all government departments and has revealed irregularities in past years.

The audit for 2010 released on Monday revealed that nine federal ministries and departments overspent last year’s overall operational allocation by a total of RM3.73 billion.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said it will probe seven ministries and agencies for weak financial management.
hief Secretary to the government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan also promised that the government will take action “according to the rules” on the report.

The opposition has claimed that the 2009 report proved that the government wastes RM28 billion annually.

But BN insisted the figure was wrongly reported as there is no specific mention in the report.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Ambiga serves notice of people power

MELBOURNE, Oct 26 — Bersih 2.0 will hold Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to the civic movement’s eight demands on elections and governance should the opposition pact come into government, chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said at a public forum here yesterday.

“Not only Pakatan,” Ambiga said of her movement that transcends party politics. “We will hold all parties accountable. That’s the way it should be. The power is with us (the people), not with them (political parties). It’s only when power is in the hands of the citizenry that we have a working democracy.”

Ambiga was responding to a question at a public lecture at the Asian Law Centre, University of Melbourne, to kick off a speaking tour of four of the most renowned law schools in Australia.
On Friday she shares Bersih 2.0 stories with Malaysians at a solidarity evening organised by Bersih 2.0 Australia and the Melbourne chapter of Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia Australia (SABMoz).

Ambiga speaks at the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney on October 31, and the College of Law at the Australian National University in Canberra on November 1, at each stop encouraging Malaysians to register as voters.
Malaysians waiting in line to greet Ambiga (right) after the talk.
At the lecture in Melbourne, Malaysia’s Consulate-General in Melbourne, Dr Mohamad Rameez Yahaya, told the audience that foreign missions such as his had started to put in place processes to register voters.

“We registered 26 voters (last night),” said David Teoh, co-ordinator for Bersih 2.0 Australia and SABMoz Melbourne.

More than 300 mostly young Malaysians filled a lecture theatre at the Asian Law Centre for the lecture hosted by Dean of Law Professor Carolyn Evans.

In her talk on electoral reform and the quest for democracy in Malaysia, Ambiga spoke on the significance of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to which Malaysia is a signatory.

She recounted events leading up to Bersih’s rally on July 9, the implications of the rally, and considered whether the government’s subsequent undertaking to amend or repeal laws such as the Internal Security Act might offer hope for a more democratic Malaysia.

She drew attention to the aspirations of youth, lamenting the “disconnect” of old politics with new technology, a yellow pashmina draped around her neck, and sporting a “CleanBefore13” lapel badge. As Ambiga was speaking, Global Bersih was following events on microblogging service Twitter, using the #CleanBefore13 hashtag.

Moderator Professor Tim Lindsey, director of the Asian Law Centre, had to apologise for not being able to accommodate all those who had questions for Ambiga, almost all of them from Malaysians studying or living in Melbourne, who make up the highest number of Malaysians in Australia.

Ambiga was overwhelmed by the response. “As I said (in her talk), the future is with the youth,” she told The Malaysian Insider. “Never have they been so interested in an election.
“Look at the quality of the questions. That says it all.”

In the audience were Jufitri Joha and Farhana Halim, two Malaysians in Australia for a Young Muslims leadership programme organised by the Centre for Dialogue at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Jufitri and Farhana were disappointed at the low participation among Malays.
Both were disappointed there were not more Malays at the forum. “It is important to inculcate a culture of intellectual debate,” said Jufitri, vice-president international of Abim.

“It is the essence of Malaysia,” said Lawyers for Liberty advocate Farhana of the national conversation on the way forward for Malaysia. “Regardless of whether you support or not support (Bersih).

“If you do not support, it is an opportunity to question her.”

Farhana was overwhelmed by the crowd. “We underestimate the power of Malaysian Chinese involvement in the national movement... the Chinese sense of patriotism is the very opposite,” she said of what she discovered speaking to those among the overwhelmingly Chinese audience.
Ambiga’s lecture would have been an eye opener for Australians, going by Lindsey’s observation.

“Australians see the region as a bad news story — of the horror of Australians caught up in the violence, and in natural disasters,” said Lindsey, a scholar on Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia; he is also director of the Centre for Islamic Law and Society at the University of Melbourne.

“They are unaware of the debates on democracy going on... Out of the bad news (government reaction to Bersih) has come a good news face.”

It was important for Australians to be aware of changes in the region, Lindsey told The Malaysian Insider, and for government and politicians to stop conducting foreign policy “in reaction to domestic issues”.

6 urban and 2 rural seats to watch in S'wak

Sarawak BN secretary-general Dr Stephen Rundi Utom is expected to meet the ruling coalition's top leadership on Nov 1 to present a report on the state's preparation for the 13th general election.

NONEHe had said the report, which among other things, includes the state BN's strategies, BN component parties' candidates, as well as issues concerning urban areas, will be presented to Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also BN chairman.

Political analysts said even Rundi, who is also Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) secretary-general, has stated that the PBB can achieve a 100 percent victory, though such confidence cannot be applied to other component parties such as Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) and Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS).

Currently, the four state BN component parties - PBB, SUPP, PRS and SPDP - are in control of 29 out of 31 parliamentary seats in the state. The remaining two seats, Bandar Kuching and Sibu, are held by the opposition DAP.

Only parliamentary seats will be contested in Sarawak in the general election, since the state election is held separately. The PBB has been allocated 14 parliamentary seats, SUPP has seven, PRS received six and SPDP has four.

SUPP is the weakest link

"The weakest link is still SUPP. SUPP is still the old SUPP before the state election (April 16). They (BN) are not going to do better than in 2008," said Dr Jeniri Amir, a political analyst at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).

He said the urban seats, except Bintulu, are in danger of being captured by the opposition, particularly DAP.

"Seats such as Miri, Stampin, Sibu and Sarikei are in danger, along with two rural seats - Baram and Saratok. Almost all the factors that caused the losses in the last state election are still there. It only depends on how the opposition can capitalise on the issue," added Dr Jeniri.

He said Baram is in danger due to the fact that in the last general election, the seat was won by the BN with a small majority, while in Saratok, the threat is coming from Krian assemblyman Ali Biju from the opposition PKR.

NONE"If Ali Biju (left in photo) stands as a candidate for the parliamentary seat, he is likely to put up a good fight against the incumbent (Jelaing Mersat)," he said.

Jelaing is SPDP secretary-general and deputy Home Minister.

He said BN can still win, but it would not be as easy as in 2008, while there is also a need for the ruling coalition BN to identify candidates early and put up as many new faces as possible.

Another political analyst at Unimas, Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi, also said that it was his opinion that the weakest link in the Sarawak ruling coalition is SUPP, which is likely to pull down the BN's overall performance in the state.

SUPP is expected to contest in mostly urban seats, where the opposition DAP is also eyeing, such as Bandar Kuching, Stampin, Sibu, Lanang, Sarikei and Miri, where Chinese voters form a majority.

"SUPP already lost two out of the seven parliamentary seats allocated to them. In the next general election, I believe they are likely to lose one or two more seats. There is no guarantee that SUPP can perform better, and even its president, Dr George Chan Hong Nam, will step down in December," he said.

Apart from that, he said internal problems in SPDP would likely affect the party performances if the matter is not handled carefully.

Six urban seats at risk

Rundi, when contacted, admitted that BN would have a daunting task to ward off opposition challenges for the six urban parliamentary seats in Bandar Kuching, Stampin, Sarikei, Bandar Sibu, Lanang and Miri.

However, he played down the internal bickering in SPDP, saying it is just a misunderstanding among the SPDP top leadership and does not involve the grassroots, and he believed the SPDP president will resolve it by holding talks with the leadership.

sarawak election kuching dap ceramah 160411 04"Other than that, we also do not foresee many problems. BN machinery is still in place after the state election, and as far as our preparations are concerned, we are ready to defend our seats, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas," he said.

He also said BN would give the opposition a run for their money in urban areas in the parliamentary election, despite the near total-loss by SUPP against the opposition in the last state election where DAP and PKR captured 13 of 15 urban seats contested by SUPP.

Apart from that, Rundi said during the general election the situation would be different, since one of the major factors explaining why DAP won 13 seats in the state election is that the party's top candidates from the Peninsula were campaigning there.

"But this won't happen during general elections, as they will be busy campaigning in their respective constituencies," he added.

The other factor is that the opposition pact, Pakatan Rakyat, comprising PKR, DAP, and PAS, has yet to reach a consensus on the allocation of parliamentary seats that each of the parties will contest in Sarawak, despite two rounds of talks.

The problem mainly is due to the disagreement between DAP and PKR on the number of seats each of the parties wants to contest, as there are "overlapping" claims on some seats.

Both DAP and PKR are eyeing between 12 and 15 seats each, out of the 31, while PAS is expected to contest two or three seats in the predominantly Malay areas.

- Bernama

Penang’s state debt has dropped 95pc, says Guan Eng

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 26 – Penang has sliced RM600 million or 95 per cent of the state’s debt since the Pakatan Rakyat took over the state in March 2008, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said today.

The first-term chief minister pointed out the state debt stood at RM29.66 million as of last month compared to the massive RM630.13 million four years earlier.

Guan Eng (picture) also said Penang’s Budget 2012 will be a surplus even as it is expected to undergo a deficit of RM107.78 million because the state has regained RM1.13 billion in reserves as at end of last year.

With such glowing figures in the black, the Johor-born DAP leader could not help but point to his political foes helming Putrajaya which saw the national debt grow as much as RM190 billion or 71 per cent within the same period.

The federal government’s debt rose to RM456 billion this year from RM266 billion at end 2008, Lim said.

In a Deepavali speech in George Town, Lim said “this success propelled the Penang state government to introduce all kinds of welfare programmes to benefit state residents.”

He promised families earning RM500 a month and less – classified as harcore poor – that they will get RM600 a month, an extra RM100 in relief aid.

Lim, who is also DAP secretary-general, said the state will also give RM100 pocket money a year to each student in Primary 1 and 4, as well as Secondary 1 and 4 starting next year to lessen the burden on parents who have to buy their children new uniforms and other school gear.
He said the new scheme, which he called “Skim Pelajar Emas”, will cost RM10 million.

“The state government proposes to pay this amount every year and not just five years once or only during election season,” Lim vowed at the state’s Deepavali open house celebration in Times Square today.

The federal government recently announced a one-off payment of RM500 cash aid to all households earning below RM3,000 and RM100 to all primary and secondary schoolgoers in its Budget 2012.

Lim had offered other similar goodies in the weeks leading up to Deepavali, including a promise to the Hindu Endowment Board to inject RM1 million in funds yearly.

Last Sunday, he handed over keys to brand new double-storey homes to 24 families who were evicted from Kampung Buah Pala two years ago.

Monday 24 October 2011

Faith and Inspiration Down Under by Marina Mahathir

 Can such religious tolerance ever happen in Malaysia? - 1Christians

I was invited to give the keynote speech at a conference on Ten Years after 9/11: Rebuilding Harmony organised by the Centre for Muslim States and Societies (CMSS), University of Western Australia. I jumped at the chance to speak on the role of civil society to rebuild harmony because it gave me a chance to think and write about something a bit different and to meet some people I'd only heard about before especially Prof Samina Yasmeen, the head of CMSS.

Perth weather was glorious, cool but sunny. And the conference was terrific. The auditorium at the University Club was full and the line-up of speakers was interesting. Although it did not start too well. The US Consul-General was given the chance to speak first and to everyone's disappointment she spoke only of the victims of what happened in New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC that day and didn't even mention Iraq and Afghanistan. In the question and answer session that followed, the audience which comprised various Australian academics, journalists, students and anyone who was interested in the subject, asked her some tough questions which she just managed to answer in as calm a manner as possible.

This made me doubly nervous about my speech and I wondered if the audience would be as tough as me. I spoke about how what happened in New York on September 11 was a terrible catastrophe and that we should remember not just those who died in those three American cities but also those in the many wars in other countries since. I spoke about how because of September 11, the civil liberties of Americans, especially Muslim Americans, have been very much curtailed and growing Islamophobia all around the world has made life more difficult for everyone, especially when there are deranged individuals like Anders Breivik in the world.

I also talked about how, sadly, Muslims themselves have often not helped matters, responding in ways that only served to confirm the stereotype in the Western media of the wild-eyed angry Arab man. And how these negative global defensiveness have translated into local defensiveness, including in our beloved country Malaysia where some politicians have used race and religion to polarise people.

But there have been attempts by ordinary people to build bridges and mend ties between different faith communities. I cited Fast for the Nation two years ago and Tali Tenang early last year as two examples of community-level action to unite people and resist attempts by others to drive a wedge between Malaysians. I also talked about how the Arab Spring has done so much to break stereotypes about Muslims by showing that the hunger for freedom and for human rights to be respected is universal, as much wanted by Muslims as anyone else.

To my relief, my audience approved heartily. Over coffee I had several Australians, including some elderly people, come up and say that I had expressed what they thought, that the response to September 11, as terrible as it was, was out of proportion and unjust. Too many people died because of it and too much money was wasted on weapons.

Jarrod McKenna speaking about his work

The other speakers were even more enlightening. Dr Azza Anne Aly from Curtin University spoke about other community actions to rebuild harmony. A wellknown radio presenter on religious affairs, John Cleary, spoke about how the media talked about September 11 and how that helped or clouded understanding about the event. A Christian youth leader, Jarrod McKenna, talked about 'loving thy enemy' and how he had worked on a project to getting the people who had raised funds to kill his friend in the Bali bombings to see others as human beings and therefore to stop using violence on them.

Me with some of the lovely students from the Australian Islamic College who had come to attend the conference.

After the conference, we went to St George's Cathedral, the main Anglican church in Perth, to attend a choral evensong marking the 10th anniversary of September 11. The church looks modest from the outside but inside has the beautiful stained glass windows that lend a glow to the place and makes it look majestic. The guests that day included the Governor of Western Australia, the Premier, the Lord Mayor of Perth ( who is a woman by the way), the US Consul General and a representative of the WA Leader of the Opposition.

Imam Muhammad (in white cap) waiting to speak

But it was the service itself that was impressive. After some initial hymns, Sheikh Muhammad Agherdieu, the imam of the Masjid al Taqwa in Mirrabooka near Perth got up and recited, in Arabic, the first surah of the Quran, the AlFatihah. For those who may not know what this surah says, here's the English translation which was available in the service programme:

In the Name of of God, the Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace.

Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!
The compassionate, the merciful!
King on the day of reckoning!
Thee only do we worship, and to Thee do we cry for help.
Guide Thou us on the straight path,
The path of those to whom Thou hast been gracious, with whom thou
art not angry, and who go not astray.

I have to confess that although I knew the imam was going to get up and speak, as soon as he began to recite the AlFatihah, I became overwhelmed by emotions and burst into tears. I think it was because I realised that I would never have this experience at home, where just to be in a place of worship not my own would cause people to suspect my faith. Yet here was an imam confidently getting up to recite the Quran, in its original language, in a church. As far as I could tell, his faith remained intact.

Mine on the other hand expanded and soared. My heart was filled with love for an Islam that is generous and compassionate and respectful of other faiths.

In addition to the AlFatihah, Imam Muhammad recited Surah 3:64:

Say:O People of the book! Let us come together upon a formula which is common between us -that we shall not serve anyone but God, that we shall associate none with Him.

and Surah 42:15:

Because of this*, then, summon us all to pursue the right course, as thou has been bidden (by God); and do not follow their likes and dislikes, but say: "I believe in whatever revelation God has bestowed from on high; and I am bidden to bring about equity in your mutual views**. Good is our Sustainer as well as your Sustainer. To us shall be accounted our deed, and to you, your deeds. Let there be no contention between us and you. God will bring us all together for with Him is all journeys' end."

(* I.e., because of this breach of the original unity of men’s faith in the One God.(Quran Ref: 42:15 ))

(** Lit., "between you" - i.e., "to induce you to be more tolerant of one another": evidently an allusion to the bitterness which stands in the way of an understanding between the various sects and schools of thought in all revealed religions.(Quran Ref: 42:15 ))
The service then continued with more hymns, lessons and prayers including one by Rabbi David Freilich, the Perth Hebrew Congregation, Chief Rabbi of Western Australia. This was preceded by the laying of a commemorative wreath by the US Consul General and various other local Americans.

Imam Muhammad greeting Rabbi Freilich and his wife

After the service we all had some refreshments in the courtyard outside, in the nice cool weather. I was introduced to the Imam and his wife, a lovely couple who, if you closed your eyes, sounded indistinguishable from any other Australian. While we were chatting, the Chief Rabbi came by to say hello and these two religious officials greeted each other warmly. No, lightning did not strike anyone dead just then.

I have been to many multifaith events and they are always inspiring and gratifying. They make me feel hope that things can change for the better. But later on I went on John Cleary's radio show Sunday Nights where we talked about the conference, about the work of Sisters in Islam, and about being a young Muslim in Australia. (Listen to the podcast here.) As always, there are the detractors. But at least everyone gets an airing.

Anyway it was a good experience and I made some new friends. And for a while I felt united with the world. Perhaps one little good thing did come out of September 11.

And talking of good things, tonight the PM announced the repeal of many of the laws we don't like including the ISA. It's almost unbelievable. But since it is Malaysia Day tomorrow, I'm going to allow myself to bask in positivity for at least the next 24 hours and feel happy.

Sunday 23 October 2011

God doesn't need us to fight on his behalf by Rev. Thomas Georgr

It may be a common tendency among religious groups to forcefully propagate one's scriptural interpretation and one's religion in the marketplace with a view to validate one's understanding of God and spiritual experience and influence the ‘other' to one's religion and one's god. Any religion which takes this approach in the marketplace is in the activity of proselytizing the ‘other'.

Promoting our religion and witnessing our spiritual experience in the marketplace are two poles apart. The former concerns talking too much about our god and religion with the subtle motive to covert the ‘other' to our religion while the latter concerns living our God experience through responding to the needs of the ‘other'.

Tension and conflict arises when religions take different approaches in the marketplace. Approaches may differ even within a religion. While the former primarily seek to exclusively promote a single religion, scripture and spiritual experience in the marketplace, the latter is the necessary outcome of an authentic encounter with God by allowing mutual interaction of the different religions, scripture and spiritual experience in the marketplace.

The approach to promote religion is primarily based on the assumption that whatever falls outside our religion, exclusive spiritual experience, scripture, and even place of worship, is ‘pagan' and must be compelled to convert to the ‘non-pagan', to the ‘superior' religion, where we think, we belong to. So by naming the other as ‘pagan'; we claim ourselves as the superior, pure and undefiled. Moreover, by naming our god, we draw boundary lines in the marketplace to separate the God of the ‘other' from our god.

We construct battlefields, invent line of attack and form religious armies to protect our god so that our god will not consent to become the god of the ‘other' without the sanction of our religion and religious pundits! We attempt to tie God in our religion and think that we have tied God, the maker of heaven and earth.
But we forget that we could only tie our god. But that is not God. That is our self made god, who despises and hates the ‘other'. It is true that our god cannot love the 'other' unless we permit.  Through this ‘god branding', we think we can create ‘market' for our god and package our god in human made dogmas and doctrines. Thus, we covert our god into a product in the marketplace.

Hence, we create enemies in the name of our god, our religion, our race, our scripture and our scriptural revelation. The ‘other' who does not ‘buy' our brand of god becomes our enemy and competitor in the marketplace. The God of the 'other' also becomes our enemy.

Thus, different religious players compete with one another to disprove and dismantle the God of the ‘other' and create economic, political and cultural structures to ‘save' and protect those who only belong to our religion and god. We even attempt to legalize our god through human made laws and make the God, religion and scripture of the ‘other' illegitimate and illegal in the marketplace.

We also come to the conclusion that the ‘other' who does not conform to us must face hell in this life. So we design structures to make the life of the ‘other' a hell in our society by discriminating, destroying and dismantling him/her economically, politically, religiously and culturally.
We take refuge in our self elevated superiority, which guarantees us economic and political heaven through the religiously sanctioned ‘sacred' structures that we have established in our society and we rejoice in the misfortune of the ‘other'.

We claim that we are superior, blessed, fortunate and wealthy because of our god and our religion. Thus we think we are superior not because of witnessing our god experience to the ‘other' or in responding to the needs of the ‘other', but by discrediting, dismantling and restricting the experience and space of the ‘other' in the marketplace. We try to show the strength of our religion or race by pitching our god against the ‘other' in the marketplace.

As competitions increases, we think we must convert the ‘other' before he/she converts us i.e. do unto them before they do unto you. In order for the ‘other' to buy our religion, we start offering ‘goodie bags' to persuade the ‘other'.

Thus, the marketplace, which is supposed to reflect peace, oneness and fellowship with one another and with God, becomes a divisive space not because of God, religion and scripture but due to the self appointed ‘sole agents' of communal gods who distort and discredit the role of religion in a society.

Human beings created their own religions and religions in turn created and named their own gods to lord over the ‘other' and the entire army of human beings, religions and communal gods join together to destroy the world which God has created. In all this, the God remains the true God, silently waiting for our transformation and authentic encounter and response to God.

This is the consequence when our intention is to promote our religion (and race) in the marketplace. It reinforces the idea that there are different unseen gods ‘up there' fighting to win the favour of human beings whom God has created!

They give the hunch that just like how human beings form infantry of their gods to fight and compete in the name of religion in the marketplace, gods also fight and compete with each other to develop gods army ‘up there'.

Hence, today the prevailing trend of many religious propagators in the world is to act like ‘marketing managers' of their gods trying their level best to sell their religion, their scripture and their god in the marketplace. Many attempt to limit and restrict the space of the ‘other' by trying to establish superiority over the ‘other' through talking too much about their religion.

Many attempt to witness their god experience by promoting their religion and not by living it. Such approach reveals the fallacy of our understanding of religion, our God and our scripture, which utterly failed to recognise the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth, who is also the God of the ‘other' in the marketplace.

As we deny and restrict the space of the ‘other' due to suppositions based on our religion, our (mis)understanding of God and scriptural revelations, we discredit our god, spiritual experience, our scripture and our religion in the marketplace as well as we miserably fail in our test in the marketplace.
Though unfortunate, this is a blessing in disguise because we are privileged to discern the true religion, spiritual experience and scriptural interpretation based on the different responses in the marketplace.

Engaging our exclusive spiritual experience in the marketplace should not be misunderstood as an opportunity for us to promote our religion at the cost of the space of the ‘other' in the marketplace. It should not be construed as an opportunity for religious followers to create animosity between adherents of different religious followers based on our imaginary belief in a fighting god whom we think wants to fight against own creation.

No religion has monopoly of God, monopoly of truth, monopoly of culture. Each religion should humbly admit that it is one among many other religions. It searches truth along with others and it may have resources which is different from others.
That is its uniqueness and every member of God's creation is unique. In which religion one should show his/her affiliation is a personal matter and not a legal matter. However, how one exercises his/her religious faith/belief in the marketplace has both personal and social dimension. Here caution must be exercised.

In a secular and pluralistic society like Malaysia, we should care to keep our exclusive spiritual experience from promoting our religion and race in the marketplace. In addition, we should be cautious about the varied teachings in our own religion, where adherents may be fed with scriptural interpretations which promote exclusive cult mentality, animosity, perverted and a lopsided spirituality fostered by self interests and the narrow vision of the community in which we live.

Such teachings are the outcome of fear of the ‘other' or due to pressure tactics of ‘manipulators' within one's religion, who use religion as a cover to maintain power in the political or religious field. We should reject such manipulation in our religions and keep our religion from becoming a nuisance for ‘others' in the marketplace.

God is beyond our religions and race and God is able to work in ways beyond what is revealed in our scripture and religion, which we cannot fathom with our imperfect understanding and limited intelligence. The true God does not need our show of strength and support. Our strength must be channelled to help the weak and the needy in our society and to correct the injustice, discrimination, sexually explicit and perverted discourses and corruption in our society.

Religions must stand united as a corrective force in the society for the betterment of the people. For this, along with the ‘other', we must constantly struggle to uplift our knowledge above the level of our religions to a higher realm of spirituality where we are also spiritually awakened to the realization of a common humanity created by one God. An authentic encounter with God will enable us to achieve this level of spirituality through our religion.

If we do not let our religion, scripture and exclusive spiritual experience lift us up to a higher level of spirituality, we will surely be 'caught up' in religious fanaticism and use our religion and our self made god to pitch us against the ‘other' in the marketplace. Thus we make reformation within our religion and elevation of our exclusive spiritual experience to a higher realm, an impossible task.

As imperfect finite human beings, let us admit that our understanding of God, religion and our exclusive spiritual experiences are in need of constant reformation, transformation and enrichment. Hence, the ability to think of God beyond religion is not a negation of our religion, scripture or exclusive spiritual experience, but a humble approach to experience God on a higher level of spirituality and to understand our God, who is also the creator and God of the ‘other' in the marketplace.

“Who Needs An Islamic State?” By Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi

There are many misconceptions about Islam merely because the minority voice (which is shouting the loudest) is heard, while the other voices remain silent. Without sounding as if I am an ‘Islam Apologist’, maybe I should share with you the views of other Muslim scholars -- which is a far departure from the voices of those 4,000 people who participated in the ‘assembly of 1,000,000’ yesterday.

Raja Petra Kamarudin

If the foregoing discussion has any validity, then one has to infer that the concept of an Islamic state must be completely abandoned if sanity is to return to Muslim political discourse.

One should rather speak about a state for the Muslims, or an Islamic political community. One must also abandon the illusions about the millennium promised by the revival of a utopian polity in which a righteous and saintly ruler will miraculously emerge to restore the long lost golden age of Islam. Nor is it wise to shift our millennial hopes to the newly emerged Islamic movements, and expect that their accession to power will automatically bring an era of divine justice and saintly rule. There is simply no alternative to attaining these objectives the hard way, by doing what is needed to achieve them.

Wisdom dictates that we should be pessimistic about the qualities of our rulers, something which should not be too difficult, given our experiences. The institutions of a Muslim polity, and the rules devised to govern it, should therefore be based on expecting the worst.

Human experience shows that democracy, broadly defined, offers the best possible method of avoiding such disappointment in rulers, and affords a way of remedying the causes for such disappointments once they occur.

The value of this approach is that it does not make the attainment of dignity and freedom of Muslim individuals contingent on the setting-up of a utopian Islamic state which we may never live to see. It also removes the grounds on which the current tyrannies ruling the Muslim world are justified.

The tyrants lording it over the Muslims today, aided and abetted by their foreign allies, justify their existence by fear of Muslim `fanatics' who want to coerce others into adopting an unacceptable lifestyle. This lame excuse for tyranny must be removed by affirming our commitment to democracy as the governing principle of the Muslim polity in all its stages.

The state for Muslims must be a principle of liberation based on pluralism, with no coercion involved other than the minimum inherent in the principle of community itself. The raison d'etre of a political community is to assure the peaceful coexistence among its members.

A Muslim political community is therefore an institution required to ensure that Muslims live in peace and harmony with one another, with other communities within the territory ruled by their polity and with other nations and communities on our planet. This peaceful co-existence has to be based on the rules of equity and fairness, and must not force Muslims to live contrary to their principles.

The central misunderstanding of current Muslim political thought is the confused belief that a state based on Islamic principles is one which forces people to live according to Islam. In truth, the purpose of an Islamic political community is to enable individual Muslims to live according to Islam, and to protect them from coercion which tends to subvert their commitment to Islam.

All the current references to the `imposition of sharia' or the Islamic state, whether by Islamic thinkers or opponents of Islam, actually misunderstand the issue completely. Sharia can rule truly only when the community observing it perceives this as a liberating act, as the true fulfilment of the self and moral worth of the community and each individual within it, for sharia can never be imposed. When it is imposed, it is not sharia. When only coercion underpins sharia, it becomes hypocrisy.

A Muslim polity must also defend the right of Muslims to live freely according to the dictates of their consciences, by force if necessary, for a Muslim state must use all its resources to fight injustice and tyranny inside and around it. We cannot expect the commitment to peace to be a licence for the toleration of all evils in the name of avoiding conflict.

This was the central mistake of classical Muslim political theory, which has neither succeeded in avoiding conflict nor in achieving justice. Therefore, it is essential to strive for justice as the only firm basis for permanent peace and harmony.

To attain these goals, the Muslim state must rely primarily on the responsibility and active role of the individual within the community. It reasserts the value of the individual without preaching individualism. Classical Muslim political thought relegated the individual to the status of a non-entity by the postulation of vacuous and imprecise concepts such as that of ahl al-Hal wal Aqd and fard kifaya.

These confused notions provided the basis for the endorsement of practical secularism, or for making the legality of all Muslim social activity dependent on the will of a despot.

It must be reaffirmed that the individual does not need the state to be a Muslim. He creates the state as a Muslim, and he creates it voluntarily to further enhance his Islamic life. The opinion given by al-Ghazali and others about the necessity of the state - any state - as the precondition of the legality of Muslim social life is the opposite of the truth. A despotic and illegal regime does not bestow legitimacy on subsidiary actions. On the contrary, it marks everything it touches with the stamp of illegality. For Muslims, to have no state at all is better than to have an illegal one.

“Who Needs An Islamic State?” By Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi