Don’t delay projects with clear benefits

WE Malaysians welcome the newbies who have been elected as people’s representatives in the Parliamentary and State constituencies and as an ordinary citizen, it is my desire to see the Wakil Rakyat make an effort to “turun padang” regularly.

Armchair politicians do not get far where reaching out to the Rakyat is concerned. GE14 saw just too many new faces from PH and they were elected, only because people wanted the change they sorely needed.

Politicians who hold ministerial posts should have a system where they make time to be on the ground meeting with the grassroots and looking at real issues and addressing them. The great leaders and the averages ones all have 24-hours, it is how we manage time and prioritise things that make the difference.

We are not in the “bad old days” when politicians expect to be voted for by just belonging to a popular political party. People power should not be undermined and when there is an uprising, the one right at the top of the hierarchy needs to take notice. Look out for the early tell-tale signs, fix them before they fix you.

Very importantly, look out for messages on the wall and make amends and this time around, if the present Wakil Rakyat do not fulfil their promises, they will be the casualty in the next general election.

I laud the prime minister’s call to “review” just about everything that exists. While we know a lot of things need to be put in place and faults corrected before the Government machinery can function effectively, I worry that the “review” of major projects may have a counter-effect on our economy, if there is a time lag.

The MRT Line 3, for example, is a much-needed piece of the puzzle that completes the MRT network to reduce congestion in major arteries in and out of the city centre. Lines 1 and Line 2 will not be able to operate optimally without the Circle Line; from what I know.

As a user of the MRT, without any political association, I have had friends and relatives from the overseas who thought our facilities were on par or better than those in developed countries. Let us rethink and think wisely and discriminate between the “needed” projects and those that were initiated to fill the pockets of some.

I am not well-versed with the high-speed rail and hence will not comment on this but there must be a sound evaluation done, speedily to ensure we do not have time-gaps in implementing mega projects, which have calculable benefits to the Nation and its people.

As far as projects that have foreign ownership, do consider having local contractors with the capability and capacity to complete the job on time. Now we hope the awards will be based on merit, barring everything else.

Nisha Sharma
Petaling Jaya

ECRL – cut the cost, make it work

MANY have voiced concern over the RM60 billion ECRL project but I think there is merit to consider continuing with the project.

It will create jobs for Malaysians and generate economic growth in the east coast. I use public transport to travel and I think the ECRL will be of great benefit simply because it will make it easier to travel to Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.

I believe with a good schedule and competitive fares, the ECRL will be a popular way to travel. In terms of passenger volume, I believe the ECRL will be able to meet its target.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said in the past that it’s better to fly to Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu and Kuantan with AirAsia. However, even with the many budget airlines, there are times when it is impossible to buy a ticket. In addition, budget airline fares fluctuate, and cheap flight tickets are limited. While flying from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu or Kuantan takes about an hour, the total time taken to travel to the airport, check-in and wait before boarding and to disembark from the plane is almost the same as travelling on the ECRL.

Arguments abound that now is not the right time to implement mega projects. However, there will never be a right time for infrastructure projects that cost billions. But it is the responsibility of the government to provide reliable, affordable and efficient public transport for the people, not just for Klang Valley residents.

I urge the government to review the ECRL project and find ways to cut its cost to its originally estimated RM30 billion. There is no denying that the cost needs scrutiny and deliberation but there’s also no denying that the country needs world class infrastructure to achieve Vision 2020 goals.

Mazlan Ahmad
Kuala Lumpur

Learning science and maths – why English matters

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s initial desire to helm the Education Ministry has rekindled the debate on teaching Science and Maths in English. While his brainchild is being hotly disputed, the prime minister has not hinted anything yet.

Being a product of the PPSMI policy myself, I have always had a genuine interest in this debate. What more, as a trainee teacher teaching Science and Biology, I am eager to see this policy revived. Unfortunately, some groups are against this policy. Since last week, the groups have begun reiterating arguments against the teaching of Science and Maths in English.

Generally, the opponents of PPSMI cite the success stories of many Asian countries as the crux of their case. These countries include Japan, China and a few more that maintain their mother tongue as the medium of instruction to teach Science and Maths. At a glance, we could easily be led astray because most of these countries are consistent toppers of international assessments. However, when subjected to scrutiny, their flaws become evident.

Japan is the most clichéd example pitted against the teaching of Science and Maths in English. Back home, we are led to believe that learning Science and Maths in their national language boosted patriotism among the Japanese people. Indeed, Japan is hailed as a nation of inventors and is highly reputed for its scientific advancements. But, we have romanticised their patriotic pride for too long that we have been oblivious to their struggles.

Japanese scientists are facing the dilemma to actively engage with the international science community. Despite Japan ranking fifth in the world in terms of high-quality research output, the 2015 Nature Index reports that Japanese scientists’ contribution to high-impact science journals fell by 12% from 2012 to 2015. Due to this, its government had to initiate several reforms in its tertiary science education. This includes creating more English-medium programmes and increasing the enrolment of international students in Japanese higher education institutions.

For example, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University was established to conduct all of its courses in English.

If we negate the role of English in teaching Science and Maths in our schools, then we will have to resort to similar remedies eventually. Why not invest now and reap the benefits faster?

Several other Asian countries teaching Science and Maths in their vernacular language struggle with a similar predicament. Take China for instance. In January 2004, Chinese scientists had discovered the H5N1 virus and published their findings in a Chinese journal of veterinary medicine. However, only in August 2004, did the research come to the attention of the WHO and the United Nations who rushed to translate the findings.

Now, imagine how much more significant advancements that could have been achieved if the research was communicated around the globe earlier?

Japan and China were undoubtedly successful in nurturing bright science talents in their mother tongue but the language barrier impeded their progress. English is the lingua franca of science and the global community will not have it otherwise. If we still refuse to accept this fact, then we will remain isolated from the international science community.

Should we continue to jeopardise our young talents for the sake of prejudiced sentiments and rhetoric? I don’t think so.

Dhesegaan Bala Krishnan
University of Malaya

4% VAT can replace GST

THE abolishment of GST would result in a shortfall of RM20 billion. In the short term, we can count on crude oil price increases to fill the shortfall. As our country is a net exporter of crude oil, we can count on this but for how long?

To be a developed nation by 2020 we need to upgrade human capital and infrastructure to assist the advancement of industries in generating outputs that could add sufficient values to our economy. All these activities require huge capital outlay. Can our government rely on sales and services tax (SST) to achieve this vision?

The new government has to honour all its pledges. GST has to go but it shouldn’t be abolished hastily on June 1, while SST may only be implemented in two to three months’ time. The tax holiday would easily cost the government RM10 billion in revenue, which can be used to reduce the national debt.

If the abolition of GST is carried out on Aug 1, the government would have more time to think of a better way to honour its pledge and implement a more effective tax regime. Replace GST with value added tax (VAT) at a lower rate, say 4% instead of 6%. By doing so, it may be able to collect around RM30 billion instead of about RM20 billion via SST.

The introduction of VAT would then allow the GST system to continue, except it has to change its rate from 6% to 4% and, perhaps, the name. The implementation of GST was not only a huge task but also costly. If the aim is to reduce people’s financial burden, why should we abandon an efficient tax system?

Patrick Teh

Anas Zubedy’s take on Dr Mazlee Malik

SINCE Dr Mazlee Malik has been appointed the minister of education, I have received scores of calls, WhatsApp and enquiries about him. I have hesitated to provide any comments as I have inadequate knowledge and minimal interaction with Mazlee. I also am worried about my own biases and may not do justice to both he and the enquirers. Perhaps I share with you my biases first and propose some ideas to rectify the concerns.

Firstly, I might be biased because I was totally elated when Tun Mahathir Mohamad first announced that he personally will take the position. Changing it was a downer, and I am still brooding over losing Tun as the minister of education.

Why …?

While the other ministries are important, I see the Ministry of Education as the most crucial. In leading and managing change, we need to balance between managing today and managing tomorrow. In other words, we need to manage two-time dimensions – the short term and long term.

Where values of the citizens are concern, the Ministry of Education is the portion that is most central and decisive in managing tomorrow. That is preparing Malaysia and Malaysians for the future. The real dawn of the new era! That is why I was totally ecstatic when Tun was to lead the ministry.

Secondly, I see myself as an Islamist. In fact, I see Tun as an Islamist too. I would not want to lump all Islamist into one box. I will not make my decisions based on if someone is an Islamist or not. I also do not like labelling someone narrowly as it will not give a fair assessment about the individual. I would want to check their character and past performance.

There are good Islamist and there are bad ones too. In fact, I would choose a good Christian, or Hindu or Buddhist over a corrupt Muslim as my leader.

But, allow me to unpack a little about what I mean by a good Islamist within the context of why some segments within Malaysia are disagreeing with Mazlee’s appointment – pluralism.

A good Islamist to me is someone who does not try to monopolise God and the Heavens. A good Islamist has an undivided conviction that God’s mercy encompasses all; Muslims, Non-Muslims and atheists too. He or she accepts and embrace pluralism in the way of life. By pluralism, I do not mean equating each religion or way of life as the same. That would be an obvious error. No two religions are the same. In fact, even within a religion one can find differences.

Pluralism represents the acceptance of a diversity of views or stands rather than a single approach or method towards life. It is the idea that we can agree to disagree, to you your religion, to me mine (Quran chapter 109). There is no compulsion in religion and way of life (Quran 2:256).

It is the ability to see reality, that is, the universe and the Earth that we live in is by design a diverse one. To go further, the availability of many religions and path is by design God’s creation (Quran 10:99, 5:48, 64:2) and as such we need to learn to live with it. We do not ignore the differences of various religions (and cultures). We try to understand the different ‘other’. Ultimately, we are willing to defend them should they be wrongly condemned or attacked (Quran 22:40).

To go further, a good Islamist practices pluralism within his own religion. In other words, he or she practices diversity and inclusion within the Muslim world. They prevent takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims. This is perhaps one of the most critical concern and worry about Mazlee’s appointment amongst some Muslims, rightly or wrongly. Is he open to diversity and inclusion within the Muslim world?

Thirdly, my limited interaction with Mazlee.

My few interactions with him were pleasant. He was humble and, in his talks, and presentations, he is open to differences and practiced moderation. He seems willing to listen to the other side. His manner was not arrogant and he does not look like someone who will impose his position on others. Within the ‘spectrum of the religious scholars’, he is on the moderate side. At least that’s how I feel.

My little concern is my experience in a WhatsApp group I once joined of which Mazlee and many other ‘Muslim scholars’ were members – including a very popular mufti. As I always keep my discussions and evidence from the Quran and was critical to certain approaches on the collection of Hadiths, Mazlee was quick to label me as ‘Anti-Hadith’. I dislike being narrowly labeled and prefer healthy deliberations. Labelling someone is an easy way out. By the way, Tun is also labeled as ‘Anti-Hadith’ when he took a critical position on the collection of the Hadith.

So what next? I find it sad and unfair that Mazlee is made to justify his appointment. I would not like it if I were in his shoes. However, like it or not Mazlee will need to nip this in the bud. He must remove the uncertainties. To lead successfully a leader must be totally determined to remove uncertainties as failing which, Mazlee loses power and influence and in the long run will fail and fall. We cannot afford to let the Ministry of Education fail.

In other words, either he clarifies the uncertainties and confusions experienced by his detractors and come out on top, or he can submit to the uncertainty, and end up the victim. There is nothing more crucial in legitimate leadership and power as the ability to remove uncertainties.

May I humbly suggest Mazlee to make a clear stand to support and do the following:

1. To unequivocally support the ambitions of Rukun Negara especially items two and four that aims to “maintain a democratic way of life” and “ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions”. Some feel that there is a reluctance among certain groups in taking a strong stand towards the Rukun Negara because of their wish to change the character of the country towards a more theocratic state and curb the liberal character of the nation. By standing firm with the Rukun Negara, Mazlee will disassociate himself from these groups.

2. He explicitly stands by the Amman Message. The Amman Message is a statement calling for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world that was issued on 9 November 2004 by King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan in an international Islamic conference of 200 of the world’s leading Islamic scholars and leaders from 50 countries. They unanimously agreed on three fundamental issues, which became known as the ‘Three Points of the Amman Message’:
a. They specifically recognised the validity of all eight Mazhabs (legal schools) of Sunni, Shiite and Ibadhi Islam; of traditional Islamic Theology (Ash’arism); of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and of true Salafi thought, and came to a precise definition of who is a Muslim.
b. Based upon this definition they forbade takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims.
c. Based upon the Mathahib they set forth the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of fatwas, thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam.

Among the Malaysians who signed the statements were former prime minister Abdullah Badawi, Anwar Ibrahim, Khairy Jamaluddin and Professor Hashim Kamali. Should Mazlee take this stand he would remove any certainties among those who feel that he will not practice diversity and inclusion with the Muslim community.

3. Call for a dialogue with the detractors. Deal with their concerns. Ask for feedback and seek their opinions. I have seen Mazlee in his presentations. I am sure he will be able to manage the detractors and find a justly balanced understanding and compromise.

Should Mazlee make the above stand and act on them, I have strong convictions that he will be able to remove the uncertainties surrounding his appointment. I for one, will support him. I wish Mazlee the best and God willing he will consider my suggestions

To my dear Malaysians, let’s also practice this mantra.
May all of us guide ourselves with love, logic and wisdom. Love, because love makes us fair with our hearts; Logic, because logic makes us fair with our minds; and, Wisdom, because wisdom leads us to combine our love and logic in the way of God and for the benefit of Malaysia and mankind.

Anas Zubedy
Kuala Lumpur

An open letter to our elected public servants

DEAR PH-elected public servants

We, the rakyat, elected a coalition called Pakatan Harapan under a single banner led by a 92-year old statesman whom we have, at least, the most trust for to save this nation. This is a MALAYSIAN mandate. Do not forget that. You are all public servants. SERVE.

We did not elect you to squabble over posts and spoils of war. We want a reformed nation. Not the same politicking and sharing of spoils amongst politicians. We do not care which party you came from.

The nation faces three immediate and present dangers:

1. We have an economic catastrophe waiting to happen due to economic malfeasance over the last decade – financed by debt.

2. We have a corrupt, racialist religiously-bigoted civil administrative system that needs to be dismantled and replaced.

3. We have today not only ineffective education but instead a religious-centric education system that has been the source of extremist indoctrination of Malay-Muslim youths and populace over the last two decades at least. The result being, Malaysia is per capita the largest exporter of terrorist Islamic fighters in the world and sympathisers. And a large unemployable pool of graduates as product of our failed system.

Lets be honest in our euphoria of victory that the work ahead is difficult. The economic problems, intractable as it looks, is the easiest to solve. That I have full trust in Tun, his brilliantly-assembled Council and newly-minted minister of finance.

The other two challenges could very well be almost impossible, but if left unsolved will mean the utter destruction of our beloved nation.

It will take great political will from your leadership to make hard decisions to drag some of you, not to mention the mostly entitled ketuanan bangsa and agama Malay-Muslim populace kicking and screaming towards reforms.

1. We need clear separation of religion and government. Government and public funds must stay out from the business of religion and religious morality.

2. We need to take out religious education and proselytising from the public arena. Religion must be a private matter and kept private.

3. Our education must emphasise education not indoctrination. There is no such thing as religious education, only indoctrination. The nation’s future rests in its populace being science and technology passionate.

In conclusion, as I had mentioned before, by 2050, seven of 10 Malaysians will be Muslims. We do not reform at our peril. Do we want our nation to be another failed Muslim majority country as everyone of them is, or do we want to pioneer one that is a model Malaysia – developed, wealthy, technologically superior multi-ethnic multi-religious nation fair to all.

We, the Malaysian rakyat will be watching and we will be calling you to account throughout your term. Mark my word, we and I are only starting.

We wish you all the best and before I forget – congratulations.

Siti Kasim
A Malaysian

(Letter reproduced from the writer’s Facebook page)

Salute to the new Malaysia!

I WISH to salute Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan President Brig General (Rtd) Datuk Mohamad Arshad Raji for his noble and valiant stand for the concepts of New Malaysia and Malaysians First.

He severely criticised the Perkasa rejection of the appointment of a non-Malay Finance Minister-designate Lim Guan Eng as “race-based politicking”.

He also bravely expressed the majority public view that the New Malaysia after GE14 will not allow these “tools to sow distrust and hatred and the stereotyping”, as was done in the past and not checked either.

The illustrious BG Mohamad Arshad has proudly raised our beloved Jalur Gemilang (National Flag) high for a New Malaysia that calls for mutual respect for all races, religions and customs. We should all rally round his war cry to stamp out these destructive and damaging Perkasa type of thinking that has eroded our national unity and created polarisation in the past.

From now on let’s give our full support to our new Government under our dynamic Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir and his new Cabinet, to promote and defend the best ideals and values of our New Malaysia, that hopefully will be freed from race-based and bigoted religious thinking and action in the immediate future.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies