Archive for October 2014

Budget 2015 deceives the rakyat

October 28, 2014

Budget 2015, announced by Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, on superficial reading seems very people-friendly. However, a closer look reveals that it did not address any of the pressing problems and long-standing issues. The Budget did not address our social, economic and structural problems that are afflicting and weakening national cohesion and strength. The declining quality of education, increasing crime rates, increasing corruption and growing intolerance and extremism are some of the concerns of Malaysians.

In the 2015 Budget, as usual, the Education Ministry received the largest slice – 23.4% or 52.36 billion. But Malaysian universities have again and again failed to get into the top 200 in the Times higher education global ranking, whereas other Asean universities are making progress and newer universities are ranked within the top 200. It is public knowledge that 70% of our English teachers failed to make the grade in the Cambridge Placement test. No mention of any redress in the Budget.

The teaching of Mathematics and Science in English was introduced in 2003 but terminated in 2012, and this after the Ministry had spent RM3.2 billion. Large sections of society want the programme to continue but the Ministry has taken little heed of their request.

Bad report card

In the programme for international student assessment (PISA), the 2012 results revealed that Malaysian students, combined, scored below average or ranked 52 out of the 65 countries! In contrast, Vietnam, a poorer country with a lower budget allocation for education, ranked 17 out of 65! The World Bank has pointed out that Malaysia continues to decline in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) benchmark, yet there was a time when the country performed well. Despite the drastic drop in quality, Education and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin insists that Malaysia has one of the best education systems in the world.

After 57 years of independence, the 21 public universities’ intake of students is still very much racially-biased; the matriculation examination is used for predominantly one race and the public STPM examinations, for others. Malaysian universities and centres of higher learning are riddled with racism, nepotism, cronyism and double standards, due to political interference. Even with the high allocation of funds, the Ministry of Education is not able to eliminate the leakage of public examination papers like SPM and UPSR.

Frequent flip-flops

The frequent flip-flops in the implementation of programmes like School-based Assessment (SBA), and the recent withdrawal of the decision to disallow the use of forecast results for admission into private educational institutions show the Ministry’s level of preparedness, research and consultation. The 2014 Auditor-General’s Report has revealed severe mishandling of RM2.051 billion in the hiring of security contractors for schools between 2010 and 2012. Such revelations do not surprise Malaysians any more. One common reason for the brain drain in Malaysia is the low quality and standard of education.

Despite the highest allocation, we have heard many times that graduates are sent for retraining to become employable. But the number of tertiary institutions, universities and colleges is constantly increasing. Are we going after certificates and grades without any emphasis on quality and competency? Are we paying attention to rhetoric and not substance? The Education Ministry is more bent on pursuing its political agenda than on the quality of education. Our education system needs immediate and drastic transformation and overhaul. Will the Education Ministry take note, buck up and learn?

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Time the Education Ministry gets its own schooling right

October 28, 2014

The recent charging of academician Dr Azmi Sharom and the probe on Dr Aziz Bari have sent a chilling effect on academic freedom in the already under-achieving education system.

Despite the concern that none of our local universities ranks within the top 400 world universities ranking, silencing Malaysian academics shows that the Ministry of Education is not bothered about providing space for innovative and creating thinking.

All talk and hype on improving the quality of education look like mere rhetoric and without any substance.

Besides Azmi Sharom, several student activists from local universities were also arrested under the sedition charge.

It is baffling to note that on the one hand the Ministry of Education talks about improving the quality of education by promoting creative and critical thinking but on the other hand it restricts, regulates and censors the role of academics by preventing them from expressing their expert opinions and informed views. Can our higher education centres become world-class universities when the dagger of the Sedition Act hangs over academics’ and students’ heads?   Our Ministry of Education may want to produce and flood the market with graduates who are neither employable nor able to express themselves to their colleagues and audiences.

Well, if nobody employs them, the government is ever ready to absorb them and convert them into their loyal vote bank. That’s how we now have 1.4 million civil servants in a bloated government service and they absorb about 40% of the operating budget every year.          The university heads along with others holding key posts are political appointees. There is legislation and there are executive authorities that exert their influence in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors and members of governing bodies. Malaysia is one country where academics cannot get a transfer from one university to another to gain new experience or undertake research without the approval of Ministry of Education.              In addition to the above, academics are mandated to sign a loyalty oath, the Aku Janji (I Pledge) contract or declaration document that further restricts their conduct and activities inside and outside their workplaces.

The loyalty oath is a pre-emptive move to restrict the freedom of academics.  Besides, the Ministry of Education’s Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) has reduced higher education centres to being passive and submissive ones.

The loyalty oath is repugnant to the dignity of the academic profession. It implies that without subscribing to the oath, academics will commit or encourage an act of subversion or treason. This is a preposterous assumption that has to be totally condemned by all thinking academics.   Both the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and surcharge) Act (Act 605) are documents that show a blatant curb on academic freedom and university autonomy. Universities are slowly and surely becoming government departments taking orders from higher-ups.

Unless academic freedom is given its due place and respect within a university, significant contributions to the quality of the institution as a whole cannot be promoted to a level of excellence.   Every year, the Ministry of Education is allotted the highest budget but the quality of education is sliding downwards all the while.

The yearly examination paper leakages and the frequent flip-flops, including the latest as to whether or not to use forecast examination results to enter private institutions, do not compensate for the huge amount of taxpayers’ money spent. Now, taxpayers have to pay an additional new tax – the GST – to narrow the yearly deficit. It’s time the Ministry of Education gets its act right and schools itself correctly.

Double whammy of GST, fuel hike

October 7, 2014

The timing of the 20-sen increase in price of RON 95  just before Budget 2015 seems to be an ‘inducement’ to the stream of goodies the Finance Minister is planning to hand out to appease the BN’s vote bank.

The sudden increase in price of RON 95 has created a real fear of multiple price increases across the board, which are already visible. The GST implementation on 1/4/2015 would be a double whammy for people.

Media reports point to Finance Minister and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announcing goodies and handouts in the coming Budget 2015 such as the increase in BRIM payments and lower income tax rates.

And it is estimated that up to 80% of Malaysian households are already receiving the BRIM.

The reduction of the 20-sen subsidy is aimed at the eventual elimination of fuel subsidies to reduce Malaysia’s fiscal deficits.

But subsidies were first introduced to reduce the financial burden of workers, whose salaries were suppressed and have stagnated to attract foreign companies.

The Malaysian government curbed workers’ rights and their wages to induce MNCs and FDIs to invest locally.

Low wages became more prominent in Malaysia. This has led to low productivity, poor economic structure and increased addiction to employing foreign workers.

The steps taken have displaced local workers and blocked the move to go into automation and up the production supply chain.

With an incomplete minimum-wage implementation and with about 4 million legal and illegal foreign workers depressing wages, the subsidy rationalization and GST implementation will increase the cost of living and cause people to feel the pinch.

Increasing fuel prices without any increase in wages and without proper effort to automate manufacturing, will worsen the already high income inequality.

It is public knowledge that the top 1% of Malaysians are worth more than the bottom 40% of our population.

The Malaysian household debt to GDP is now at a staggering 86.8% compared with others around us like Thailand – 30%, Indonesia – 15.8%, Hong Kong – 58%, Taiwan – 82%, Japan – 75% and Singapore – 67%.

Any increase in the cost of living will hurt Malaysians most.

Malaysians are already burdened with high house and car prices and now, with a higher petrol price, they will feel the squeeze on spending.

The lower-income households and even middle-income earners are now more vulnerable to multiple prices increases and income shocks.

It’s unfortunate that the government has not improved public transport even though complaints have been there for a long time.

There are many destinations in Malaysia that have no public transport at all.

Bekok town in the Labis district has no public transport.

Residents are mostly oil palm and rubber smallholders and the prices of these commodities are down now.

These small town residents will be affected by any petrol price increase and the GST that will be levied on all goods and services for private transport.

The price of oil has fallen to its lowest level in the last 6 years in the international market.

Therefore, the subsidy rationalization could have been delayed until oil prices firmed up later.

 

High level of bribery, corruption

The government could have avoided the spiralling effects of petrol on other goods.

Instead, the government chose to act hastily to please fund managers and international rating agencies.

“Malaysia ranks the highest in the levels of bribery and corruption anywhere in the world,” said the Asia Risk report.

About 39% of respondents said that bribery or corrupt practices take place widely in Malaysia, a figure which is nearly double the Asia-Pacific average of 21.

But the government has not announced any measures to rein in bribery and corruption.

No high-profile Umno politician or crony has been charged for bribery or corruption.

On the other hand, the police and the Attorney-General’s office are busy invoking the archaic Sedition Act to silence critics, student activists and opposition leaders.

To save government finances, grants and support for 1MDB and subsidies for toll concessionaries must be stopped.

All government support for private projects, GLCs, government-owned corporations must have transparent accounts. Purchasing expired IPPs at exorbitant prices contravenes all good practices. It looks like Umno’s cronies are, in reality, managing this country. Do we have any hope left?

 

Extremism is so yesterday

October 7, 2014

The Prime Minister in his latest UN speech last week made an international appeal for the global movement of moderates (wasatiyah) to denounce the ISIS force.

Malaysian prime ministers have always appealed for moderation at international forums and when addressing their audiences.

In fact, Malaysia is known as a moderate country whose multiracial groups live harmoniously and have equal rights and privileges.

But the reality on the ground is far from what the outside world understands and knows.

Apartheid in Malaysia is practised by the very people calling for moderation at international forums.

It is the same Datuk Seri Najib Razak, appealing for moderation when abroad, who made calls to Umno members to emulate the bravery of the Isis militants if the Malay nationalist party wanted to survive.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled with an iron fist for 22 years, was a respected progressive leader internationally.

But, back home, he initiated racially-slanted discriminatory policies that promoted and supported race-based affirmative actions and sacrificed needs-based policies.

These actions have perpetuated a high level of nepotism and corruption in all spheres of governance.

Today, the current Prime Minister and his party sponsor racial and chauvinistic parties like PERKASA, ISMA and PERKIDA.

These groups are funded by the National Security Council, Prime Minister’s Department and the Home Affairs Ministry.

These groups can say anything and get away with it, but when a Law Professor like Azmi Sharom interprets the law that highlights the actual reality, he is charged under the Sedition Act.

The Biro Tata Negara (National Civics Bureau or BTN), with an annual budget of RM500 million under the Prime Minister’s Department, is a racial indoctrination camp that distorts history and propagates Umno’s own version of it.

All these have happened right under the Prime Minister’s nose but he looks the other way and chooses to ignore the issues.

But at international forums, it is moderation, meritocracy and other nice things that are sung!

The Prime Minster does not need to look far to notice religious extremism.

Back home there is a steady rise of religious hardliners who are imposing do’s and don’ts on innocent people.

They have grown politically powerful to the extent that even the politicians have to take orders from them.

Tun Dr Mahathir yesterday urged them to condemn ISIS.

But will they speak up against religious extremism?

Religious conversion of minors and unilateral conversions are religious practices that divide the pluralistic population of Malaysia.

They are contrary to basic human tenets. Yet the Malaysian Prime Minister is silent.

Extremism and parochialism have never developed any community or country, but instead have ruined and destroyed harmonious societies.

In the recent PAS Muktamar, the deputy president of the party, Mat Sabu, advised the religious hardliners in his party to remain relevant to capture the support of Malaysia’s youth.

It is timely advice given at the correct forum which hosted religious hard-core and political leaders.

But the hardliners would not take his advice kindly.

Religious hardliners feel that they are holier than others and that they are the self-appointed worldly representatives of God.

Their remaining insular and extreme is all right, but their imposing their views and demanding mandatory compliance with their interpretation of Scriptures and religious documents does bring hardship, strains relationships and restricts the social and economic upward mobility of innocent people.

Religion has dominated politics for a long time in many countries. In Malaysia recently, it has taken centre stage.

Hard-core religious personalities are increasingly becoming influential politicians who propagate their uncompromising, dogmatic, unscientific, religious agenda and use their political position and power to control the minds of the innocent and the naïve.

Our founding fathers would never have approved of the racial, religious and narrow-minded path UMNO has steered itself into.

It has to change course very soon, or the nation will veer off a cliff.