Friday, June 19, 2015

LONDON Diary part VI


Everyday of your life if you are able to enjoy health, peace and tranquility is a bliss. No one and no country is perfect. As ungrateful homosapiens we like to complain and think somewhere else is better. The English has a good expression the grass is greener on the other side only to find out when you are there it is not. There were elements in the British administration who opposed to give Malaya their independence on the ground it would be a failed state because of its ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.They know this as they have placed the different races into seperate compartments with the divide and rule policy. 

When the Malays wanted independent the British wanted them to bring all the ethnic group into one political party. Dato Onn agreed and tried to bring the Chinese and Indians into UMNO. The Malays and the others rejected it eventhough he tried to put pressure on UMNO he could not carry the party with him. He decided to leave and formed a multi ethnic party but failed to ge the support due to lack of acceptance. When Tunku was brought to the political scence of Malaya he knew the British precondition for independence and he did what the British wanted but chose a different methodology from Dato Onn. 

Thus the birth of Alliance which later on matured into BN under Tun Razak. I am relating in a very simple brief how we begun our nation... We managed because our forefathers accomodated and compromised. They accepted the challenge and refused to allow Malaysia to become a failed state. Many leaders whether named or not or remembered or not had contributed to what we are today. History and our geography are all there for us to understand and accept. After 57 years of independence we must recognise that this nation was built on accomodation and compromise. There was tolerant and harmony. Dont open up these factors of success but look forward to build a new Malaysia based on appreciation and respect for diversity. We should start to think how Malaysia should politically be, its role at the regional and international spheres. There is so much we can learn from Britain and US.but dont make the mistakes of trying to replicate or copy them..We have evolved and let us continue to do so.

FB SHA@London@12 Jun 2015

LONDON Diary part V


We walked from Lancaster gate to Paddington station which is about half a km to catch a circle/district line train. I have not done so much walking for a long long time....going through the parks, roads, streets and mews covering so many kms. If not walking I'm in a tube or taxis to go somewhere. Never for a moment we got lost because the journey planner for all means of public transport is just excellent. The taxi drivers are a class of their own..The most difficult part from the first time I set foot in UK is getting use to the English weather...when I spoke to my British friend about the unpredictability of the weather, he just laughed and said that's the beauty of English weather where you can get four seasons in one day.. I knew then the best way is to accept whatever is coming. For the whole day we had sunshine and clear blue sky. 

In order to go to Tower Hill we had to take a circle line . We had 15 stops before we reached Tower Hill where the London Tower and the London Bridge are located. The Tower had an interesting history when it was built by William the Conqueror in the early 1080s. It was a royal palace, a Fotress, a prison, a place of execution and today its most famous function is as a place where the crown jewels of successive monarchs are kept. It is now accepted as a world heritage. Whilst London Bridge in all its form started during the period of the Romans who founded the city of London. The bridge have spanned over the the River Thames to Southwark in central London. It has been built over and over again in different forms. 

In term of the modern steel and concrete structure it started in 1973. Going back to my journey on the circle line which took us 45 minutes to reach, the interesting point that stuck to my mind is the announcement at every departure and stops without failed giving the direction to go and which exit to take and to where. Additionally there is a continous safety announcement to remind the passengers to mind the gap. Everything that is done is always for the benefit and convenient of passengers. Its a week day, yet it is crowded with people into and from the stations as well as people walking to places of interest.You can hear the hustle bustle of school children, university students and ordinary people from every walk of life and part of the world. We could hear people speaking different languages. Its so alive and exuberant. There are side cafes and eateries located at different areas. Its not too pricey to choose food of your liking. Its difficult at this location to find halal food, so we always end up eating vegetarian or seafood. But most of the time we are still spoiled by the quality food prepared by my wife Aziah. 

How time flies, without even counting the days tomorrow we are leaving for home by Malaysian Airlines or whatever is left of it. I suppose we are already feeling the stress of homesickness. I thought in this age that is passing quickly I could still be with my family who are married with small children of their own except for my eldest girl and her husband Haidar who due to their job constraint were not able to be with us. I wanted to remember something but at the end of it I'm not sure whether I succeeded or not. Again in this trip there is something unusual as everyday I'm full of inspirations to write. I thus slowly sit in one quite corner facing the hyde park to write whatever I could remember or wanted to say, posting them with all the spelling and grammar mistakes. Only after the posting I or Aziah would do the editting. Actually I rely on my wife to go through and correct since her English is better than mine. 

This holiday or the semblance of it since at the sideline of it I met different people to discuss on the issues of Rohingya and other Muslims whose fate is not given fair and equal attention by the international community. I did not even bother to know where I would be or do next.

FB SHA@London@12 June 2015

LONDON Diary part IV


Today I spent time remembering what I've written earlier. Unfortunately my samsung telephone is so sensitive before I could even post I touched the wrong button and the whole article got wiped out. 

I made my way to King Charles Street on the 10th day of June. It is a street where the British Foreign Office is located. It is close to St James Park and close to no.10, Downing Street the residence of the British Prime Minister. No 11 is the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not far from there is the Westminter Abbey and the Westminister where the British House of Commons and House of Lords are located. As a student I visited these places as part of my fascination of British Colonial history. I was able to be at closer range when I was a Cabinet Minister of Malaysia for almost twenty years 1990 2009, almost 10 of which I served as a Foreign Minister under Mahathir Mohammad and Abdullah Badawi. These addresses are important landmarks of the corridor of power of Britain. 

I was a Member of Parliament for Kota Tinggi for five terms. I did a lot for this rural constituency. I remember when I took the seat from Tun Musa the area was without proper water supply electricity and telephone facilities. Now it has good roads and better road connectivity from village to village. I even manage to get a beautiful bridge connecting Tanjung Sedeli to Sedeli Besar. I got out at the right time. Currently politics have changed so much with the advance of technology and IT. The public are better informed and critical of the government of the day. There is so much debate on governance, transparency and accountability. For me these are laudable principles that should be strictly observed. The social media has become the primary media for dissemination of information. Does not matter whether it is true or otherwise. 

After so long I once again came to the same spot where I met the former Foreign Secretary of UK Robin Cook and his successor Jack Straw. The Foreign Office is in the same period building not affected by development. It was built in 1861 and completed 1868, designed by George Gilbert Scott. I still need to climb the stairs and the floor bares the same tiles . When I was brought up the officials told me this must be a familiar passage way. I just noted in agreement. The building is too low to fix a lift. Anyway the British are a class of their own in maintaining heritage. The obvious change is I have to go to the reception to get my visitors pass and my photograph taken. With my photo taken and placed on the pass I was allowed entry but the guard had to swipe his card to allow me entry. My remarks to the officials was the security is quite tight to enter the Foreign Office and the officials responded by saying nowadays you cannot take chances. We entered through a dark corridor before reaching a very comfortable room where all of us were seated. In a true stiff upper lip of the British civil servants we started discussing the subject of Burma. The meeting lasted for almost 45 minutes and then all of us departed to the main street. We went our own separate ways. 

I crossed the road and looked back at the foreign office and then stared at Westminister. During my time Malaysia was a great advocate that trade and economic matters should not be used as a tool for compliance of human rights, democracy and child labour. The west on the other hand were lecturing us that this must be seen together or else...we were advocating for constructive engagement....they were insisting on a policy of containment for non compliance with liberal democracy, free trade and market economy. Today the western democracy has become more tolerant as they focus their FP's on economics, trade and investments. Opportunities are in abundance in Asia. Issues of Human Rights, breaches of humanitarian law or even the not so perfect democracy or military government or military coup is quietly accepted . How times have changed. To cry or to applaud.

FB SHA@London@10 June 2015

LONDON Diary part III


Life is like a roller coaster....or some people say what comes up must come down.The ups and downs is not as straight forward as we want it to be..All needs to be managed properly and wisely. Often we think we are cleverer or trying to be clever but it will bring us no where if we lack wisdom. I like coming back to UK as it brings me nostalgic feelings of all kinds. We can try to look back on the many passages of life that we went through. For me I started being overseas as a student in Australia. I did my Matriculation in the best school- Geelong Grammar School. I was reading economics and politics in Monash University. I was not focussed and did not like what I did...since I wanted to do law...During that time in the early sixties the Australian law degree might not qualify me to join the judicial and legal service or practise law...

I did not even bother to appeal to repeat when I failed my first. I just went home and told my parents I wanted to go to UK to do law...Somehow or rather my parents were not upset with me. They agreed. When I think about it now, my Walid must have tremendous confidence on me. My mum was very supportive as she said from small I always wanted to be a lawyer. She must considered this was a perfect choice. Somehow or rather I decided to go back to school and my mentor was Pak Wan from the Malayan Students Dept. A dedicated and committed officer who was always kind and generous to us under his care. He told me since I wanted to go back to school the best place is to be away from London., so he found me a place in Oxford. That is how I landed there. 

Here was an opportunity to improve my English which I did. Coming from a Malay school and home environment I am proud at least I could now speak and write better English. It was tough for my Walid but he worked very hard to give me good education. I took my 'O' level English and 'A' levels in Constitutional Law, Economics and Religious Knowledge (Bible) in extra quick time. The principal of the School advised me against taking religious knowledge in Christianity since the subject was not taught in School. I insisted so kindly wished me luck and told me its not easy without proper teacher guidance. When I passed all the subjects he was quite pleased with my results. He wrote me a beautiful testimonial for my Inns of Court. Unfortunately I did not have the sense to keep a copy of the testimonial of my own. 

I qualified as a barrister from Middle Temple in 1970 and went back to work straightaway as I was married in my final year. The reason I was married off early was my mother's fear that I would marry someone not to her liking. Moreover with many friends anything could have happened for an eligible bachelor like me. None of my children agreed for me or Aziah to choose their partner for life. When we could afford we keep coming back to UK to relive our past and to remember what life was. Aziah was extraordinarily patient with me for which I am grateful. If not for her I don't think our marriage could last the test of time. We went through some difficult time as everything was not enough financially for the both of us. She was young and inexperienced but she managed to get a job in a packing company to help me defray our living cost. She had to cook, wash and walked with me in sunshine and freezing cold winter to buy our household needs. 

When I was working as a GM of BBMB in Bahrain and London we lived better and comfortably. I suppose she got rewarded for her patience. Similarly when I was a Minister in a number of our travels we stopped over in London , moreover our children were all studying here. There is so much for us to come back and see. Things that have changed and did not. We liked to walk through Hyde park, regents park, st john's wood high street, golders green, oxford street, marble arch, braynston square, bond street and new bond street.....etc....Some things have changed over time. If before you didn't see people sleeping on the streets or people stopping you for some money, today it is a frequent encounter. I believe nothing remains static and similarly life today is different and values have changed. What was not acceptable legally and morally but now it is the other way around. 

When I was working in the city of London real estates prices was relatively cheap, today property prices have rocketted sky high. Hotel room rates and cost of renting apartments have also gone up so high... but the strange part people still keep coming to London and other parts of UK. 

FB SHA@London@10 June 2015

LONDON Diary part II


Today another day that I walked down memory lane. As it is summer, our solat time requires a lot of getting used to, adjustments and discipline. As this is something that we can't do as we like we make the necessary adjustments. Our day here began early and the night was short. This means we went to bed late. This morning of June 7th we had decided on what we wanted to do the night before. My wife Aziah the chef extraordinaire asked the children to be in our apartment early to have a specially prepared breakfast of toasted bread with sunny side up eggs and chicken and beef sausages. Everyone agreed for today we would visit the British Museum...the Egyptian section and Kew Garden. All of us undertook to leave the apartment by 9.30am but with so many of us we finally left at 10 am. 

The next thing was off to the tube station, which was just across the road. This reminded me of my previous experiences as a student and when we first got married more than 45 years ago....going on the tube for the umpteenth times for college, visit friends or to go to work. The only difference now I don't run to get to the station and on the train. Some of the stations and trains are much better than it was. Another interesting change is cash is not popular. To buy the tickets you are required to have credit cards and to travel on the bus or train you have to buy the one day travel card or buy the oyster card which allow you to go on the bus or train without having to pay anymore. This is much cheaper, convenient and faster. This is what we call seamless travels. Malaysia is going to introduce this system and hope it will be well received by the operators and public. 

The whole day we spent an outing to the British Museum and Kew Garden. Never a dull moment. Interesting and always a lot to see and explain to our younger ones on our experience and interesting anecdotes during our time visiting these places and going up and down the trains. I think the public transport here is built with a lot of attention for the handicap and senior citizens. Even the passengers will offer their seats for people with small children and to the old. Its nice to see people observe manners and courtesy.. We ended the day by having dinner at a Chinese Muslim noodle Restaurant in Bayswater. Today I have not thought of anything to do yet....

FB SHA@London@9 June 2015

LONDON Diary part I


Since I arrived in London, I continue to be amazed at the P.Transport..We arrived in the early hour of the morning. We hired two Mercedes Benz what I consider mini buses to bring the twelve of us with our luggages to our rented apartment in the city. We had a beautiful place near the Lancaster gate tube station. The apartment is facing Hyde park. Its just an ideal location in every sense of the word. Everyday I just cross the traffic light and immediately get into the park. Not a single day is left idle. I see so many people busy themselves walking or running in the park. The whole park covered an enormous area but its beauty is the shaded old trees, all kinds of bushy plants and flowers. This is the period of bright sun shine n fresh air. I can feel my lungs absorbed the oxygen happily...The smell of fresh flowers and herbs is an added happiness to me...not a worry in the world. The park has all kinds of habitats. A variety of species of birds chirping their individual version of sounds to add music to the serene environment. They are the only orchestra accompanying us on our morning walks. The ducks and swans enjoying themselves peddling round the lakes or waiting to be fed by children and their accompanying adults. They happily accept the humans generosity...everyone understood this relationship. Even the squirrels here is well fed, friendly and agreeable to come to you asking for food. The dogs are all over the place taken for a walk or exercise...fantastic scene...no one throws rubbish...the morning walkers would greet us with a friendly good morning...there are so many foreigners who feel at home and welcome...on top of that Muslims man n women in their own attires are not greeted with animosity. 

In Europe, UK must be the most tolerant and harmonious country that enjoy its multi-culturalism....and gained from it..here you feel safe.. even their PT is so friendly... I and the rest of us a family of 12 all went up the bus and told the driver where we wanted to go only to be told we were on the wrong side of the street....we should take the bus going the other way...we alighted and cross the road. We got on the right bus but when we wanted to pay we were told that they can't accept cash anymore. We were about to get off when the bus driver saw so many of us, with my grand children and my special girl he said never mind I give u a free ride. An act of kindness. I was touched. So when we arrived at our destination we got off...I went to the front to thank him profusely...we waved goodbye....as if we had been friends..similarly when we take the London cabs the drivers were friendly and know every inch of the road...when they see traffic jam they take or find alternative routes..they never take advantage of us as tourists...or because they think we are foreigners...we are happy passengers that feel safe and satisfied...UK has so many places for tourists and all the year round you see plenty of visitors...here is the cosmopolitan London...you can get food n fine cuisine originating from all corners of the world..even money changers can be found everywhere. 

Everything here seems to be catering for the tourists..in short as if there is a signage of welcome...at the railway station we wanted to buy tickets to go to Oxford...we did not have to go to the counters...there are friendly staffs moving on the platform meeting you with mobile credit card machines to advise us the price, the platform and the departure time n platforms. He was so courteous to have a small chat to ask us where we are from...very pleasant n friendly.with warmth and smiles.similarly when we arrived in oxford we were greeted with friendliness..we also got on the hop on n hop off bus...to get a fantastic conducted tour fitted with ear phones with information on the history of oxford n its colleges.. it was to us fantastic...we were there for nostalgia...I did my A level in a school in oxford...and my daughter graduated from oxford Brookes University..it was a nice walk...we met a Malay family whilst walking at one of the colleges of oxford university ..a Malay lady n her husband recognised me and greeted us...i forgot her name but proud when she said she teaches at the university n now is a supervisor for PHD students.. we have gone places n achieve a lot..what a short experience n encounters...

FB SHA@London@7 June 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Myanmar needs ASEAN, UN help to fix Rohingya Crisis


As every crisis unfolds, the true nature of its players is inevitably revealed in the choices made and the actions taken. A large number of people fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh to Southeast Asia presents governments and people of the region with an intricately complex problem, but we must choose to take responsible actions that will shape the legacies of this generation of leaders.

Some reports say as many as 8,000 migrants are stranded at sea. Those who have come ashore speak of death and deprivation at the hands of criminal gangs. Southeast Asian nations are turning them away, in name of the campaign to crack down on human trafficking, but effectively condemning them to death at sea because they are denied anywhere to land. We are inviting a worst case scenario in which boats filled with the dead drift in the oceans in a gruesome testament to inhumanity.

Since the discovery of mass graves of migrants who died at the hands of human-traffickers along the Thai-Malaysian border it has become clear trafficking is one piece of a much larger, multi-dimensional and transnational challenge. The discovery of thousands of men, many trafficked and even enslaved in Benjina, Indonesia, is another indication of the scale of the problem of the irregular movement of people in Southeast Asia.

There must be a paradigm shift from piecemeal isolated efforts in a crackdown on the criminals running the business of trafficking, to a comprehensive transnational set of policies enacted by governments, law enforcers and all involved parties to tackle the causes and mechanisms fuelling the human trafficking business - and protect the migrants' lives and rights.

Rohingya leaders in Myanmar's western Rakhine State report rising deprivation and segregation causes more Muslims to turn to trafficking gangs that operate in the Bay of Bengal. An estimated 100,000 Rohingya have fled the state since violence broke out in 2012. Thousands more are kept in camps after being displaced by the violence. 

The only way to escape their misery is by turning to traffickers who take them by boat to transit camps in Thailand for eventual transportation to Malaysia and elsewhere. Survivors of the camps in southern Thailand describe regular beatings, torture and killings by the traffickers, in order to extract money from the migrants' families. Human rights advocates have described "a widespread pattern of death, torture and exploitation". 

The crackdown comes just weeks after an Associated Press investigation uncovered the slavery of hundreds of men, on Benjina island, Indonesia who said they were tricked or lured into working for years in appalling conditions on boats allegedly owned and crewed by Thai nationals, to fish and process seafood distributed to the USA, Europe and Asia.

Again this is not an isolated incident. The International Labour Organisation estimates 17% of workers in the sector are subjected to forced labour. As many as 4,000 men were stranded on islands surrounding Benjina.

Many of the workers have yet to go home. Some chose to remain and demand their wages.  Indonesian and Thai authorities pledged to take further action to prevent abuse.

Asean foreign ministers must hold an emergency meeting to discuss this serious regional humanitarian dilemma and form a task force to tackle the problem as a matter of urgency.

The United Nations is in the best position to take the lead on international support to find immediate and longer term agreements acceptable to all stakeholders to save more lives.

One possible model for coordination of national, regional and international responses is the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) formed in 2008 after Myanmar was devastated by Cyclone Nargis.

The TCG brought together the Myanmar government, Asean and the United Nations and allowed the delivery of desperately needed help under the leadership of an Asean task force. There is no reason this could not be replicated and adapted appropriately for this crisis.

The source of the problem is the situation in Myanmar, which must take responsibility through engagement and regional cooperation for humanitarian assistance, poverty reduction and inclusive development of Rakhine State.

Without durable solutions, this will continue to affect regional human security in both Myanmar specifically, and Asean as a whole. This is why former Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, former Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya and I took the unprecedented step of writing to Asean leaders, calling for active engagement to address this matter, last month.

We urgently need to work with Myanmar to reduce the desperation and other push factors causing Rohingya to leave Myanmar in boats. We need to help Myanmar fulfill its obligations according to international humanitarian law.

In the meantime, we also need to ensure that Rohingya already in the region, children in particular, have access to safety, food, shelter and the education necessary to build their ability to help their community.

The rapidly escalating dangers of unprecedented migration from the Bay of Bengal to Southeast Asia is nothing less than a test of our capacity for humanity.

Syed Hamid Albar was Malaysia's foreign minister from 1999 to 2008 and is currently the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) special envoy on Myanmar and founder of the non-government organisation Humaniti.

publish on bangkok post, 18 May 2015