August 21, 2007

Young Writers’ Camp 2007

Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 4:15 am by egalitaria

I just returned from a Young Writers’ Camp, where I gave a workshop on blogging. This bunch of youths are highly intellectual and ask good questions. It makes me inspired and encouraged that there are so many young people out there who really do want to write to make a difference (or at least I hope).

I said the following, during my session…

I said that when we blog, we must remember the fact that we have a public audience out there. That is the basic premise. I encouraged them to think of a particular theme for their blog, asking them Why they blog in the first place. There are millions of blogs out there, so why would theirs be any different?

I challenged them to do three things: 3I’s. In blogging, remember that the blog is merely a communication tool like any other writing tool. So the first is to have an Idea – like any piece of writing, you need to have a passion, a message, something urgent that you want to say to the world out there.

Secondly, blogs Interact with the other, interact with individuals around them and is a useful mechanism to receive feedback, criticisms and comments to the stuff they write. Use this to their advantage. Thirdly, blogs must Impact society in some way. Think of the people’s hearts you want to change. Writing for the public and the mass, how will it impact the reader as they go along?

The theme of the camp was writing to know self, God and others. I can account for the fact that writing changes who we are. We discover ourselves in the process. And for what purpose God made us. And how we can help others to do the same.

The best thing you can do in life is to inspire. -Bob Dylan.

Jeffrey Sachs

Posted in Economics, Malaysia at 4:07 am by egalitaria

This has been quite a period of celebrity speakers coming to Kuala Lumpur. August Merdeka month, mah.. lots of big names turning up at our doorstep, leaving but a shadow behind when September, October and November creep up towards us.

Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and advisor for the Millennium Development Goals, came to speak at an Economic Planning Unit (EPU) event last week. He spoke very highly of Malaysia, stating that there is hardly any poverty left to take care of. There were some excellent points made, the fact that Malaysia needs to seriously consider building walkways and paths to cycle in the city, lest our public becomes fat and lazy driving around in cars alone. Also that we can be a good example to other countries.

However, I felt like he was glossing things over, definitely sugar-coating us for the successes we have had without much focus on how we can improve. I asked him a question, quoting from his very chapter in a book I am reading. He says the following.

A successful development strategy should include 3 components:

1. A time path of public investments suited to the national circumstances.

2. An economic policy framework to support private-sector economic activity.

3. A political framework to ensure the rule of law and macroeconomic stability.

I asked Jeffrey to analyse Malaysia based on these three criteria, especially with regards to No. 1 (seeing that Malaysia has spent a lot of its resource money on mega projects and big buildings) and to No. 3 (seeing that Malaysia still has issues with corruption and the increasing Gini coefficient/larger gap between the rich and the poor).

He swerved away my question completely and didn’t answer it! I was quite disappointed. But then again, he was in the hands of the Good Government that invited him over.  And yes, he is still an amazing developmental economist. Left of the centre, in the very least, and that puts him in my good books.

Grameen Bank

Posted in Outside Malaysia at 3:58 am by egalitaria

A week ago I attended Khazanah Nasional’s talk No 2 by Mohd. Yunus from Grameen Bank, Bangladesh. He won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his now world-famous Bank that lent out micro credit loans to poverty stricken communities, and has successfully transformed their lives. The story is mindblowing, amazingly revolutionary and completely turns traditional bankers on their heels.

Yunus talks about the banking system as one that should exist for the benefit of the poor. In his experience, he found it startlingly contrasting that the university should be beside the hardcore poor, and that despite all the knowledge amassed by the university, still professors had not figured out a way to help people out of poverty cycles.

He began by giving little tiny loans to families. Eventually they used this capital to improve their homes and lives. An interesting fact is that 96% of the loans are given to women. And the bank has a 99% repayment rate. Which is amazing. He is a hero. I hope many others follow his example to rethink the concept of profit, prosperity and the financial world. Profit should mean profit to the entire community, not just for the self or own company, because in the long run an entire generation benefits.

The Resource Curse

Posted in Malaysia, Outside Malaysia, The Cause at 3:51 am by egalitaria

It’s been a week since I’ve returned from Bali. It was an amazing time, seeing the numerous representatives from Asia-Pacific countries sharing their stories with the others, on how resources in their respective countries have been exploited for either foreign or Government usage in the past decades.

The resources curse is just the term referred to when resource-rich nations are blessed with oil, minerals, gas, tin and so on, but because of corruption, money is channelled the wrong way to the hands of the people who misuse it.

The Publish What You Pay campaign started in the UK, and has grown to a coalition of more than 300 NGOs all around the world. The coalition calls on resource rich developing governments around the world to publish full details on the money it receives from companies on revenues. This usually takes place in the form of taxes, royalties and dividends.

Then the PWYP came up with an initiative called the EITI: Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is something Governments can sign onto. This is a voluntary disclosure of accounts within the extractive industries. Countries like Ghana, Mongolia have already signed up to the EITI. Surprisingly, Malaysia being historically one of the countries that has engaged in extractive industry has not any inkling of these two initiatives.

The Malaysia team will be looking at starting something here, so watch this space. This is something I’m pretty excited about. In our country, the issue is not so much about disclosure of information TO the Government. Instead, it is about the transparency of precisely HOW the Government uses the money for national development – and this information is almost impossible to obtain.

In the meantime, I’ve also volunteered to be on the PWYP Asia-Pacific Working Group for its regional network. That means it’ll be easier for us Malaysians to get resources from our neighbour countries!

Bolehland.com

Posted in Malaysia, Tricia's Writings at 3:42 am by egalitaria

Nat is as usual, the ever energetic guy. He’s gotten a few of us to come together on (yet) another website which will feature some regular “columnists” to contribute articles. I’m not sure how this differentiates itself from other existing websites, but anyways, here I am writing on it once a fortnight. They are quite random thoughts, I think, until I figure it will be on a particular topic.

Here is my first article since the inception of the website, which is http://bolehland.com

The (F)utility of Forums

Gathering a bunch of people together at the same place at the same time to discuss apparently important issues is a natural recipe for great empty talk, or great initiative for change, depending on the nature and focus of the particular conference. I have become increasingly disillusioned with the manner in which forums, seminars, summits, conventions, and conferences (you name it) are conducted. Many times participants end up leaving feeling a sense of hopelessness at the futility of such talk-shops.

Granted, the objectives of these numerous seminars vary widely. Let us examine each of these and examine to what extent they justify their ever having existed. I begin with the premise that all such gatherings do have a particular goal, failing which they do not deserve to be considered. Some barely make the mark.

Read the rest of this entry »

August 9, 2007

Publish What You Pay

Posted in Malaysia at 3:10 pm by egalitaria

I’m in Bali learning a whole lot about the “Resource Curse”, where resource rich countries are cursed with minerals, oil and gas but unfortunately are amongst the poorest in the world, mainly due to corruption and mismanagement of funds. Right now Mr. Basir is presenting, from Afghanistan. It’s a great time of learning about technical details such as IFIs (International Financial Institutions) like World Bank etc, EITI (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative), PWYP (Publish What You Pay) – a coalition of world wide NGOs etc. This conference is to get an Asia-Pacific Regional Coalition going.

I presented yesterday on the Case on Malaysia, mainly investigating the transparency of accounting of oil and gas companies. This includes Petronas, Shell and others. Malaysia has done a whole lot better than some of the other countries being represented here, (Myanmar, Timor Leste etc), but at the same time, there are loopholes that need to be looked into further.

Mainly it is about “publishing how funds are actually being USED”. Watch this space for more interesting news! There’s so much that can be done. And this might just be the answer to many of our woes, Malaysia being OIL and gas rich.

These are some of the issues I highlighted in the presentation on Malaysia yesterday.

My article in the Star

Posted in Malaysia, Personal, Reflections, The Cause at 3:04 pm by egalitaria

Genuine unity

A young Malaysian believes in a Malaysia that smiles with her heart.

By TRICIA YEOH

ON Merdeka Day, one is witness to a fanfare of celebrations, semangat muhibbah and flag-flying. This year is no different, and I stand by my fellow patriots in giving full allegiance to this nation we call “home”, because really, this is a home like no other.

Every year, there will be images of ladies impeccably clad in their respective traditional outfits, singing their lungs out to patriotic songs, on television.

Tricia Yeoh: ‘I, like many Malaysians of my generation, naturally trust our leaders to look out for us.’

What perturbs me, however, is that some of these choir singers wear plastic smiles, seemingly disconnected from the songs they sing. Since I first noticed this, I’ve seen many false expressions of unity in the country.

These days I’m in search of something more meaningful.

I, like many Malaysians of my generation, naturally trust our leaders to look out for us.

I am therefore troubled when I hear remarks by a Parliamentarian, no less, that people of my particular skin colour should leave the country and go back to where we belong. Had it not occurred to my dear statesman that this country truly is where we belong and to which we firmly pledge our allegiance?

Establishing the fact that Malaysia is a multi-racial society should be sufficient to convince us that the country must serve all and all alike.

The stinging realisation of practices that discriminate one particular group over another has hit home. Thousands of Malaysians have chosen to migrate, preferring countries that recognise meritocracy first.

I have chosen to work in the area of public policy in Malaysia. I believe that working in the area of public policy gives me a tremendous opportunity to influence change in society on a macro level. I am willing to grasp at straws for the sake of a better tomorrow, even if it takes several generations.

In my work, I have had the opportunity to interact with people of all races, religions, geographical regions and backgrounds. These encounters help to shape public policies on socio-economic issues.

I believe that we must agree upon a culture of inclusiveness and appreciate people for who they are without necessarily placing them in little compartments in our heads.

Only then can we appreciate policies that aim to achieve a greater good for collective gain.

It is also necessary to move beyond artificial displays of unity. People should be given equal treatment, as it is crucial in ensuring that they feel accepted and united.

It is only upon dealing with the two fundamental notions of non-discrimination and equality, that we can begin to grapple with issues such as corruption, inefficiency, unemployment, lack of safety and security, pollution, and other socio-economic problems.

Public policy reform through research, analysis, dialogue and constructive criticism is a long and laborious process, but one that I feel is worth doing.

I believe in a day when this nation will move beyond petty racism and discriminatory practices. I believe in a day when race and religion are not wrongly used as political tools for power gain.

I believe in a Malaysia that celebrates cultural diversity beyond rigid identities of categories, and one that practises genuine unity because it desires to.

I believe in a Malaysia that smiles with its heart. No more lip service, no more plastic smiles, please.

  • Tricia, 24, is a senior research analyst at the Centre for Public Policy Studies. The views expressed are her own.
  • A Reader’s Response to Zam’s statement

    Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 3:02 pm by egalitaria

    A reader’s response to Info Minister Zam
    Time to stop believing your own propaganda

    Dear Sir,

    I refer to your August 3 report on the comments made by the Minister of Information in response to the launch of the Merdeka Statement.

    On the contrary, I believe it is the Honourable Minister that needs a healthy reality check. If theSun‘s report is correct, I am astonished that barely within 24 hours of the launch of the Merdeka Statement he has managed to consult the majority of the people in this country and, having consulted them, he has come to the conclusion that the majority of the people in this country are offended by the first item of the Merdeka Statement.

    Be that as it may, the world doesn’t live in Malaysia. We do. The world has an outsider’s view of racial unity in Malaysia. We live the reality on a daily basis. Yes we did enjoy the spring of greater racial unity in the earlier years of our lives. But as we get older we now experience the increasing winter of discontent, and our concerns have grown for the future of our children, and our children’s children, in the next 50 years. If the unity of our country is not in trouble, why have there been press reports (which have not been challenged) about the increase in racial polarisation in our schools and universities?

    Why has there been a flight from the sekolah kebangsaan to the sekolah jenis kebangsaan? If the unity of our country is not in jeopardy, why was there a need to start National Service? So that our youths could play around with M16 rifles? If the unity of our country has not been under threat, why is it that we actually have a Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service looking into issues of national unity, having public hearings, compiling a report, etc.

    Why was the Jabatan Perpaduan Negara re-named Jabatan Perpaduan Negara dan Integrasi Nasional? The 42 organisations which were listed as supporting (whether in whole or in part) the Merdeka Statement either deal with or represent ordinary people of all walks of life on an everyday basis. Does the Honourable Minister really think that the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations is elitist? Or the Malaysian Confederation of the Disabled? Or Yayasan Strategik Sosial? This last organisation is a body that works with underprivileged and marginalised, mainly Indian, children and youths. How more “un-elitist” can you get?

    Does he consider the Malaysia Hindu Sangam elitist? Or the Malaysian Buddhist Association? Rather than face the reality, the preferred response appears to be to classify these groups as an elitist unrepresentative fringe group, and then to dismiss them as “Irrelevant!”

    Furthermore, when you actually take a look at the Merdeka Statement, is it so bad that under the first item there is a call to ensure that “all new policies should be tested against the tenets of the Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara? Is it so horrible that “an independent and transparent National Consultative Council on Vision 2020 should be established immediately? Is it so intolerable that “a National Research Institute on Ethnic Relations should be established?” Are these things, in and of themselves, so repugnant to the average person in the street that the majority of Malaysians would be offended by such suggestions?

    And finally, what is so objectionable about the setting up of a truth and reconciliation committee, designed to listen to people, talk about their personal experience of nation-building, of instances where government action or policy has, instead of bringing good,
    caused hurt and pain. It would be ordinary people sharing their stories, recounting their difficulties, letting the rakyat speak for themselves. There are so manythings that we are not allowed to talk about, so many things that are the subject of threats of prosecution or incarceration, or actual gag orders.

    Why would a Minister of Information consider a suggestion of hearing directly from the rakyat something which is “uncalled for”? If it shatters the picture postcard image of Malaysia that his ministry tries so hard to portray, that is unfortunate. He should not believe his own propaganda.

    Andrew Khoo
    Kuala Lumpur
    via email on Aug 4, 2007

    August 5, 2007

    3 Stations in the Qur’an

    Posted in Religion, Theology at 3:06 am by egalitaria

    I was graciously taught these concepts by a good friend. Themes are very similar between the Bible and the Qur’an.

    There are three stations that mankind goes through as one travels through life. These three capture the struggle and innermost desires of a person.

    1. Nafs al-amarah bi al-su’

    This is the stage at which the bestial, carnal nature of man overrides all else. Desires, wants, lust, greed epitomise man at this point, where actions are driven by selfish nature and focus is upon self. This is the “nafs” that animals and human beings share.

    2. Nafs lawamah

    Based on the assumption that morality is inherent, this is the station at which humans are able to now exercise a level of conscience, and hence a struggle ensues between one’s desires and will. This struggle continues in the continuous desire to strike a balance. This is the stage at which most of us are presently in.

    3. Nafs al-mutmainah

    This is the final stage which most will not be able to achieve, the desired station where it takes no effort whatsoever to do good in life. Goodness is therefore the chosen natural action, needing no struggle nor the pricking of conscience upon one’s will.

    Jesus, in calling the Pharisees to think instead upon the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law, said to them that the most important commandment was to “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and mind and soul”, and the next was to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. These were spoken in opposition to regimented law of archaic nature, performed very much for the sake of it at the time. Inherent within this teaching is the call towards Nafs al-mutmainah. The natural desire to engage in doing good, which is a result of naturally loving one and the other. Different religions have taught these principles in different terminologies.

    I am admittedly within the Nafs lawamah category at this point.

    Elections is for the Malays?

    Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 2:50 am by egalitaria

      Khairy J. is at it again. He says that the elections is for the future of the Malays. Of course. It is plain to see. Race card played once again for political mileage. Enough said. No need any indepth political analysis, this one, let’s not reduce ourselves to pretend that it warrants any philosophical consideration.

    Instead, No. 2 of my postings of what I wish the Prime Minister would say. Or anyone from UMNO, for that matter. I wish we had a noble statesmen who would say the following:

    “Young man, I thank you for your enthusiasm. Indeed, it is honourable that you would desire to stand for the people of your kind. We no doubt need intelligent, passionate men as yourself to uplift the sorry state of our Malay brethren – especially those who are still economically disadvantaged. I agree with you.

    However, you see, even our Founding Fathers and many great leaders that followed, have established an understanding that Malaysia is really for people of different ethnic groups. We share common ground that is this nation. We share a common space, a common value system. We share Malaysia. To say that the coming elections is for the future of the Malays alone is not a fair representation of our collective history. Of course yes, it IS for the future of the Malays but also for the future of all other races – Malaysia is made up of other races as well, and they form a pretty large group of people here. Plus, don’t forget that the Chinese and Indians also helped in the process of Independence and fighting the Japanese Occupation.

    So I think, it is better if you said this: Elections is for the sake of all Malaysians, to ensure they get the leaders of their choice, responsible leaders who, in demonstrating the best of integrity and governance can then contribute to the elevation of people in society as a whole, Malays included. I think that is a better way of putting it. Could you please apologise to our fellow Chinese and Indian and other brothers and sisters for your statement? Let’s show them that we really do welcome them as they welcome us. I think it is only fair that they have an equal say in the future of our country. After all, we are all living together. They are equal citizens too.”

    When and from WHOM can we receive such a statement?

    I’m waiting for a noble statesmen to gently admonish racism without being arrogant or confrontational.

    I’m waiting for a noble Malay politician and leader to be bold and brave – plus, it is being righteously bold, about something that is true and noble. The future lies in your hands. A mere Chinese nobody like me (or my fellow Chinese leaders, for that matter) has no voice, I feel. Our mouthpieces are weak.

    I’m waiting. I’m waiting. I’m waiting.

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