The Long Struggle for Equal Partnership

THE recent announcement by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government is committed to returning Sabah and Sarawak their rightful status as equal partners in the federation can be seen in two ways.

If this announcement made in the prime minister’s first address to Sabahans since the new government came to power is a sincere commitment and quickly implemented in the key areas of concern in which the two East Malaysian states have had their status and rights undermined and their legitimate needs neglected, then it can help open a more amicable, less contentious and more stable chapter in the nation’s history and development.

However, if it is another political wayang speech aimed at generating a feel-good response in the local population, it will reinforce the scepticism and cynicism that the Bornean states will still be treated as “stepchildren” by the new PH government and that nothing will come out from PH’s election manifesto promise of returning the status of the two states according to the Malaysia Agreement of 1963, even after more than 100 days of the new government has elapsed.

If the latter is the case and/or if the process of the return of local rights and autonomy is delayed by foot dragging or deflected by the politics of disruption and divide and rule as practised by the Barisan Nasional government since the establishment of Malaysia, we should not expect a meek or restrained response from an awakened and politicised younger generation of East Malaysians.

Rather, watch out for heightened political resistance from the East Malaysian states, which may put the entire Malaysia enterprise in jeopardy.

What is Equal Partnership?

The call for an equal partnership of the three component parts of Malaysia is not simply about a greater share of cabinet minister-ships for the politicians of Sabah or Sarawak or a greater share of oil royalties or better roads. It is also not just about mobilising a two-thirds majority in Parliament to support amendments in the Federal Constitution for Sabah and Sarawak to be equal partners in the federation with the process ending there. Or providing East Malaysians the solitary carrot of a deputy prime minister.

It covers a much larger and complex spectrum of perceived injustices, discriminatory treatment and broken promises endured by the two states, especially during the past 30 years.

According to pro-equal status activists, key grouses include the following:
> Disproportionally meagre returns from the two states’ oil and gas resources;
> Desecularisation and creeping Islamisation;
> Internal colonisation by the federal civil service establishment, which has marginalised local Sarawakians and Sabahans in the running of their own states;
> Putrajaya’s collaboration with corrupt state leaders, which has enriched a small minority and despoiled the environment at the expense of native communities;
> The infamous “project IC”, which resulted in a massive influx of illegal immigrants, their registration as voters in Sabah and the consequential adverse repercussions on the local citizenry.

It is noteworthy that when the Cobbold Commission was set up in 1962 to determine whether the people of North Borneo supported the formation of Malaysia submitted its report, it had deemed necessary to emphasise the following: “It is a necessary condition that from the outset Malaysia should be regarded by all concerned as an association of partners, combining in the common interests to create a new nation but retaining their own individualities. If any idea were to take root that Malaysia would involve a ‘take-over’ of the Borneo territories by the Federation of Malaya and the submersion of the individualities of North Borneo and Sarawak, Malaysia would not be generally acceptable and successful.” This concern has now come home to roost.

Today we are seeing more than resistance to the loss of local autonomy promised in the initial Malaysia agreement. New local parties that are emerging are not simply seeking the rescinding of the constitutional amendment of 1983, which downgraded both the states from equal status to one of the 13 states of the federation. They are also pushing for a larger agenda of socio-economic and political change through return of the rights and interests of the states as enshrined in the 20/18-point Agreements, the London Agreements and the Inter-Governmental Reports.

At the same time, less restrained individual and unorganised groups (through social media) are also now in larger numbers posing the unthinkable and potentially seditious question as to whether the two states are better off independent than to remain in Malaysia. What will happen next is in Putrajaya’s ball court.

We can expect constitutional change to be a slow and protracted process, and to possibly take more than a few years to be successful.

Meanwhile, issues of local autonomy especially in economy, education and religion resonate strongly among all communities, especially with the more urbanised and highly educated. The sentiment that the two states has been badly treated by Putrajaya is a widely shared one, especially among the young who resent what they perceive as the recolonisation of their state by federal officials pushing the Putrajaya line. These issues can and should be corrected immediately.

However, while Putrajaya continues with soothing words about the rebalancing of state and federal rights and powers, the actions of various agencies of government indicate that the old regime’s mindset remains and the opposition and intolerance to any democratic aspiration for equal status and rights has not changed.

The case of the recent arrests and alleged manhandling of young protesters calling for stronger state rights and demanding equal education opportunities, better public transport and job opportunities among 10 demands is a salutary example.

As one of the leaders of the youthful assembly calling itself Pandang Ke Sabah (Look Towards Sabah) rally noted after the police crackdown on the group of protesters: “It’s the morning of Malaysia Day, for God’s sake and it was really peaceful. We thought now that we are living in the era of Malaysia Baru, we are free to speak our minds.”

More disappointing and shocking was the recent written reply by the Education Ministry that the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools in the two states would violate the Federal Constitution, National Language and Education Act.

In response, Sabah’s deputy chief minister, Datuk Seri Madius Tangau pointed out that the right to use English as a medium of instruction in national schools was in accordance with the Malay­sia Agreement 1963 and was in no way illegal nor an attempt to challenge Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. He also noted that it was not only not unconstitutional but a right and the way forward.

Sarawakians and Sabahans can expect many similar instances of Putrajaya’s intransigence before they can win back their equal status and rights.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Brash hostility unites China and Russia

GOOD work Mr President! You have now managed to lay the groundwork for a grand Chinese-Russian alliance. The objective of intelligent diplomacy is to divide one’s foes, not to unite them.

This epic blunder comes at a time when the US appears to be getting ready for overt military action in Syria against Russian and Syrian forces operating there. The excuse, as before, will be false-flag attacks with chlorine gas, a chemical widely used in the region for water purification. It appears that the fake attacks have already been filmed.

Meanwhile, some 303,000 Russian, Chinese and Mongolian soldiers are engaged in massive manoeuvres in eastern Siberia and naval exercises in the Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk. The latter, an isolated region of Arctic water, is the bastion of Russia’s Pacific Fleet of nuclear-armed missile submarines.

Interestingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has attended the war games with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, just offered to end the state of war between Russia and Japan that has continued since 1945. He also offered some sort of deal to resolve the very complex problem of the Russian-occupied Kuril Islands (Northern Territories to Japan) that has bedeviled Moscow–Tokyo relations since the war. The barren Kurils control the exits and entries to the Sea of Okhotsk where Russia’s nuclear missiles shelter.

In the current war games, Russia has deployed 30,000 military vehicles and 1,000 combat aircraft. China contributed 3,200 troops, 30 warplanes and naval units.

Most of the equipment deployed in Vostok-18 was state of the art. Russia’s and China’s infantry, artillery and armour appeared impressive and combat ready – or as we in the US Army used to say, “STRAC”.

Why were these huge exercises being held in remotest eastern Siberia? First, so China could contribute forces close to its territory. Second, as a possible warning to the US not to invade North Korea, which is just to the south and abuts on both China and Russia. Third, as a demonstration of the improved effectiveness of Russia and China’s military and as a warning to the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) satraps not to pick a fight with Russia over Ukraine, Syria or the Black Sea.

On a grander scale, Beijing and Moscow were signalling their new “entente cordiale” designed to counter-balance the reckless military ambitions of the Trump administration, which has been rumbling about a wider war in Syria and intervention in, of all places, Venezuela.

The feeling in Russia and China is that the Trump White House is drunk with power and unable to understand the consequences of its military actions, a fact underlined by recent alarming exposés about it.

Russia and China appear – at least for now – to have overcome their historic mutual suspicion and animosity. In the over-heated imagination of many Russians, China often appears to be the modern incarnation of the Mongol hordes of the past that held ancient Rus in feudal thrall. Russians still call China “Kitai”, or Cathay.

For the Chinese, Russia is the menacing power that stole large parts of eastern Siberia in the 19th century. Today, Russia frets that China’s 1.4 billion people will one day swamp the Russian Far East that has only 6.2 million inhabitants spread over a vast, largely empty region, which is one of the world’s least inhabited.

In the 1960’s, after the Soviet Union and China became ideological antagonists, the two sides frequently clashed along their border rivers, Amur and Ussuri.

They almost stumbled into a full-scale war on their 4,000km border – at a time when the US had invaded Vietnam supposedly to “halt Chinese-Soviet aggression”. The CIA was as ill-informed back then as it is today.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping attended the grand display, along with their senior military staffs.

This week-long martial event, Russia’s largest war games in almost four decades, overshadowed the smaller military exercise being staged by Nato in Ukraine.

The message from eastern Siberia was clear: Washington’s reckless hostility and bellicosity is causing its foes to band together. A full third of the Russian Army just moved from Europe to the Far East for the war games. The Chinese dragon of which Napoleon warned is awakening.

Eric S. Margolis is a syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Great recession, greater illusions

IN 2009, the world economy contracted by -2.2%. Growth in all developing countries declined from around 8% in 2007 to 2.6% in 2009 as the developed world contracted by -3.8% in 2009. The collapse of the Lehmann Brothers investment bank in September 2008 symbolised the US financial crisis that triggered the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Demise of Keynesian consensus

In its immediate aftermath, a new consensus reversed the neoliberal Washington Consensus of the last two decades of the 20th century. Proclaimed by the G20’s London Summit of April 2, 2009 it envisaged return to Keynesian macroeconomic policies, including large-scale fiscal stimulus, supported by expansionary monetary policy.

The new policies were largely successful in tempering the recession, although much more should have been done. But with modest recovery, public debt, not economic stagnation, was soon sold as public enemy number one again.

G20 leaders at the June 2010 Toronto Summit turned to “fiscal consolidation”, with monetary policy accommodation to “contain” its contractionary consequences, and “structural” (mainly labour market) reforms, ostensibly to boost growth, especially in advanced economies. However, despite G20 leaders’ pledges eschewing protectionism, trade restrictions grew.

Synchronised fiscal consolidation precipitated some Eurozone sovereign debt crises. Soon, several Eurozone countries experienced double dip recessions, as unemployment in Greece and Spain rose well over 25% following punitive policies required to qualify for European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) funding which mainly went to creditors.

Economists’ complicity

Misleading, ideologically-driven empirical analyses claimed to support the new policy reversal. Alesina and his associates promoted the idea of “expansionary fiscal consolida-tion”, that contractionary government expenditure cuts would be more than offset by private spending expansion due to boosted investor confidence.

Then, Reinhart and Rogoff exaggerated the dangers of domestic debt accumulation.

Although soon exposed for major methodological flaws and suppressing relevant information, these studies had served their purpose.

The IMF Fiscal Monitor ahead of the June 2010 G20 Summit grossly exaggerated public debt’s destabilising effects, advocating rapid fiscal consolidation instead.

Later, the IMF admitted it had underestimated the fiscal multiplier and hence potential growth from such debt!

Faltering recovery and rising unemployment in the Eurozone caused the public debt-GDP ratio to rise instead.

Meanwhile, supposedly unavoidable short-term pain caused prolonged suffering for millions without the promised medium- and long-term gains.

UN ahead of the curve

Besides the Bank of International Settlements’ legendary William White, the United Nations was ahead of the curve, not only in warning of the impending crisis, but also by providing appropriate policy advice, albeit largely ignored.

For example, the United Nations 2006 and 2007 World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) warned of instability and growth slowdowns due to disorderly adjustment of growing macroeconomic imbalances among major world economies. WESP warned that falling US house prices could cause defaults to spike, triggering bank crises.

The IMF and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development simply ignored such warnings, projecting rosy futures, and a “soft landing” at worst. The April 2007 IMF World Economic Outlook (WEO) emphatically dismissed widely held concerns about disorderly unwinding of global imbalances, claiming economic risks had subsided. The July 2007 issue claimed: “The strong global expansion is continuing, and projections for global growth in both 2007 and 2008 have been revised up.”

The OECD June 2007 Economic Outlook insisted that the US slowdown was not heralding a period of worldwide economic weakness. “Rather, a ‘smooth’ rebalancing was to be expected, with Europe taking over the baton from the US in driving OECD growth … Indeed, the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years.”

Although the IMF’s November 2008 WEO belatedly acknowledged the crisis’ severity, it forecast global recovery of 2.2% in 2009, suggesting the worst was over, thus supporting the reversal from fiscal expansion to consolidation. Depicting the “green shoots” of recovery as self-sustaining, fiscal stimulus was abandoned after selective financial bailouts.

The IMF and OECD recommendations of structural reforms and fiscal consolidation have since failed to provide the long awaited, sustained global economic recovery.

The president of the UN General Assembly set up a commission led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz to study the crisis’ impact, especially for development, and recommend policies to prevent future crises. Yet, most remain unaware of its wide-ranging findings and policy recommendations, including international financial architecture reforms and re-regulating finance to better serve the real economy.

The UN secretary-general proposed a Global Green New Deal in 2009 to accelerate economic recovery and job creation while addressing sustainable development, climate change and food security. It envisioned massive, multilateral, cross-subsidised public investments in renewable energy and smallholder food production in developing countries.

The UN also consistently advocated policy coordination and warned against prematurely ending recovery efforts.

Missed opportunity, heightened vulnerability

With UN and similar policy advice largely ignored, global economic recovery has remained tepid for the last decade. This has prompted the “secular stagnation” thesis obscuring the role of political and policy failures and missed opportunities.

Unconventional monetary policy, e.g., “quantitative easing”, has also widened income and wealth gaps besides fuelling financial asset bubbles. Earlier capital inflows are now exiting following monetary policy normalisation in the West and new fears of emerging market vulnerabilities.

Having failed to ensure robust recovery despite accumulating more debt, both developed and developing countries have less policy and fiscal space to address the looming problems threatening them.

Meanwhile, the redistributive potential of fiscal policy has been weakened by reducing progressive direct taxes and increasing regressive indirect taxes, while cutting social expenditure. Also, powerful vested interests have blocked attempts to limit obscene executive remuneration and enforce minimum wages, arguing that such measures discourage business and job creation.

Also, the hyped notion of “inclusive inequality” has served to justify rising economic disparities, by arguing that deregulation has enabled wealth accumulation and middle class expansion. – IPS

The case of IIUM’s presidency

OF late the issue of who should be a “president” of a university (likened to chairman of the board of directors in other situations) caught the interest of the public and politicians alike. It is a good sign because it means that we are taking greater interest on how our universities are being governed. And for more than six decades this issue has not received such “publicity” even though we have more than 20 public universities and counting (with a possibility of another “state” university announced recently). What is more, given that it is triple the number in the public sector.

As far as I can recall, a large number of them holding such positions can be classified as “professionals” and not “politicians” as such. Perhaps that is why there is no apparent “controversy” then.

But on closer inspection most of them are beholden to partisan politics bias to that of the ruling government of the day. Such political affiliations somehow does not count although the “impact” was just as good (or as bad) as having “true blue” politicians being physically present at the material time.

Stories of “them” making calls to a politician’s office before some “hard” decisions were taken were not unusual. They were political proxies in many ways, just like the civil servants (including retired ones) who are “planted” as members of the board, so to speak, on behalf of the ministry (read minister).

The difference is subtle but the impact is very real – practically no difference vis-a-vis to the so-called “controversy” that is being aired today.

The only stark difference is that, at present, the government has committed not to involve any politician (in person), whereas the previous regime was silent on this. But the latter tolerated many politically-linked personalities, including retired politicians.

Some are real heavy weights known to “politicise” the university in no uncertain terms.

I remember one who admitted that he was appointed to “clean up” (memutihkan) the university of “opposition” politics! Hence, the culture of collegiality flew out the window as the rule of fear descended on the campus.

In other words, the entire issue on the choice of a president or a chairman is a red herring. The nett effect could be the same in the long run as amply demonstrated during the past 30 years.

In fact, I would rather risk working with a “politician” who is on record to be staunchly academic in his/her beliefs, understanding and practices relating to issues of academic freedom, and a slew of autonomies – ranging from organisational to financial as well as recruitment – because all of these are essentially tied up in one ecosystem. One cannot proceed without the other. There is no such thing as “staggered” autonomy based on “performance” as being promoted today.

Figuratively, if a university is likened to a vehicle where accuracy and speed are key to deliver impact, then lending “autonomy” only to one part, say the steering wheel and not the gearbox, will not change anything.

Such are the intricacies that must be understood in the world of academe if things are to go full throttle.

Failing to appreciate this fundamental is to “fail” the university, which is the crux of the current issue. Not just confined to the presidency or chairmanship, especially when the person concerned is clueless.

I recall one higher eduction KSU who compared “autonomy” with a camel getting into a tent. And he reckoned it takes five years for the beast to do so!

This weird idea came from a seemingly apolitical professional (if civil servants then can qualify as one) – without the slightest hint of what “autonomy” entails. So what is the fuss all about? Storm in a teacup?

Lest we forget all this started during the days when corporatising the university was considered the in-thing. Blindly emulating the corporate sector, the then university council was sacrificed to accommodate a board of directors (as it is now) instead. Explicit to this idea was to place the university under a tighter grip of the government, through the ministry of education. So it is no surprise that the alleged political appointees became convenient pawns to ensure that the political agenda took precedence over academic ones.

The “human capital” (economic) agenda coming out of The Human Capital Theory is one, at the expense of the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan that speaks a different language of a balanced, harmonic and “sejahtera” human being (insan seimbang, harmonis lagi sejahtera dirinya). In other words, the issue at hand is just symptomatic of a larger “invasion” into the university system that now acts as a defunct idea of the corporate version. Whereas in the case of the latter the CEO has autonomy to call the shots, not so for the former.

In contrast, the university council that was hijacked in the name of corporatisation was inherently autonomous. The chairman is elected by the council, and he/she could even be a politician from the opposition party. This is the case for the University of Malaya where Dr Tan Chee Khoon (an opposition leader) was elected as chairman (think of the recent PAC chairman) after serving the council for the longest time from 1950s. And he left a significant mark on the development of the oldest university in the country.

In hindsight, we have got it right and we have proven it to the world. But then change our stance for political expediency. And that is where the problem lies distracted by the current hoo-ha that is more of a symptom of deeper interference that must be stopped once and for all as the new government has given its assurance.

Indeed, we have been barking at the wrong tree yet a again. Turning a mountain out of a molehill without really discerning what the root of the problem is.

The writer is the rector of IIUM and chairman of USIM. He also served as the 5th USM vice-chancellor (2000-2011).

Embracing Merdeka spirit with sports

AS Malaysia celebrates her 61st Independence Day, I am asked this question – what is a major unifying factor that is not given enough emphasis in our country?

Having just witnessed the euphoria of the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, the biggest multi-sport games after the Olympic Games, my answer would undoubtedly point to sports.

We saw how Malaysians rejoiced with joy and pride when our athletes, men and women, struck gold, silver or bronze medals. Their feats in Indonesia were just the right tonic for a nation that has endured many challenges of late.

Malaysians stood united and cheered for the national contingent as true Malaysians, and not as Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban or Kadazan. Besides sports and during festive occasions, when else have we displayed a true spirit of Malaysia Boleh?

Our strength as a multicultural nation started since our conception in 1957, leading up to the unification with Sabah and Sarawak in 1963, and was followed through the decades when people stood united and rooted for many occasions and celebrations, including sports. And when our team performed well, especially on the world stage, all of us celebrated wholeheartedly together as Malaysians.

I must emphasise that sports, until today, is a great unifying factor. Malaysians forget about race, religion and who they are when they come together to support their national team. We have all witnessed that at the recent Asian Games, and also not forgetting the last Rio Olympics.

Just as in the glory days of our national football team where we saw players of all races and religion such as M. Chandran, Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar Dahari or “Super Mokh”, Santokh Singh, R. Arumugam, Shukor Salleh, James Wong and Hassan Sani were our heroes, and whose names may not be about being the best in the world, but about being passionate, united and devoted to the game that allowed us to even qualify for the Olympics twice, in 1972 and 1980.

It is imperative that racial politics be completely removed from our sporting recruitment. Instead, the focus has to shift to producing the best athletes the nation has ever seen, just as how we have cheered and supported our own world champions Datuk Nicol David and Datuk Lee Chong Wei as well as Shalin Zulkifli and Pandalela Rinong in their respective world-breaking feats.

It is also with great pride that I recall the 2003 QI-IBF Badminton World Championships in Birmingham, England where I was given the opportunity to present medals to the winning players including our own Wong Choong Hann who finished runner-up. At this juncture, we also remember the many other champions who have done the country proud including the famed Sidek brothers, namely Misbun, Razif, Jalani, Rashid and Rahman.

Unfortunately, when sports is taken out of the equation, Malaysians tend to focus and be bogged down by religious and racial strives that threaten to tear our society apart.

We need to bring back the glory days of the 70s and 80s when the whole nation sat glued to their television sets without so much as a thought of race, religion, creed, colour or upbringing differences, but with only one purpose in mind – to cheer for Team Malaysia during the Thomas Cup and Merdeka Football tournaments.

The question that comes to mind is how do we get Malaysians to always unite, especially through sports? It’s quite straightforward.

We need to create champions, those with a passion for excellence and who will be role models for the younger generation.

The people behind the sporting associations should not be politicians, but those who are passionate about sports and are genuinely interested in taking the game to greater heights.

Instead of bickering about petty differences, we should be investing in the best coaches to achieve our quest for that elusive gold medal come the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. There should be an effort to include the public in conversations involving national sports. This undoubtedly will bring about the closeness and camaraderie among people, which cannot be inculcated in classrooms or through lectures.

In order to overcome challenges that the nation is facing, especially in fostering race relations and national unity, we need to first liberalise the education system at all levels.

Malaysia is a beautiful country with a great future if only our diversity becomes our unity and we get the best people to lead us.

Coming back to sports, opportunities should be given to all Malaysians to participate in national games, be it as a coach or a player. National recruitment must be based on merit, and nothing else. I believe that there is no better time than now for Malaysians to come together as one nation for the betterment of the country as a whole.

The younger generation are now more mature, more intelligent, better educated, tech-savvy and more tolerant.

They are passionate about seeing Malaysia rise to the top.

What we need now is for everyone to wake up and realise this phenomenon because Malaysians are more concerned about employment, income, health and education, instead of the age-old ramblings of differences in race, religion, sex or age. More importantly, the people want to remain united under the Malaysia Boleh umbrella.

It certainly is a wonderful gift for all of us as we partake in all Merdeka Day celebrations. I am sure the medal-winning performances of our Asian Games athletes will be a great topic of conversation over teh tarik and roti canai, nasi lemak or thosai. By now, most of us would be pretty tired of discussing politics anyway.

This National Day, let’s remember the initial foundations that this country was built upon, and together, let’s celebrate Mahathir’s Malaysia Boleh simply because “Malaysia Memang Boleh”.

Vijay Eswaran is executive chairman of QI Group. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Burma’s crimes go unpunished

AS the genocidal horrors in Myanmar unfold, I am kicking myself for having risked my skin to go see then sainted leader, Aung San Sun Kyi.

This event occurred in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1996 when Suu Kyi was the revered democratic opposition leader resisting the nation’s brutal military regime. The western media loved her, as it always does third world female politicians fighting dictatorships and thugs.

The saintly Suu Kyi was even given a Nobel Prize by Sweden’s always giddy liberals.

To get to Suu Kyi’s compound in suburban Rangoon, I rented a car and a terrific driver named Mr Alexander, and we wove our way through many police checkpoints, risking arrest at each one. Somehow we managed to get to her compound to hear the famous lady speak. She looked very lovely and fragile.

Like my fellow journalists, I felt great sympathy for her. Unlike them, I wondered how, if she ever came to power, this frail, bird-like creature could hold together wild and crazy Burma, a turbulent nation of 43 million that is a stew of scores of angry ethnic groups and religions – a sort of Asian Yugoslavia. As I feared back then, she was proven unfit for this heavy task.

Once rich Burma was bankrupted and dirt poor after many years of dictatorial rule by eccentric army general Ne Win who terrorised his people and practised necromancy, other black arts and socialism.

General Win used the large Burmese Army to battle the nation’s many ethnic secessionists: Shan, Karen, Mon, Wa, Chinese. He persecuted the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state.

Ne Win was finally kicked upstairs by younger army generals. They continued the brutal dictatorship and repression of Rakhine’s Muslims, 4% of the population, who were ethnically linked to the Bengalis of neighbouring Bangladesh.

In fact, Burma has been oppressing and dispossessing the Rakhine Muslims for decades – it’s just that no one outside Burma paid any attention.

Burma’s majority Buddhists, 87% of the population, and their powerful monkish clergy, wanted a state without Muslims.

The western powers imposed heavy economic sanctions on Burma that left it isolated and stuck in a time warp of the 1940’s.

Finally, Burma’s ruling military junta wised up and put Suu Kyi in de facto power, backed by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This was Clinton’s biggest mistake before the murder of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The western critics of Burma fell silent and the punishing western economic boycott ended. Foreign cash flowed in. Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi made nice speeches and won accolades abroad. But the military still ruled.

Burma’s dour, unsmiling generals remained in charge of everything important, including the lucrative timber and emerald trade, while Suu Kyi was left to make nice speeches about democracy. She, apparently, agreed to this Faustian deal.

Meanwhile, Burma’s army struck the Muslim Rohingya of Rakhine. In a long-planned offensive, their villages were burned to the ground and their women gang raped by Burmese soldiers.

Ten thousand Muslims are reported killed, and 710,000 fled into neighbouring Bangladesh where they now subsist in primitive camps.

UN observers have reported this was “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing – the 2017 version”.

Rakhine’s Muslims where among the most wretched people on earth even before ethnic terrorism began. No one had helped them except UN aid agencies.

Suu Kyi has done next to nothing to protect them or stop the genocide. She simply can’t admit that she is a powerless figurehead run by the generals. The saintly lady has been revealed to be a sock puppet.

China, which has great strategic interest in Burma as a gateway to the Indian Ocean from its western region, is a long-time backer of the Burmese military junta. It can thwart any action thanks to its seat on the UN Security – the same way the US protects Israel at the UN from censure and war crimes charges.

The nation that could have helped the Rohingyas, Saudi Arabia, self-proclaimed Defender of Islam, was too busy killing Yemeni Muslims and destroying Syria to take any notice.

The Koran enjoins Muslims to help their co-religionists in distress or peril, but the obscenely rich Saudis ignored pleas to help the oppressed Rohingyas, just as they shunned pleas of help from the Muslims of Bosnia whose women were being raped and murdered.

China, which is busy trying to crush the life and religion out of its own Uighur Muslims, is encouraging ally Burma. The generals in Rangoon know they have carte blanche to commit more crimes.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Revisiting privatisation’s claims

SEVERAL arguments have been advanced to justify privatisation since the 1980s. Privatisation has been advocated as an easy means to:
> Reduce the government’s financial and administrative burden, particularly by undertaking and maintaining services and infrastructure;
> Promote competition, improve efficiency and increase productivity in providing public services;
> Stimulate private entrepreneurship and investment to accelerate economic growth;
> Help reduce the public sector’s presence and size, with its monopolistic tendencies and bureaucratic support.

Moot case for privatisation

First, privatisation is supposed to reduce the government’s financial and administrative burdens, particularly in providing services and infrastructure. Earlier public sector expansion was increasingly seen as the problem, rather than part of the solution. Thus, reducing the government’s role and burden was expected to be popular.

Second, privatisation was believed by some to be a means to promote competition, improve efficiency and increase productivity in service delivery. This belief was naïve, confusing the question of ownership with that of promoting competition.

It was believed that privatisation would somehow encourage competition, not recognising that competition and property rights are distinct, and not contingent issues. Associated with this was the presumption that competition would automatically result in greater efficiency as well as improved productivity, not recognising economies of scale and scope in many instances.

Third, privatisation was expected to stimulate private entrepreneurship and investment. There is also a popular, but naïve belief that privatisation was going to stimulate private entrepreneurship when, in fact, the evidence is strong, in Malaysia and elsewhere, that privatisation often crowds out the likelihood of small and medium-sized enterprises actually emerging to fill the imagined void, presumed to exist following privatisation.

Admittedly, there is scope for new entrepreneurship with privatisation as new ways and ideas offered by the private sector are considered – or reconsidered – as the new privatised entity seeks to maximise the profits/rents to be secured with privatisation.

However, the private purchase of previously public property, in itself, does not augment real economic assets. Private funds are thus diverted, to take over state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and consequently diminished, rather than augmented. Hence, private funds are less available for investing in the real economy, in building new economic capacities and capabilities.

Fourth, privatisation was supposed to reduce public sector monopolies, but there is often little evidence of significant erosion of the monopolies enjoyed by privatised SOEs. Arguably, technological change and innovation, e.g., in telecommunications, were far more significant in eroding privatised monopolies and reducing costs to consumers, than privatisation per se.

From the 1980s, if not before, various studies have portrayed the public sector as a cesspool of abuse, inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. Books and articles, often with clever titles such as ‘vampire state’, ‘bureaucrats in business’ and so on, provided the justification for privatisation.

Undoubtedly, there were some real horror stories, which have been conveniently and frequently cited as supposedly representative of all SOEs. But other experiences can also be cited to show that SOEs can be run quite efficiently, even on commercial bases, confounding the dire predictions of the prophets of public sector doom.

Has privatisation improved efficiency?

Although some SOEs have been better run and are deemed more efficient after privatisation, the overall record has hardly been consistent. Thus, it is important to ascertain when and why there have been improvements, or otherwise. It is also important to remember that better-run privatised SOEs, in and of themselves, do not necessarily serve the national or public interest better.

Undoubtedly, most SOEs can be better run and become more efficient. But this is not always the case as some SOEs are indeed already well-run. For instance, very few privatisation advocates would insist that most SOEs in Singapore are poorly run.

As its SOEs are generally considered well-run, public ownership is not used there to explain poor governance, management or abuse; instead, public ownership is recognized there as the reason for public accountability, better governance and management.

Principal-agent managerial delegation dilemma

Hence, in different contexts, with appropriately strict supervision, SOEs can be and have indeed been better run. Privatisation, in itself, does not solve managerial delegation problems, i.e., the principal-agent problem, as it is not a problem of public ownership per se.

With SOEs, the principal is the state or the government while the agents are the managers and supervisors, who may – or may not – pursue the objectives intended by the principal.

This is a problem faced by many organisations. It is also a problem for private enterprises or corporations, especially large ones, especially where the principal (shareholders) may not be able to exercise effective supervision or control over the agent.

Also, natural monopolies (such as public utilities) are often deemed inefficient due to the monopolistic nature of the industry or market. The question that arises then is whether private monopoly is better, even with regulation intended to protect the public interest.

The answer needs to be ascertained analytically on the basis of evidence, and cannot be presumed a priori. If an industry is a natural monopoly, what does privatisation achieve? Often, it means a transfer to private hands, which can be problematic and possibly dangerous for the public interest. – IPS

Give MACC power to prosecute

IN LINE with the spirit of tackling corruption in the country, more power should be given to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to carry out its duties without any interference from anyone.

MACC is the main body investigating cases related to corruption, and having the foremost role in anti-corruption initiatives nationwide.

It was established in line with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 (Act 694).

The functions are clearly defined under Section 7 of the MACC Act 2009 as follows:

> to receive and consider any report of the commission of an offence under this Act and investigate such of the reports as the Chief Commissioner or the officers consider practicable,

> to detect and investigate
(i) any suspected offence under this Act,
(ii) any suspected attempt to commit any offence under this Act; and
(iii) any suspected conspiracy to commit any offence under this Act,

> to examine the practices, systems and procedures of public bodies in order to facilitate the discovery of offences in Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission under this Act and to secure the revision of such practices, systems or procedures as in the opinion of the Chief Commissioner may be conducive to corruption,

> to instruct, advise and assist any person, on the latter’s request, on ways in which corruption may be eliminated by such person,

> to advise heads of public bodies of any changes in practices, systems or procedures compatible with the effective discharge of the duties of the public bodies as the Chief Commissioner thinks necessary to reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of corruption,

> to educate the public against corruption, and

> to enlist and foster public support against corruption.

Though MACC has the power to investigate corruption cases, it would be weird if it cannot put forward its cases for prosecution in court.

Article 145 (3) of the Federal Constitution provides that the Attorney-General (AG) has absolute power to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence other than proceedings before a syariah court, a native court or a court-martial.

In this regard, Section 376 (i) of the Criminal Procedure Code provides that “The Attorney-General shall be the Public Prosecutor and shall have the control and direction of all criminal prosecutions under this Code”.

Such power given to AG is also clearly stated in court cases like the case of Long bin Samat v PP (1974) 2 MLJ 152 and Karpal Singh & Yang Lain v PP (1991) 2 MLJ 544.

Under Malaysian administration of criminal justice the investigation of crimes is primarily the responsibility of the police.

The MACC is also empowered under the MACC Act 2009 to investigate corruption offences and to arrest suspects.

The preliminary investigation of any offence is carried out by an officer of the commission.

Such investigations may commerce as a consequence of a complaint received for an offence alleged to have been committed, or in certain circumstances as a result of information obtained by MACC.

Upon completion of investigations, the relevant investigation papers will be sent to the AG’s Chambers.

If the AG is satisfied that sufficient evidence is available to prosecute a person for a particular offence, then he will sanction the prosecution.

To give MACC prosecutorial powers, it will require an amendment to be made to Article 145 (3) of the Federal Constitution and provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code that vest the power to prosecute lies solely in the hands of the AG as a public prosecutor.

If this option too difficult to be realised, we can also consider creating a separate office for the AG and a public prosecutor with the public prosecutor being granted the mandate to act independently in accordance with public interest.

By doing this, it can improve perceptions of the public on the impartiality of the prosecution cases.

Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Syariah & Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM). Comments: letters@thesundaily.com