Sunday, April 26, 2015

Berdiam


Apakah lebih baik berdiam diri melihat segala kesilapan yang berlaku atau menegur untuk membawa kebaikan? Kalau mengikut ajaran agama, sekiranya kamu melihat sesuatu kemungkaran hendaklah menyekatnya dengan menggunakan tangan (jika kita ada kekuatan atau kuasa), jika tidak berhasil gunakan mulut (memberi nasihat atau cadangan), dan kalau tidak berhasil juga maka gunakan hati atau berdoa kerana itu adalah selemah-lemah iman. Mengikut surah Al Asr' . "Demi masa, sesungguhnya manusia itu berada dalam kerugian. Melainkan orang-orang beriman dan mengerjakan amal soleh dan mereka pula berpesan-pesan dengan kebenaran serta berpesan-pesan dengan sabar".

Oleh sebab itu saya cuba memandukan kehidupan seharian saya dengan bercakap dan cuba menulis untuk memberi sedikit sumbangan atau nasihat untuk umat dan negara supaya kita bersama dapat menjamin masa depan yang lebih cemerlang. Tetapi ramai yang hanya suka membaca tajuk dan mendengar cerita dan terus mempercayainya walhal ianya bukan dari sumber yang asal lantas membuat rumusan terhadap sikap seseorang dengan tidak tepat. Pendekatan begini amat merbahaya samada selaku pemimpin ataupun rakyat biasa dan ianya tidak akan mengeluarkan kita dari kegelapan kepada cahaya bagi mencari jalan keluar dari kebuntuan. Ada pula golongan yang suka menceritakan seolah tiada masalah dan semuanya berjalan lancar dan baik kepada bosnya sedangkan keadaan sebenar adalah di sebaliknya. Pemimpin pun mula berasa tenang dan selesa. Golongan ini tidak akan membenarkan sesiapa menyampaikan perkara sebenar kerana beranggapan pemimpin akan tersinggung. Justru pendekatan bercerita atau menasihati perkara yang benar adalah tidak popular dan mungkin akan menimbulkan kemarahan pemimpin dan penyokongnya. Selalunya bila keadaan tiba ke tahap ini pemimpin akan terpedaya dan pastinya tidak dapat bertindak dengan tepat. 

Akhirnya penyokong-penyokong dan orang lain pun mula memilih jalan selamat dan menyembunyi kebenaran dari pengetahuan pemimpin mereka. Inilah punca pemimpin tidak dapat merasai dan memahami perasaan dan sensitiviti sebenar rakyat di peringkat akar umbi dan tidak mampu menjawab keresahan dan persoalan-persoalan yang ditimbulkan rakyat. Di persekitaran beginilah akan timbulnya golongan yang pandai mengampu dan menganggap dengan cara ini sajalah mereka akan selamat dan dapat mengukuhkan kerjaya, kedudukan dan status pemimpinnya dan sekaligus dapat menguatkan diri mereka. 

Orang yang suka bercakap benar akan disisihkan, atau dianggap penentang dan pandangan bernas mereka sering tidak diambil peduli. Maka lahirlah sindrom bisu dan hanya membiarkan sahaja apa jua perkara yang berlaku di depan mata termasuk perkara yang negatif. Akhirnya fenomena membiarkan si luncai terjun dengan labu-labunya akan menjadi prinsip mereka yang berkata benar. Mereka akan terus berpegang kepada prinsip biarlah masa menentukan segala-galanya dan tindakan untuk membenterasnya pada masa yang tepat akan ditolak tepi dengan sewenangnya.

Justru untuk kebaikan dan kesejahteraan rakyat, pemimpin harus bersikap positif untuk menerapkan sikap suka mendengar pandangan dari bermacam-macam orang sebelum membuat apa-apa keputusan dan tidak hanya bergantung kepada penasihat di sekeliling mereka sahaja.

Landskap ekonomi, politik, keselamatan dan sosio-budaya dunia dan domestik kini ternyata sudah berubah berpunca daripada arus globalisasi dan kemajuan teknologi komunikasi dan maklumat. Dunia pada hari ini mudah untuk menguasai maklumat hanya dengan menggunakan satu gadget di tapak tangan. Dalam erti kata lain pergerakan dan penguasaan maklumat boleh diperolehi dengan pantas dan tidak mungkin dapat di sekat lagi. Begitu juga dengan kemunculan tamadun baru yang ada positif dan negatifnya. Undang-undang dan akhlak atau moral ada masanya akan menjadi songsang di atas alasan kebebasan. 

Kuasa-kuasa utama dunia pun melalui proses perubahan dengan kehadiran kuasa-kuasa ekonomi dan ketenteraan baru. Justru tuntutan rakyat dan masyarakat antarabangsa juga pada waktu ini turut berubah. Hari ini soal urus tadbir baik dan kebertanggungjawaban menjadi permintaan utama dalam kemahuan untuk melihat wujudnya ketelusan dan kebertanggungjawaban dalam pemerintahan sebuah negara yang demokratik. Lantas polar permainan politik juga ikut berubah kerana rakyat menuntut supaya ahli-ahli politik bersih, jujur dan tidak rasuah. Ini bermakna kaedah berpolitik juga perlu berubah sejajar dengan perubahan landskap politik dunia. Berdiam dan menafikan tanpa jawapan di peringkat antarabangsa tidak lagi menjadi pilihan. 

Bagi menjamin kuasa dan kelangsungan parti politik, penasihat pemimpin juga perlu berubah dan memahami persekitaran masa kini. Mereka yang mengelilingi pemimpin adalah bertanggugjawab mengukuhkan pemimpin. Semoga generasi akan datang tidak menyalahkan kita kerana bersikap diam dan hanya melihat. Kesetiaan kita yang sebenar hanya pada Allah, Rasul dan akhirnya ulil amri. Ini di tuntut oleh agama dan terkandung dalam Quran sebagai pengajaran kepada orang-orang yang beriman. Kesetiaan pada Allah swt dan Rasulnya adalah bersifat mutlak tetapi kesetiaan kepada ulil amri perlu bergantung kepada amal maarof dan nahi mungkar. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Current political environment


I think Malaysia has never gone through this period of political turmoil and uncertainty as we are facing today. Of course the opposition parties are stronger than it was prior to the 2008 and 2013 GE's. On top of that the opposition is perceived to be more articulate. The subjects they raised are well researched than those brought up by the government backbenchers. Whether the Opposition is good or not, responsible or otherwise it does not matter, what matters most is the perception that they are performing better in Parliament and outside as well as at campaign rallies and trails. They are also seen ahead of the BN in optimizing the use of social media or the cyberspace for spreading their political ideology and propaganda. 

The proposition that the government is weaker than the opposition is happening against the backdrop of PAS and DAP split on the Hudud issue. We may disagree on the public perception of the opposition party but the reality indicates this to be so. The BN must take stocks of its state of readiness to face the GE otherwise it may wake up the next morning after the polling day of the 14th GE that it has lost the GE, instead the opposition has won a landslide victory to form the next federal government. This could be a shock and a bad dream for the BN. 

This could be reversed if they work very hard from now and consolidate their team and campaign strategy. They have to revive public confidence on them. To do this there is a need for a lot of listening and willingness to take radical actions to rectify weaknesses including revamping the UMNO HQ especially certain specific crucial positions and even the Cabinet.

The problems faced by the BN is tremendous. I think in sum it suffers from two kinds of weaknesses, namely internal and external. The internal dimension is due to the lack of solidified strategy, unity and loyalty of party members at the grassroots and the leaders. Many people feel they have not changed politically in term of attitudes and approaches.

On top of that the party or government is inundated with incidences or mishaps that have negative implications including in the way they handle or manage issues or crisis. Those incidences or issues at times not responded immediately or too slow. The government and party leaders must have common stand and members of the administration must not give their personal views but must give similar views as the government or party. They must avoid shooting at their own foot rather than targeting at their opponents. The BN actions and reactions to issues are at times considered inconsistent or insensitive or even callous to public sentiments. 

Government actions surprisingly are not seen to be solid. Worst still party and government leaders are not seen effective communicators in the explanations of their own policies. Thus they are often seen inconsistent due to their inability to explain or defend their own policies effectively. There is a strong belief that they rely too heavily on the so called experts who don't seem to understand politics or the domestic political undercurrent. 

External dynamics made the situation worst such as the tragedies of Flight MH370 and MH17, and most recently the helicopter crash that killed the PM's most trusted aide. On the economic side the slides of the Ringgit against major currencies and more damaging is the scandal of the 1MDB. 

Furthermore the implementation of the GST created so much uproar, dissatisfaction and unhappiness within the party members and the public even though the tax is a good tax. It is more perplexing when the government spoke person did not handle it well. On the ground the public complain on the rise of the cost of living and shops and traders increased the price of goods and services.This gives unnecessary advantage to the opposition. 

At this stage it is important that they get out of their safe or complacent syndrome or under the false belief that they cannot be defeated.

What is obvious the PM receives a lot of pressure from within and outside the party to resign. The strongest and most formidable critique is Tun Mahathir and his ardent supporters ranging from former Ministers namely Tun Daim, Tan Sri Sanusì Junid, Tan Sri Zainudin Maidin and a well-known former Straits Times Chief Editor Dato Kadir Jasin and ordinary party members. 

The UMNO position amongst various party leaders vis-à-vis the position of the Prime Minister lacks clarity or certainty. These continuous questions and asking for explanations or allegations against the PM would be the greatest challenge. Tun has a broad based support amongst party members as well as the electorates. Under the circumstances the opposition need not do much but to recycle the bullets produced by Tun M to shoot at UMNO or BN with devastating effects on the government and the party. 

Even though the party leaders have instructed their party members to adopt the attack mode against the opposition but due to the ugly spat with Tun M they are still unable to do so and are still taking a defensive position. Whether Tun M succeeds in ousting Najib or not, is yet to be seen but what is clear the party is badly damaged. Whether it can recover or not will only be telling after the GE14. However the party and its wings have come with a statement of full support for Najib. The opposition is already gearing up for the general election. The early indicators would be the outcome of the by-elections in Parliamentary seats of Permatang Pauh and Rompin. I think BN will win Rompin but there is a pssibility it can also capture Permatang Pauh. Albeit the spat between Tun M and Najib is definitely bad for UMNO and BN in the immediate and long term unless something happens to change the landscape.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tolerance in a People-Centred ASEAN by Syed Hamid Albar


Didik Arianto from OIC, Professor Nimmer Senior advisor of KAICIID, Debbie Stothard of Altsean Burma, colleagues from Humanity Malaysia and distinguished guests, friends.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning to all of you and welcome to Kuala Lumpur. I am very happy to see you at this Roundtable discussion on Tolerance in a People-Centred ASEAN. I wanted to have a discussion on this subject of tolerance because I have seen so much suffering, so much injustice. I then started to discuss with the OIC, who offered full support for the project. In fact the idea of having this discussion in the form of a Roundtable came from the OIC Secretary General. I agreed with him and started working on it. I spoke to Debbie, my good friend from ALTSEAN Burma, who suggested that I should organize this event under Humaniti Malaysia. Humaniti is a new organization which I had formed. Prof. Mohammad Abu Nimmer from KAICIID also had the same idea of organizing an interfaith and intercultural discourse.

We decided all of us should work together and cooperate under the name of Humaniti. Debbie then started to put the whole thing together. I would like to express my gratitude to Debbie. Our original plan was just to have a Roundtable of 15 Muslims, 15 Buddhists, 15 Christians from Myanmar. Ultimately due to so much interest we ended up with about 50 participants. I was told it wouldn’t be productive to have 50 people to have a Roundtable, but due to the interest shown in the Roundtable we proceeded. I’m very happy today all of you come together; each of you being an expert in your own field. I also would like to thank Ambassador Kobsak from Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC) for his presence.

The motto of Humaniti is “putting the pieces together”. Previously there were many seminars, discussions and meetings about the subject, but usually it ended without any action plan. For this Roundtable I decided it would be best not to make speeches or take photos. Instead the deliberations should be interactive. We should speak from the heart. We should finish the first session at 1pm. After lunch, we would recap and then break into three groups. We hope the Roundtable session will result in constructive discussion for a better ASEAN region.”

Today we are living in a world full of conflicts and wars. There are active war theaters where full scale wars and civil wars are taking place based on ethnic, religious and sectarian considerations creating tensions between communities and nations. Conflict does not bring happiness, prosperity, stability to any country.

Tolerance literally means an attitude to accept or tolerate other people’s beliefs or points of view to create an environment of peace and harmony in society. This is the most cherished and desired goal. The absence of tolerance or in other words “Intolerance” brings conflicts and sometime wars to society. Whenever there are conflicts or intolerance, interethnic and interfaith relations can be badly fractured and even relations between different sects within the same religion creates so much frictions. People take up arms and kill due to differences in the interpretation of the same religion.

Why there is so much intolerance or disharmony? The short answer can be attributed to sheer ignorance and lack of understanding of the true spirit of the religion by the followers of different faiths and community leaders who drive their ignorant followers to do things which have nothing to do with the tenets of the religion. But yet this Intolerance is being used and even spread in the name of religion.

HUMANITI Malaysia is taking upon it-self to spread the message of Tolerance, Love, Brotherhood and Inclusiveness. We intend to spread this message across national, regional, racial, ethnic and religious boundaries. ASEAN is a region with more than 630 million inhabitants with diverse cultures, races, religions and languages and has been relatively calm and peaceful. This region has tremendous potential for economic growth provided there is peace and political stability. Recently we have been witnessing conflicts erupting in different parts of the region which is causing instability and violence particularly in the Rakhine State of Myanmar affecting the Rohingya.

When we understand what bring peace, we know where to direct our efforts. No matter how vigorously we stir a boiling pot of soup on a fire, the soup will not cool. When we remove the pot from the fire, it will cool on its own, and our stirring will accelerate the process. Stirring causes the soup to cool, but only if we first remove the soup from the fire. In other words, we can take many actions in our quest for peace that may be helpful. But if we do not first address the fundamental issues, all other actions will come to nothing.

The use of force and violence, even to the level of killing, never solves anything. Killings generate fear and anger, which generate more killing, more fear, and more anger, in a vicious cycle without end. In the Quran (49:13) Allah commands “O mankind! We (Allah) have created you from a single (pair) of a male and female and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another.”

In the Buddhist scriptures not only human life but all living beings are sanctified “Whoever settles a matter by violence is not just. The wise calmly considers what is right and what is wrong. Whoever guides others by a procedure that is nonviolent and fair is said to be a guardian of truth, wise and just.” (Dhammapada 256-57)

These two tenets clearly advocate for moderation and for us to live in peace. Under the circumstances our role as “Peace Builders” is extremely challenging though not an impossible one. We must find the light of peace and harmony at the end of the tunnel. Democracy is often described “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Therefore people are going to be the key for the change in the ASEAN region. People shall be the centre of gravity to pull the governments in the region to adopt policies towards peace and reconciliation and to effectively participate in the conflict resolution and peace building process.

As Dwight Eisenhower the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961 observed, “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these day governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

I have been thinking a lot about conflict and ways of dealing with various types of conflict. Max Lucade describes there are 5 causes of conflict:
  1. Differing values 
  2. Making assumptions 
  3. Differing expectation 
  4. Differences in the way you were brought up 
  5. Knowledge and ability to deal with conflict


He also prescribes 5 main conflict resolution scenarios:
  1. Ignore the conflict (avoid conflict)
  2. Smooth over the conflict 
  3. Use your authority to settle the conflict
  4. Negotiate a resolution to the conflict (diplomacy)
  5. Use collaboration to resolve the conflict. (need trust)


Some of the lessons we can learn from the past is to understand the messages conveyed by different leaders of the past. Nelson Mandela himself observed, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy, then he becomes your partner.” John F Kennedy is quoted as saying, “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”

The fact remains that peace will take not just months, but in many cases, years and generations, as sustainable economies and governance is developed combined with education and a generation who follow with a new shared momentum. Mahatma Gandhi said “If we are to teach real peace in this world,”…and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” We have a long and difficult road ahead of us let start our journey by taking our first little step.

We are here for one and half day to deliberate on the way forward to drive the culture of tolerance in a people centred ASEAN. Let us do that together.

Delivered by Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar
in conjunction of the Roundtable, Hotel Istana on 6th-7th April 2015


PRESS STATEMENT: ASEAN NEEDS TO ADDRESS RISING INTOLERANCE IN MYANMAR


HUMANiTi Malaysia, in partnership with the OIC, KAICIID and ALTSEAN-Burma, convened a roundtable ‘Tolerance in a People-Centred ASEAN’ on 6-7 April 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The event brought together diverse stakeholders from the ASEAN region, including representatives of more than 20 national, regional and international non-governmental organisations, to discuss key trends, issues of concern and share approaches to promote tolerance in ASEAN.

Roundtable participants voiced overwhelming concern about the trend of rising intolerance in Myanmar, including proposed legislation related to the ‘protection’ of race and religion that is inconsistent with international human rights standards including United Nations conventions to which Myanmar is party, as well as continued trends of violence and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, including Rohingya, in many parts of the country.

These trends have caused and contributed to human rights crises with severe humanitarian consequences, gender-based discrimination, statelessness, segregation, refugee flows and other threats to human security, posing challenges to Myanmar’s transition to democracy and upcoming elections. Moreover, these trends threaten regional stability and could exacerbate violence and polarisation along religious and ethnic fault-lines. Such trends could seriously undermine the establishment, sustainability and credibility of the ASEAN Community, including economic integration and regional economic development.

Identifying ways forward, participants discussed a range of strategies at local, national, regional and international levels. The strong responsibility of regional actors was emphasised, particularly ASEAN and other intergovernmental organisations, regional humanitarian and human rights organisations, the regional business community, and regional faith leaders. Mindful that the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration includes the protection of the right to freedom of religion, there is a continued need to facilitate interfaith engagement and dialogue within Myanmar and the wider region.

In addition, participants called on ASEAN to step up engagement on protecting ethnic and religious minorities in the process of Myanmar’s transition to democracy. At this pivotal moment in ASEAN’s history, when ASEAN’s Charter and processes are being reviewed, participants called on ASEAN to re-examine the principle of non-interference in the context of human rights crises that have implications on regional peace and stability. Participants noted and strongly supported the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 69/248, United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/28/L.21, and the recent report and recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.

Participants reiterated their commitment to coordinating efforts to address the root causes of the complex crisis in Myanmar. Resolving the crisis of intolerance in Myanmar and other parts of the ASEAN region are critical in the realisation and promotion of tolerance in a people-centred ASEAN. Participants agreed and committed to continuing their efforts to forge a way forward for a culture of tolerance in the ASEAN region.

HUMANiTi Malaysia is an NGO, being very recently registered under the Leadership of Tan Sri Dr.Syed Hamid Albar. HUMANiTi Malaysia is taking upon it-self to spread the message of Tolerance, Love, Brotherhood and Inclusiveness. The intention is to spread this message accross national, regional, racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries.

Enquiries:
HUMANiTi Malaysia: Ahmad Tarmizi Mukhtar. Mobile number + 6016 335 2558 and Noor Hisham Mohd Taha Mobile number: +6019 343 2962ö

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Future Democracy in Myanmar: The oppressed Minority


Speech at International Conference organized by UTM Johor.
26 January 2015

First of all let me begin by thanking the organizers for inviting me to deliver a speech at this international conference on “The Future Democracy in Myanmar: The Oppressed Minority”. The title has aptly described the present situation of Myanmar. With regards to this, we can take three approaches; first: take a hard position and be very critical and confrontational without contributing to any solution or suggestion, second: middle way, by assessing the problem objectively and suggest solution constructively and finally take a soft route that ignores the entire conflict and presume as if it does not exist. I strongly believe that we should address the conflict and crisis in Myanmar by taking the middle route or moderate and strategically plan a suitable approach towards a solution. 

At this period of time, Myanmar is transforming itself from a totalitarian military junta to be what is hoped 'a democracy'. This opening up of a window of democracy has gained Myanmar regional and international acceptance. She hosted ASEAN and East Asia Summits. She is no longer an outcast. This is what Myanmar wanted.

It reminded me what Abraham Lincoln said about democracy. He defined democracy as: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Accepted that, Democracy is by far the most challenging form of government - both for politicians and for the people. The so-called "democracies" in classical antiquity (Athens and Rome) represent precursors of modern democracies. Like modern democracy, it was introduced as a reaction or as a check and balance to the concentration power and to prevent abuse by the rulers or those closely associated to them. Yet the modern democracy was not formulated until the Age of Enlightenment (17th/18th centuries), when philosophers defined the essential elements of democracy: separation of powers, basic civil rights / human rights, religious liberty and separation of church and state. 

Today after the end of the cold war, the majority of democratic countries in the world are adopting parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchies like in Europe (the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and the Scandinavian countries) have set clear limits on the duties and competences of the monarch. 

In addressing the theme of the conference today, let us look at the theories which are very much closely related to Myanmar. I like to begin by defining authoritarian and totalitarian regimes which cloak itself in democratic clothes. The totalitarian regimes are managed by a few group of leaders and elites on the basis of an ideology, that claims legitimacy in all aspects of life of the country. In the case of communism and far left socialism they even reject religion. The regime does not tolerate or allow any deviation from the state ideology. Regime opponents are persecuted, detained and members of ethnic minorities undergo all kind of oppression including genocide. Examples of totalitarian regimes include: Germany under Hitler, 1933-1945 and Soviet Union under Stalin. 

In contrast to totalitarian regimes, authoritarian regimes have no distinct state ideology and grant some semblance of freedom (e.g. economic and cultural) as long as their rule is not threatened. The most important goal of authoritarian regimes is the maintenance of power and the personal enrichment at the cost of the country and its people.

No one should pretend that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy can be the worst form of government that leads to exploitation except that it is better than other forms of government that have been practiced from time to time. This famous quote was attributed to the former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) which focused on the weak spot of democracy: There is no such thing as the "perfect form of government", but any other form of government produces even less desirable results than democracy. 

Since the theme of the conference includes the oppressed minority, I would also like to define who minorities are. Contemporary sociologists generally define a minority as a group of people differentiated from others in the same country by race, nationality, religion, or language who think of themselves as a differentiated group and are thought by the other as a differentiated group with at times have negative connotations. Further, they are relatively lacking in power and wealth, hence are subjected to social or political exclusion, discrimination, and many other forms of differential treatment. 

The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences explains the origin of the term “national minorities”. It is applied to various national groups who were identified with particular territories by virtue of long residence or by identify themselves within those territories. In some cases the minority groups ceased altogether to occupy their original territories and were dispersed throughout different nations of which they are now the subjects. More often they stayed in the same place but in a subordinate position, since the dominant political and economic institutions were now run mainly for the benefit of the larger national group. The latter usually enacted laws to regulate the political existence of the minorities; for instance, they might have to send their own community leaders to the national assembly instead of being able to vote individually for candidates in a national election.

Often, a minority need not be a traditional group with a long-standing group identification. It can arise as a result of changing social definitions in a process of economic or political transformation. The increasing saliency of a certain occupation, for example, can set apart the people who practice that occupation, if occupations are more or less hereditary in the society, and cause them to be considered a minority group. Language or religious variations in a society can be considered unimportant for thousands of years, but a series of political events can sharpen the religious or linguistic distinctions of the particular variation that happen to be without power in the society and are thereafter considered a minority.

A minority’s position involves exclusion or assignment to a lower status in one or more of areas of life namely: the economic, the political, the legal, and the social-associational. That is, a minority will be assigned to lower-ranking occupations or to lower-compensated positions within each occupation; it will be prevented from exercising the full political rights held by a citizen from the majority community. It will not be given equal status with the majority in the application of law or justice; or it will be partially or completely excluded from both the formal and the informal position found among the majority. Not infrequently, the minority also voluntarily excludes itself partially or completely from participation in these areas of life, partly as a means of maintaining traditional cultural identification. Accompanying the objective subordination and segregation of the minorities are usually to be found some subjective attitudes of mutual hostility, although these may sometimes be publicly denied and camouflaged. Majority-minority relations invariably involve some conflict, although this may take varied forms and operate at different levels.

There seem to be three types of attitudes of hostility or prejudice with which the dominant group regards the minority and with which the minority may attempt to counter the dominant group. The complex etiologies of each of these, which differ somewhat from society to society, cannot be analyzed here. The first is an attitude in which power is the main element: the dominant group wishes to exploit the minority for economic, political, or social purposes, or for prestige, and the minority group seeks to escape their exploitation.

While the achievement of ascendancy in terms of one or more of these values may be brutal (including enslavement of the minority), it is seldom personal, nor does it, except accidentally, result in the death of a minority person. The second attitude is ideological: the dominant group believes that it has a monopoly on the “truth” (as may the minority group also). The achievement of ascendancy by one ideological group over the other results in drastic efforts to convert the minority to the dominant group’s version of the “truth” failing that, it banishes the minority by exile or death. The third attitude is racist: the dominant group believes itself to be biologically superior to the minority group, and it stereotypes the minority in terms of negative valued characteristics. The minority may have the same attitude towards the dominant group, but since it lacks power, this would have few or no behavioral consequences.

In Myanmar, we must realize the ground reality of diverse religious, ethnic and tribal communities, who are indigenous to the land and had been living side by side for centuries. Even the Buddhist majority is not of only one ethnic background or origin. There are 135 officially recognized and 8 unrecognized ethnic communities, speaking 64 different languages and dialects.

We must admit that it has never been easy for a state to change from one form of government to another. Our friends in Myanmar are currently passing through that difficult phase of their history at this moment, from Totalitarian or Military Dictatorship moving towards democracy. As Myanmar opens up and its transformation is in its infancy, it is having its teething problems and the growing pains associated with it.

As we all know in a democratic system it is always the majority whose will prevails, and no government can afford to antagonize the majority or go against its will. Now the majority in Myanmar associate itself with Buddhism, which I believe, should be no problem. Buddhism's emphasis on the Middle way not only provides a unique guideline for ethics but has also allowed Buddhism to peacefully coexist with various differing beliefs, customs and institutions in countries where it has resided throughout its history. According to Iman Mohamed Baianonia, wassat means to be moderate, to be in the middle and to be the best. Attawassot in an Islamic sense means that the Muslim should try his best to be moderate in all of his affairs and keep away from extreme practice. It is altruism that every individual has the absolute right to believe and practice whatever religion he or she wants. 

The problem starts when one individual or a group of individuals want to impose its will on the others, then it becomes a human rights issue. Having said that, we fully understand the problems Myanmar is faced with and we (the civil society) should be ready to encourage the people and the government of Myanmar to recognize that their transition to democracy is better served by inclusiveness, equality and justice.

Unfortunately there are elements in Myanmar that want to turn that country into a purist Buddhist - Burman state. The reality of course is that there is not a single state on this planet which could be deemed as a purist state of one people or one religion.

Pursuing such goal, which all of us know is simply an impossibility not only for Myanmar but for the whole region and globe. Learning form the lessons of the past, acting in this manner has been the cause of conflicts and crisis that could be disastrous for democracy and development. This could also have spill over effects on other countries in the region. Pursuing the policy of exclusiveness in this interdependent world will definitely not be beneficial to any country or anyone.

Any agenda of making Myanmar a purist Buddhist state will result in gross violation of the basic Human Rights of ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar, the shock waves of which will be felt throughout the region and across the globe. This has also has created unnecessary international concerns and attention on Myanmar.

In this regard, several countries, the OIC and the International Community is following closely the ongoing ethnic conflict in Myanmar, and is calling for a peaceful resolution to avoid another humanitarian tragedy. Some of the minorities have been abruptly made stateless since 1982 by an executive order and since then they are living in their own country as “refugees” and having no rights to anything at all.

Imagine one morning when you wake up, you realize that you have been made stateless, your nationality has been revoked and with that your right to employment, education, healthcare and travel etc. has been forfeited overnight. What would you do? You cannot seek employment because you no longer hold a valid ID card, you cannot send your children to school, you cannot get treatment at clinics and hospitals, you cannot register your newborn, you cannot travel within or outside the country and this goes on for decades. People born in or after 1982 are in their 30s now, “Aliens in their own homeland” without any valid identification. 

The 2012 communal riots in Arakan state has resulted in displacement and segregation of entire communities apart from hundreds of people killed and properties being razed to the ground. This mass displacement of an entire population of almost 150,000 people is a ‘human tragedy’, where people from vibrant functioning communities are being plucked and pushed into camps for Internally Displaced People. The conditions in these camps are simply deplorable.

People put into these camps are not allowed to go out of the designated boundaries to search for work; therefore they are totally dependent on international NGOs for sustenance, which is always not sufficient. As a result the population is malnourished especially the children.

There are only a couple of primary schools for this huge population (being run by NGOs) where only a limited number of children can have their basic education, the much larger majority of children have no access to even basic schooling. Secondary or college education is off limits for these IDPs. 80% of this IDP population is illiterate.

Besides all, these people have no access to passports for traveling out of Myanmar. Human traffickers are taking advantage of the situation and are smuggling these people out often in overcrowded wooden vessels in life threatening and unsafe conditions across the seas. There have been credible reports of many of them perishing during the voyage.

Arriving in neighboring countries as illegal immigrants and going through detention and arrests by the authorities in the host countries is another story of hardship and humiliation faced by these destitute people. This is taking place right in our neighborhood, putting us as neighbors under some moral obligations to do something about it.

Well, as it involves the policies of a sovereign state in the region, one argument for doing nothing is non – interference. However, in the present situation we have a common interest namely to promote human rights and human security through development and share in the wellbeing of the region as propagated in the Bangkok Declaration 1967. The policy of inclusiveness is the best way forward. Approaching the issue with “Humanity” in focus may make it easy for everyone to evolve the feeling of Aseanness in the individual ASEAN countries. 

The international community has for some time expressed concern on the dire humanitarian crisis and the ongoing problems in Rakhine state faced by the Rohingyas and minorities in other parts of Myanmar. The newly revealed “Rakhine State Action Plan,” is the latest negative development in the future democracy in Myanmar. 

The very first chapter of the “Rakhine Action Plan” provided new measures for border security, militarization of the police, and the introduction of a new riot police force exclusively for Rakhine State. The fear is that these measures may cause the use of disproportionate force in the name of maintaining law and order.

Another worrying concern of the international community is a set of four new laws called ‘National Race and Religion Protection’ package that are currently going through the Myanmar National Parliament. The four bills in the package are: the Religious Conversion Bill; the Interfaith Marriage Bill; the Monogamy Bill; and the Population Control Bill. The bills are targeted at the Muslim population but will consequently affect other religious minorities.

Meanwhile, in the north of Myanmar, the war in Kachin state and northern Shan State has entered into its fourth year. Unfortunately, attacks on civilians have become a frequent occurrence in this war, with women and children bearing the worst burden of the violence of war. Sadly, peace talks that have been going on for years have not led to a reduction of hostilities. In the past five months, troops clashed with ethnic armed groups at least 88 times. Two weeks ago attacks broke out in another part of Shan state, sending tens of thousands of new refugees into China.

Many organisations and individual, myself included, have been working in Myanmar, ASEAN and the international community to help Myanmar on the road of reform. We hope that the Government in Myanmar can recognize these good intentions and not interpret it as an attempt to interfere in her internal affairs.

We would like to convince the Myanmar government and other political groups to embrace and practice inclusion, particularly of affected communities, so that peace and reform processes are durable and sustainable.

In order for us to go forward as a developed nation, we embraced inclusion in our governance and social life. We must accept diversity and sensitivities that go with it. Therefore, inclusion and tolerance, is an essential part of the way forward for the people and government of Myanmar, and indeed the rest of the ASEAN region.

Today we can sleep sheltered and safe tonight without the threat of a mob breaking down our doors or burning our homes. However, the minorities in Myanmar who also share this world with us are denied these fundamental rights, and suffer on a scale that no human must be allowed to suffer. They are no different from us except for the circumstances of their birth. They are our brothers and sisters just as those of you before me are my brothers and sisters. In these difficult moments it is our shared responsibility to reach our open hands to them.

This intolerance is not irreparable as prior to this the different communities had lived in peace and harmony. It is with patience, tolerance, kindness, love and forgiveness that we can break this cycle and restore inter-communal harmony. In the intelligence as well as diplomatic world we must be able to read the minds of the people we are negotiating with and devise our strategies accordingly.

I am of the opinion that instead of going in for confrontational arguments with the Myanmar officials at this point of time we should adopt a moderate approach, engage them in a constructive manner to build confidence and to bridge the gap.

I strongly believe that it is a delicate balance that we are searching for: we must continue to respect the principle of sovereignty and at the same time fulfill our responsibility to protect and give the help and support to those thousands who have made please to the international community.

To conclude, given the complexities of the ongoing problem in Myanmar, it is only natural that we weigh all options carefully and in a pragmatic manner to achieve the desired outcomes. We need to strategize the best approach to correct any possible negative perceptions through regular contacts and engagements. In this respect, a closer collaboration with state and non-state actors is definitely necessary. We need both “moderate” and “constructive” approaches to connect OIC, the Myanmar Government and the civil society.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

MALAYSIA AND FEDERALISM


1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. On 9 June 2014, the Johor Housing and Real Property Enactment Board Bill 2014 (“the Enactment”) was passed by the Johor State Legislative Assembly albeit the controversy surrounding the Enactment which the critics alleged empowering His Highness the Sultan of Johor with the executive authority in state administration. Whether or not there is any legal basis to this allegation however, is not the scope of this article. But this controversy in the writer’s view, provides an opportune time to refresh our memory and briefly remind us the system that modern Malaysia subscribes to since achieving her independence from the British in 1957 and the position of Their Highness the Malay Rulers under the present constitutional arrangements enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

2. PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY, CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY & FEDERALISM

2.1. Malaysia subscribes to ‘Parliamentary Democracy’ with ‘Constitutional Monarchy’ founded on the principle of ‘Federalism’. This system is premised upon certain principles based on English constitutional conventions. Parliamentary Democracy dictates that a political party with the greatest representation in Parliament will form the government. This principle of Parliamentary Democracy coupled with the principle of Constitutional Monarchy where a monarch rules in accordance within an agreed parameters, in our case, the Federal Constitution makes the Malaysia that we know what it is today. Professor Abdul Rashid Moten, in Society, Politics & Islam: An Overview aptly describes this position when he wrote, “Malaysia operates a Parliamentary system in which the government is carried on in the name of the Head of the State, Yang Di Pertuan Agong by ministers who enjoy the confidence of the majority in Parliament and are responsible to Parliament for their public acts both individually and collectively”. 

2.2 Constitutional Monarchy differs from ‘Absolute Monarchy’ as there is no absolute powers of a monarch in countries which adopts constitutional monarchy. A monarch in most constitutional monarchies possesses limited and restrictive powers which usually is limited to ceremonial duties or certain other reserved powers depending on, written or unwritten, constitutional arrangements of that particular country. In our country, His Majesty the Yang Di Pertuan Agong derives his powers as conferred by Parliament under Federal laws as provided in the Federal Constitution (see, Professor Abdul Rashid Moten, in Society, Politics & Islam: An Overview). In most cases, His Majesty acts on advice by the Prime Minister whom he is obliged to appoint from a member of Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the House. 

Malaysia has nine Malay Rulers, each one of them acts as the Head of State and the Head of the Religion of Islam in their respective states whilst the Supreme Head of the Federation is His Majesty the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong who is selected amongst the nine Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers on rotation basis selected every five years by the Conference of Rulers. The four Yang Di Pertuan Negeri are in the Non Ruler States due to the political and historical evolution of those states namely, Melaka, Pulau Pinang, Sabah & Sarawak. This system is unique to Malaysia and the only one of its kind in the world.

2.3 Federalism on the other hand has its roots from Latin word ‘foedus’ which means “a formal agreement or covenant”. Federalism is not a concept unique to our country alone. Many great nations in the world including the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, India, Australia to name a few, practise Federalism, although the model may differ to accommodate local environment of each particular country. The Free Legal Dictionary defines ‘Federalism’ as “a principle of government that defines the relationship between the central government at the national level and its constituent units at regional, state, or local levels. Under this principle of government, power and authority is allocated between the national and local government units, such that each unit is delegated a sphere of power and authority only it can exercise, while other powers must be shared..… It includes the interrelationship between the states as well as between the states and the federal government”. 

In the context of Malaysia, which adopts a federal constitutional monarchy system, the Prime Minister is the Head of Government at the federal level, with His Majesty the Yang Di Pertuan Agong as the Head of State at the federal level whilst Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers of the various states are the Heads of State at the respective states level, with the Menteri Besar or the Chief Minister, as the case may be, acting as the Head of Government at the respective states level. In sum, it can be said that Federalism is a system of government in which sovereignty is shared between the federal authority and its constituent political units i.e. the state governments.

3. FEDERALISM IN MALAYSIA

3.1 Its Origin in Malaysia - The backdrop that underscores Malaysia’s federalism is intertwined with its history. This should be stated from the beginning in order to better appreciate the constitutional framework and system of government of the country. What is obvious is that the constitutional framework of the federal system of the government of Malaysia has to take into account its historical evolution. Historically, the FMS (Federated Malay States), which marked the beginning of a modem centralized administrative organisation in the Peninsula, was a device for the British to consolidate their powers. It also reduced the autonomy of the member states and made state bureaucracy subordinate to federal authority. After the Second World War, the British government decided to strengthen their role and control over the Malay states by introducing the unitary Malayan Union. This had to be abandoned because it failed to recognise and protect the rights of the Malays as the indigenous people of the country, and infringed on the sovereignty of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers and was strongly boycotted and protested by the Malays. In lieu of this, the Federation of Malaya Agreement restored the nation, the Malays and the Malay Rulers at federal and state levels.

One of our greatest and respected jurists and a former Lord President the late Tun Suffian wrote in his classic work, “An introduction to the Constitution of Malaya” that the ‘machinery devised’ to bring the newly drafted Federal Constitution into force consisted of three component parts – a law passed in UK, an agreement between the British Monarch and our Rulers, and a series of laws passed in this country (see Chapter 4, In Service of the Law, Tun Suffian’s Legacy by Professor Salleh Buang). The law passed in the United Kingdom was known as the Federation of Malaya Independence Act, whilst the agreement signed was known as the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1957. The laws passed in this country were a combination of federal law and state laws. The former was the Federal Constitution Ordinance 1957, whilst the latter comprised of state enactments passed to approve and give force to the Federal Constitution (see Chapter 4, In Service of the Law, Tun Suffian’s Legacy by Professor Salleh Buang). 

Whilst it cannot be denied that one of the main reasons behind the adoption of the federal system in 1957 is to protect to a certain extent the position of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers, the adoption of the federal system also meant that Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers would have to exercise their powers in accordance with the Federal and State Constitutions, in the context of constitutional monarchy as stated earlier. This is significant as the country’s progresses and evolves into a modern democratic constitutional monarchy system. Without proper understanding the constraint and limits, there may come a time, where there will be collision between the State Ruler and the elected government. 

3.2 The Kelantan Case - The federal system established in 1957 as the federation of Malaya Constitution was meant to establish a strong federal government. In 1963, in the course of enlargement of the Federation, just before the formation and declaration of Malaysia, the very first constitutional crisis post-independence had occurred when the Government of the State of Kelantan objected to the Malaysia Act which purported to amend the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957 in order to admit Sarawak, North Borneo and Singapore into the Federation. This case laid down the cardinal principles regarding the constitutional position of Federalism in Malaysia. As Hugh Hickling memorably put it, ‘it was left to the David of Kelantan to challenge the Goliath of the Federation’. In this case, the Kelantan government put forward five points-

  • The Malaysia Act would violate the Federation of Malaya agreement by abolishing the Federation of Malaya;
  • The proposed changes needed the consent of each of the constituent state including Kelantan and this has not been obtained;
  • The Sultan of Kelantan should have been made a party in the Malaysia Agreement;
  • Constitutional convention dictated that consultation with the Rulers of the individual states is required before substantial changes could be made to the constitution;
  • The federal government had no power to legislate for Kelantan in matters that the state could legislate on its own. 
(see Johan Shamsuddin Sabaruddin, in Kelantan Challenge Charts Federalism Path published in NST on 21st July 2007) 

These points in the writer’s views were very important constitutional questions which should have been answered individually. Unfortunately, without going into each issue in specific details, Chief Justice James Thomson chose to consolidate these five issues by framing them into one question – ‘whether the Parliament or the executive government has trespassed in any way the limits placed on their powers by the Constitution’. This may have been due to the time constraints as it was reported that he had delivered his decision 30 hours before Malaysia was to be declared saying, “Never I think has a judge had to pronounce on an issue of such magnitude on so little notice and with so little time for consideration”.

Although, these 5 questions were not answered individually, the judgment was nevertheless a very important judicial pronouncement on Federalism. Chief Justice Thomson held amongst others that ‘even if Kelantan was a sovereign state in 1957, the effect of the Federation of Malaya Agreement, was that a large proportion of the power that made up that sovereignty had passed from the Kelantan government to that of the Federation’. The Court also held ‘that the Malaysia Agreement was validly signed by the Federal Government in exercise of its executive powers and the exercise of these executive powers did not require consultation with any state government or the Ruler of any State’. 

Consequently, based on these judicial pronouncements , the path of modern Federalism in Malaysia has been laid out.

3.3 The Malay Rulers in the practice of modern federalism in Constitutional Monarchy – The Federal Consitution recognised the role of their Highnesses the Malay Rulers and conferred upon them with traditional and religious powers and position. His Majesty the Yang Di Pertuan Agong is the Head of the Federation and acts as Supreme Head, Supreme Ruler or Paramount Ruler. As stated earlier, His Majesty the Yang Di Pertuan Agong, however is a Constitutional Monarch who does not have absolute powers except for powers specifically conferred by Parliament under federal laws. In most instances, His Majesty acts on advice of the Prime Minister. 

Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers also constitute part of a state government because they are the Head of State and the Head of the religion of Islam in their respective states in accordance with the Federal Constitution and their respective states constitutions. The states exist in order to maintain the position and prerogative of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers as Head of State, and the religion of Islam is under state jurisdiction due to the traditional position and religious power of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers as the Head of the religion of Islam. Accordingly, the Federal Constitution does not only guarantee the power and sovereignty of Their Highness the Malay Rulers as the Head of State but it also safeguards the power and prerogative of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers as Head of the religion of Islam. The states and the Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers co-exist. Hence Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers, in protecting their status, position and power, indirectly defend the rights and autonomy of the states. Any changes or measures taken to change, which are prejudicial to the position and power of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers can be detrimental to the states and thus to federalism as practised in Malaysia. How this in practice should be interpreted in the context of the position and status of a constitutional monarch is a subject that will continue to be debated especially in matters relates to the religion of Islam where it is jealously guarded by Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers and in matters of state administration where Their Highnesses may be required to exercise and perform their functions, which some may see as interference in executive machinery. It is submitted, any traditional prerogative or powers of a monarch must be construed in accordance with the Federal Constitution and their respective states constitutions and accepted practice of modern federalism .

3.4 Legislative Power Structure Between the Federation and State Governments - The divisions of legislative powers between the Federal Government and state governments are spelt out in the Federal Constitution to avoid disputes or conflicts between the Federal and State governments. The Federal Constitution has outlined under the Ninth Schedule, the division of these powers between the federal and state governments (Articles74,77). The Federal list for example, includes, external relations, defense, internal security, civil and criminal law, federal citizenship and naturalisation, financial, trade and industry and education whilst state list includes Islamic law, land, agricultural and forestry, local government, local services and state government machinery. This has allowed, firstly, unity in diversity and secondly, the decentralized institutional system of government. Fundamentally, this also means that some components or constituent units have some exclusive jurisdiction or competence over the other. In addition to these lists, there are also powers that are concurrent between the federal and state governments which are listed in the Federal Constitution as Concurrent List which includes public welfare, scholarships, national parks, wildlife and drainage and irrigation. 

It should also be noted that the states with Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers as the Head of State have exclusive jurisdiction over Islamic religion, land, water and mineral resources and local government whilst the states that do not have Malay Rulers (Non Ruler States) they share the same powers except on religion with the state that has Rulers. In the Non Ruler States, religion comes under His Majesty Yang Di Pertuan Agong. 

Generally, although there have been instances where the Federal and State governments have faced problems or difficulties due to the differences in the interpretation or construction of the words or phrases in the provisions in the Constitution, this division of powers in the Federal Constitution has allowed for an orderly and stable administration of the government at the Federal and state levels. For example, in order to avoid conflicts and ensure the smooth functioning of the federal system, the country has various coordination mechanisms such as The National Land Council, whose membership consist of the PM, the MB’s and CM’s, but these powers are only limited to advisory. It is up to the state to accept or reject such advice. The same goes to the National Water Resources Council and National Council for Local Government. 

Wong Chin Huat, writing in The Sun on 25th July 2007, however was of the view that the federalism system as practised in Malaysia is highly centralised. He said, “After all, in Federalism, sovereignty and power are shared between national and sub-national entities. Such vertical divisions of power between the governments at different levels provide for check-and-balance, just like the horizontal separation of power between the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judiciary. Federalism gives the federal government not only the most legislative and executive powers but also the most important sources of revenue. State governments are excluded from the revenues of income tax, export, import and excise duties, and they are also largely restricted from borrowing internationally. They have to depend on revenue from forests, lands, mines, the entertainment industry, and finally, transfer payments from the central government.” 

It may appear that notwithstanding the explicit provision of the Federal Constitution, Malaysia in practice adopts a unitary system - ‘a system of political organization in which most or all of the governing power resides in a centralized government’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Prior to the outcome of GE 12 and GE13, it may have appeared this way due to the fact that the same political party was in power in most states. When the same party governs the federal and state governments they naturally possess shared values and visions in political philosophy and ideology. Under the circumstances, their actions at both the Federal Government and State Governments level tended to be well coordinated and similar. Hence, their actions are seen to complement each other and thus may have appeared ‘centralised’. 

Post GE12 and GE13, this smooth cooperation and collaboration has somewhat changed with different political parties in power at the Federal level and some states and thus putting the Federal system into the real litmus test. It can be said that the coordination that once existed has become more complex and difficult, and at times unpredictable. An example of this can be seen in the case of Sg. Langat water treatment plant, the proposed water transfer between Pahang and Selangor, and even the AES. 

4. CONCLUSION

4.1 In conclusion, there is no doubt that Malaysia, de-facto and de-jure, adopts a federal system. As a young nation, however, it is to be expected, the provisions of the Federal Constitution to be subjected to differing and sometimes conflicting interpretations and have at times brought constitutional collision in respect of the powers and prerogatives of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers, especially on the question of how a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy should work and function within the context of Malaysia’s federalism. The reason for the varying interpretations may be due to lack of understanding and an agreeable concept of prerogatives under the Malaysian constitutional laws and more so at the socio/political level. Additionally, there is a lack of legal writings that comprehensively deal with the concept of royal prerogative although this is only one aspect of federalism.

The democratic principles incorporated by the Constitution were relatively new to Malaysia, which used to be a feudal society under autocratic and later colonial rule. The preservation of some traditional aspects of society was due not only to their intrinsic value, but also more importantly due to the influence and authority of the Rulers and the need for the Malays to maintain their legal and political positions as the indigenous inhabitants of the country. The incorporation of these traditional elements resulted from political compromises with other ethnic groups. This fabric of society was the basis upon which the nation was construed. In return, the non-Malays were granted full citizenship and equal political rights.

Federalism, which underpins unity in diversity, appears to provide the most appropriate system to accommodate the retention of the special position of the Malays and the sovereignty of Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers, while the geographical and demographic factors only play a subsidiary role. The reason for the enlargement of the Federation in 1963 is quite similar to those of other federations. The most important reason for the establishment of federalism in 1963 was security. Economic and administrative factors also became the contributing factors for the new member states to federate (Khairil Azmin Mukhtar, Federalism in Malaysia. A constitutional study of the federal institutions, 2002). 

What is clear is that Federalism in Malaysia has evolved. As Muhammad Yusuf Saleem wrote in his Federalism Origin and Applications, “ Federalism in Malaysia is result of an evolutionary process. The history of Federalism demonstrates the struggle between the Forces of centralisation who favoured a strong centre and the forces of decentralisation who wanted to maintain the power of sultanates and the individuality of the states. It was this struggle that shaped the federal idea in Malaysia” 

This federal structure, like a traditional marriage, has stood the test of time. Just as how the effectiveness of a marriage depends on there being a shared vision, the effectiveness of the Federal structure depends very much on shared vision at both Federal and State levels. With shared vision, you don’t even need to have coordinating mechanisms. In the absence of shared vision, the effectiveness of formal coordinating mechanisms is questionable. In fact, in extreme cases where each partner has diametrically opposite visions, it can even lead to divorce as happened between Malaysia and Singapore.

OUR PLAN FOR THE FUTURE - SPAD'S ROLL-OUT ON URBAN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION



INTRODUCTION


Let me first of all thank ASLI for taking the initiative to organize this conference on Urban Transportation. In my opinion ASLI’s timing could not be better. The Government is currently in the midst of preparing for the 11th Malaysia Plan and Urban Public Transport is a key focus area of the Government. Hence the ideas generated in this year’s Urban Transportation Forum could be used to inform policy-makers as they decide on the new strategies, programmes for urban transport in general and public transport in particular. The two are of course not synonymous as urban transport includes road infrastructure which is of course outside the jurisdiction of SPAD. Our mandate is restricted to trains, buses and taxis. 

CURRENT STATE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT 

Before I explain SPAD’’s roll-out plans for public transport, I would like to do a little-stocktaking exercise. The main Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for urban public transport is the modal share of public transport. The target is 40% by the year 2030. Where are we now? This varies by region. In the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley region, the picture is encouraging. The public transport modal share increased from 16.9% in 2010 to 19.6% in 2012 to 20.8% in 2013. Considering that the travelling base is also increasing, this is indeed a commendable achievement.

The main contributor to this good performance is the existence of the urban rail system and it shows that the Government’s heavy investment in urban rail in this region is paying economic dividends. Although the urban rail network covers a limited area of the region, 2013 statistics show that it carries 600,000 passengers per day. In the morning peak period, rail carries 49% of the total public transport load. 

We frequently hear well-meaning but ill-informed criticism that the modal share would be higher if only the Government did not expect public transport passengers to bear the full-cost of their journeys. This is really not true. I would like to point out a little known fact – namely that the Government is heavily subsidising passengers using rail public transport in the GKL/KV region. SPAD did an analysis in 2013 comparing the fare collection and the operating cost using 2012 figures. In the case of the LRT lines, fare revenue covers only 55% of the operating cost and the remaining 45% is implicitly subsidised by the Government. In the case of monorail passengers, the implicit Government subsidy is 30% while in the case of KTMB Komuter services, the implicit Government subsidy is a whopping 75%. 

Outside the Klang Valley, the only mode of scheduled public transport is the humble stage bus. SPAD analysis shows that in the 13 state capitals combined, the daily bus ridership is 245,000 and it is our estimate that with this ridership, the modal share of public transport in the state capitals is about 5%. The stage bus industry has been facing several structural problems which threaten its viability as a key component of the overall public transport system. 

It currently relies on the fare box revenue model whereby operating costs and investment returns are meant to be covered from passenger fares. However, this model has failed to provide public transport service which is a viable alternative to private cars. Route expansion did not keep pace with the increase in urbanization resulting in the stage bus network serve an increasingly smaller proportion of the urban area. Increasing affluence resulted in high rates of private vehicle ownership and taking into account the relatively lesser coverage of public transport resulted in greater use of private vehicles and lesser usage of stage buses. 

Bus operators reacted by cutting unprofitable routes, or reducing frequencies along routes, the net effect being further reduction in service followed by further reduction in patronage, putting the industry in a classic case of a vicious downward spiral. The increasing marginalization of public transport meant that local authorities are extremely reluctant to even consider, let alone take, measures that can assist public transport such as parking restrictions or bus priority in traffic. This further reduces the attractiveness of public transport. Local authorities frequently state that they cannot take traffic management measures until public transport becomes a viable alternative creating a chicken-or-egg situation. 

The Government attempted to address the problems of the industry by setting up the Interim Stage Bus Support Fund (ISBSF) in 2011 with an allocation of RM400 million. While ISBSF has helped to arrest the trend of route closures, it has not helped to make public transport a viable alternative to private transport. The fund is used to support stage bus operators meet their operating costs so as to arrest further route closures while a permanent solution is formulated. he lack of a transformative impact from ISBSF is therefore to be expected because as the name suggests, this is meant to be only an interim solution. Nationwide i.e. considering intra-urban, inter-urban and rural areas, in 2013 a total of 900,000 passengers daily have benefited from the Government’s ISBSF subsidy. 

SPAD’S TRANSFORMATION ROLL-OUT PLANS

(i) General
I am sure there are some among you who are thinking – this is all very well. We all know the problems of urban public transport. In every conference and every seminar that we attend, we hear beautiful analysis of the problems. What we want to know is what is the Government going to do about it? What is SPAD as the planning and regulatory agency going to do about it? And let me tell you, I agree with you. You are right to think that. So let me share some things that SPAD is doing to rectify the problems that the urban public transport sector faces. 

(ii) Rail
First the rail sector. One major need is to expand the urban rail network. It is simply too limited at the moment. However I will not dwell too much on the infrastructure improvements that the Government is doing in the Klang Valley. We all know about the MRT1 and MRT2, the LRT extensions and the new LRT line from Bandar Utama to Klang that was announced in the budget speech. One thing that I would like to mention though is that in the coming 11th Plan i.e. for the period 2016 0- 2020 there will be a need to consider urban rail systems in other large towns in the country. 

But for today, I would instead like to point out the service improvements that have taken place. In May 2013, the punctuality of KTMB Komuter trains was only 89%. This means that only 89% of the trains arrived within the stipulated window of their scheduled arrival time at a station. Now i.e. in September 2013 it is 97%. The track conditions remained the same, the number of rolling stock remained the same. How did this improvement come about? It came about because we in SPAD monitored train performance so that we have solid data on performance, It came about because KTMB was open and receptive to SPAD’s advice, monitoring and suggestions to making changes in how they deploy the rolling stock to minimize late arrivals. Once we pointed the facts out to them, agreement on corrective measures was easy. So quietly, we in SPAD and KTMB did what we need to do and improved the punctuality of KTMB services. The results are there in increased ridership. In 2013, the average daily ridership on KTMB Komuter was 120,000. In the month of September 2014, the average daily ridership was 130,000 i.e. an 8% increase. 

I am not suggesting that the gain of 8% is solely due to improved punctuality. But I am sure that it is one of the factors. We are continuing our efforts at achieving performance improvements through monitoring. For example, currently the stipulated gap to measure on-time arrival for all the urban rail systems is 10 minutes. I feel that this is too long a gap. Hence I have instructed SPAD staff to work with urban rail management to come up with a tighter stipulated time to measure punctuality. In this way, we will be able to offer better services to the public. 

We have also behind the scene worked on enhancing safety standards. We have just embarked on developing common railway safety standards for operations and maintenance. This initiative will be completed by September 2015. I don’t mean to imply that currently there are no safety standards. Of course there are. But this is because each operator has its own standards and safety policies, there are no common safety work practices. Hence we have seen accidents which fortunately have not involved passengers but railway staff have become casualties. I believe in being pro-active when it comes to safety. With the establishment of common standards, SPAD will be pro-active in enhancing safety

(iii) Stage buses
Now let me turn to our transformation roll-out plans for stage buses. SPAD has developed the Stage Bus Services Transformation programme to directly address the root problems facing this sector. This programme was also announced in the Budget Speech but not being as glamorous as MRT, did not receive much publicity in the newspapers. Under this programme, the business model for stage bus industry will be transformed from the operators being dependent on fare box collections to a gross-cost service delivery contract model where the Government will contract with the operator to provide a set quantity of service and will be paid a specified rate for it . In brief, under this model, SPAD as the planning and regulatory authority will plan and monitor the routes, frequencies, hours of service, vehicle specifications and operator performance while the stage bus operator will run the service according to these parameters. 

As announced in the Budget Speech, this scheme will first be rolled out in 5 state capitals i.e. Kuching, Kangar, Seremban, Ipoh and Kuala Terengganu. I expect the first contracts to be signed by the end of this year and the buses under this new scheme will start to be operational service in the initial area will be on the road by end of March 2015. 

(iv) Feeder Services
Now, let me turn to an area which is an intersection between urban buses and urban rail namely feeder buses. An SPAD survey done in November 2013 showed that the door-to-door journey time by urban rail is significantly longer i.e. 1.76 times more than for private cars. This situation does not encourage private vehicle owners to shift to public transport. This longer total journey time arises despite the fact that the on-board travelling time for urban rail is shorter than the in-vehicle travelling time by car. The survey found that generally, morning peak users walk from the rail station to their destination. So the last-mile is not the main problem contributing to the long journey times. The main factor contributing to the long journey times is the time taken to travel from home to the rail station. 

When we analysed feeder bus service performance, we find several weaknesses. In many cases, prospective passengers have to wait a long time for feeder buses to arrive. Also when the buses do arrive, the route length can be long and meandering. All this adds to the total journey time faced by passengers who depend on feeder buses to take rail. This shows that the number of buses operating on these feeder routes is lower than optimum. Similarly the long route distances are because the operator tries to cover as much of the catchment area in the single route. This problem arises from the housing land use pattern in Malaysia where the norm for housing estates is link or terrace houses spread out for a relatively large area rather than high-density condominium or dense housing. 

I can sympathise with feeder bus operators. Running feeder services is inherently loss-making. This is especially so if we use conventional buses as they are capital-intensive. Hence it is understandable and indeed rational from the operator’s point of view to cover as much of the residential catchment area in a single route with a limited number of buses. But the end result is not at all rational from the passenegr’s viewpoint i.e. long waiting and travelling times for d=feeder services. 

I believe that we need to be more innovative in our thinking in providing high quality feeder service. Is conventional bus the only solution? Why can’t we supplement conventional buses with lower-cost environmentally-friendly vehicle which are less capital-intensive? Then we can provide feeder service at more frequent intervals and with more direct routes. To this end, SPAD will be soliciting proposals on how to improve feeder services using lower-cost environmentally-friendly vehicles. The roll-out in pilot residential can commence after we analyze the proposals received. 

(v) Taxis
Taxis are a unique form of public transport. They are the only form of public transport that provides unscheduled services. However they play a very important part of the entire public transport ecosystem in Malaysia. The main roles for taxis are to provide first-mile and last0mile connectivity to those using other forms of public transport, to provide public transport services beyond the normal operation hours of scheduled public transport services and to provide a premium door-to-door public for those who can afford it. 

Teksi 1Malaysia or TEKS1M was introduced as a new taxi class, with emphasis on the first & last mile service level. As part of SPAD’s taxi transformation plans, all existing metered taxis must migrate into TEKS1M. This exercise is expected to be completed by 2025. As for non-metered taxis colloquially called hired cars, the transformation plan envisages that existing hired cars in the cities will be converted to TEKS1M, while hired cars in the rural areas are to migrate to a new class called community transit service class, focusing on serving the local residents. The transformation programme will also emphasize upgrading of service standards. 

The fleet enhancement component of the has minimum vehicle specifications that ensure passenger safety, comfort and convenience. For example, there will be new standards on minimum headroom, legroom and luggage space for a vehicle to be approved as a taxi. Safety standards are also set. The Centralised Taxi Service System (CTSS) is a technology infrastructure initiative that will serve as the platform to monitor taxi performance. In addition, its integration with the existing booking & dispatch systems aims to enhance passenger booking experience. Initiatives to improve driver behaviour will focus on uplifting the knowledge, skills and image of taxi drivers. This includes code of ethics, driver orientation and train the trainer programme. These approaches are developed and conducted with passengers’ interest in mind, Through the transformation initiatives, it is hoped that the taxi service will be more accessible to the public, at greater comfort and convenience, with the service provided by professional and courteous taxi drivers. 

(vi) Integrated Ticketing 
The final initiative that I would like to mention here is integrated ticketing initiative. Currently despite what some think there is no integrated ticketing between operators. Even if you use Touch-and-Go cards to travel between two operators e.g. KTMB and Rapid Rail, you have to get out of one system and get into the other. So you will be charged twice and there is no discount in case you are merely transferring from one system to another. 

Under the Government’s integrated ticketing initiative which SPAD is implementing, all these will be a thing of the past. Passengers will be allowed to change from one rail operator to another without having to pay twice and thus we can eliminate the transfer penalty that transfer passengers are charged. Similarly public transport users will be able to change from buses to trains and vice-versa within a fixed time frame without having to pay a transfer penalty. Integrated ticketing will therefore bring both convenience and financial benefits to public transport users. This initiative will be in place by the opening of the MRT1 line on 31st December 2016. Eventually we will extend the benefits of integrated to park-and-ride users as well. 

CONCLUSION

I know it is customary to end speeches on public transport with the quote from the former Bogota Mayor Penalosa to the effect that an advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation. However I would like to reach back to an even more ancient quote. Plato in 400 BC said “Any city, however small is in fact divided into two: one the city for the poor and the other the city for the rich". I see public transport as the means to reduce the gap between these two Platonic cities within a city. I am fully aware that the rakyat’s expectations on urban public transport are unlimited while their patience to see improvements is very limited. We in SPAD will strive to satisfy both. I hope that my luncheon address has given you enough food for thought on how we intend to do so. 

Thank you.