June 25th, 2015

Dismiss, not transfer, problematic civil servants

WITH reference to the issue where a teacher in a primary school in Sungai Petani, Kedah, allegedly told pupils to drink their own urine, this is the second toilet incident happening in our schools, which appears to be becoming an issue commonly accepted by the authorities.

In the first incident, non-Muslim students were instructed to have their meals in a shower room, far away from Muslim students during Ramadan.

The reason the headmaster gave was that “the non-Muslim students would tease Muslim students by displaying the food”.

During my schooling years, I went through fasting months for 13 years. There was no such ugly ruling by the headmasters then. My Muslim friends would stay in classrooms or the library. Non-Muslim students did not misbehave in any way towards Muslim students then.

This was between 1953 and 1966. But, what was the action taken in the first case? A RM10,000 donation was handed to the headmaster who caused the furore and he remained in the post till he retired, after which he commenced to take legal action against the parent of the student concerned.

The parent transferred her child to a vernacular school. In many similar cases, “disciplinary actions taken according to the Civil Service General Orders” meant that the teacher would be transferred to another school, along with the transfer allowance, incentives and other perks as deemed fit.

A few months later, he would be promoted to headmaster or even posted overseas. I fail to see how asking children to drink their own urine can be “a joke”.

Only officers with a sick mind will crack such an idiotic joke to school children. Under normal circumstances, any civil servant found in breach of the General Orders will be given the transfer certificate.

Previously, the chief secretary to the government proudly announced that from 1999 to 2014, out of 1.4 million civil servants, only one member of staff was dismissed.

Last week, he said there were some 5,000 problematic staff, but happily added that these staff would be rehabilitated, counselled, re-trained and given talks to get them back on the right track.

But he never dared to say that any of them would be dismissed. In comparison, during my civil service days, hundreds of civil servants were given their marching orders.

This current indifference and selective implementation of the General Orders have created a container-full of “Little Napoleons” who believe they can get away with anything.

In this case then, the chief secretary to the government should be dismissed without pension for his poor performance.

Teachers are there to be an excellent and exemplary role model to the students, both in deeds and words. But the conduct of some teachers is the reverse. These teachers are not fit to teach our children.
K. Ramamurthy Achari,Penang The NST Letters to the Editors 24 June 2015

One for all, all for one

Education is for all, it’s time we think of the bigger picture affecting all children.

MY colleague received a press statement sent by a very high-ranking official of a government department recently. It was personally written in English by the official and sent by WhatsApp to ensure it was speedily delivered.

The only snag was that his command of the language was so horrendous that my colleague had to suggest to him, politely, that he might want to stick to Bahasa Malaysia to ensure accurate reporting on our part. He got the message. A new version was eventual­ly sent.

Then, there are also the vice-chancellors of a few public universities who face the same language problem despite having spent much time in overseas universities to pursue their post-graduate studies.

We have also met Malaysian diplomats who cannot carry out a proper conversation in flawless English and we know some of them even shy away from social functions, which is a shame as this where they can pick up nuggets of information for their intelligence reports.

A few generations, yes, a few generations, are paying the price – unable to speak and write in proper English – because of our education system.

At best, they may have some semblance of communication English, but without the proper foundations in grammar, many are unable to even string a sentence together correctly.

Because English is just a subject, there is hardly any opportunity to use and practise the language on a regular and extensive basis within the school system.

That’s how low we have sunk. Forget about the occasional use of some Latin words to make the language more refined, if not, more classy. Getting through the basics is tough enough.

It is no surprise, therefore, that they really struggle when they reach tertiary level where much of the information is in English.

And even upon graduation, many employers are reluctant to hire them when they cannot function properly in an environment where the working language is English.

Controversial MP Datuk Bung Mokhtar became the butt of every joke on social media when he introduced a hashtag ­#earthquack for his postings on the earthquake situa­tion in his home state.

Well, we also can see that some of our Chinese politicians, from both sides of the political divide, struggle with English, judging by some of the postings they make on Facebook.

Every now and then, we have reports about bad English in an English examination paper. We have more or less gotten used to the fact that the English in many of our official websites are littered with mistakes.

It doesn’t seem to bother our politicians and decision makers one bit, as they will simply shrug off calls to allow English as a medium of instruction in our education system.

Why should they be worried as many of them are able to send off their children to boarding schools overseas at a young age? After all, the only ones that would bear the consequences would be the students in the rural areas.

The Ruler of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, recently suggested that English be made a medium of instruction – he didn’t say make English THE medium of instruction.

The reality is that English, as a medium of instruction, is already available but it is restricted only to private and international schools, mostly in urban areas.

And despite the high fees charged, more urban parents are opting to send their children to such schools because they simply want their children to be proficient in this international language.

The urban-rural divide is accentuated because while children in the rural areas are sometimes teased for using English, it is perfectly normal for English to be used at home in middle-class Malaysia.

And with greater exposure to the language, the urban children do have an edge over those in the rural areas.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As his Royal Highness the Sultan of Johor said, these politicians are using nationalism and race to champion communal rights and the Malay language at the expense of the English language.

They are doing so to protect their interests and political positions. Unfortunately, many seem to buy into their agendas.

We must also be clear that the lack of proficiency in English cuts across all races.

Many Chinese parents send their children to Chinese schools at the primary level because they want their children to be able to speak and write basic Chinese as they eye the growing economic power of China.

Many shy away from the national schools because there is a strong perception that these schools have turned more religious in character with a single race dominant in the overall attendance.

The national schools that many of us from my generation and earlier grew up in, where English was the medium of instruction, were different as all races were well represented.

But in our current situation, many Chinese parents also find that sending their children to the Chinese primary schools does not help their children have a good command of English either.

The English proficiency of the majority of Chinese teenagers, because of their background in Chinese schools, is just as bad as their counterparts in the rural schools.

They live in the Chinese world, watching Taiwanese and Hong Kong movies, with little interest in the real world.

Their worldview is shaped pretty one-­dimensionally and because of the environment they grew up in, they are unlikely to have real friends from those of other races.

Many of us in our 50s have been lucky – we were probably the last batch of the English-medium schools where we sat for the Malaysia Certificate of Education (MCE) and the Higher School Certificate (HSC) examinations.

The English-medium schools were neutral grounds as students of all races attended such schools and the best friendships were forged there.

We had real friends from all races because we were growing up together for at least 10 years in the schools. It was not functional friendship at work, but real bonding as we studied and played together.

I feel really sorry for many Malaysian kids who do not have friends outside their own race as they are not be able to shape their thinking in a more open way.

So, when a hot issue comes up in the country, especially those involving race and religion, they are not able to see things from another perspective.

Like many, I also worry about the future of Malaysia and our children, as the performance of our schools continues to falter. Beyond our concerns over language skills, we should be even more worried about the quality of our education.

Our ranking in Science and Mathematics is already reportedly low, although our politicians question its accuracy. But the reality is that many of us are no longer surprised by such trends.

Our politicians will continue to tell us that all is well and fine in our schools, and that we have little influence to change anything. Some of us may believe that to be so.

But if we really care for the country, we should not be afraid to propose radical changes for the sake of our future generations.

Education is for all and it is totally selfish if we only think of our own interests while the majority are stuck in a system which does not empower them to reach for the stars

Paying the price for being young and reckless

CLOSE to 25,000 Malaysians from Gen Y – defined as those below the age of 35 – have officially been declared bankrupts in the past five years.

It used to be that bankrupts only came from the ranks of business people when major deals went awry. Today the primary force that drives so many people to bankruptcy is their desire to live way beyond their means.

Many default on their car, housing and personal loans simply because they want to live a lavish lifestyle.

But what we see in the official statistics is only a fraction of how serious the real problem is. There are many young people who do not become bankrupts because they are bailed out by family and friends.

Stories abound of how these people, with multiple credit cards, are given a lifeline when their debts rise to astronomical amounts. But in addressing just the symptoms, these same people are then allowed to carry on their usual way of living until the next financial crisis comes along.

They are the ones who, even without being fully established in their careers, choose to buy an expensive car when a simple entry-level car that can take them from point A to point B will suffice.

And it is the same kind of thinking that makes them go for high-end property instead of affordable ones.

The basic principle that an individual’s overall debt commitment should not go beyond one-third of his income seems to be honoured more in its breach than in observance as creative ways are used to get the banks to facilitate the loans.

Today, we can see that even the Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency has its hands full as many have no choice but to come forward and seek professional advice for the mess they got themselves into.

Getting into debt at a young age is not a recent phenomenon if you look at the number of defaulters under the PTPTN and Mara schemes. Various measures have been tried to get these defaulters to pay, but without much success.

In a sense, we seem to be sending out a message that it is all right not to comply because eventually the problem will get so big that it will be impossible to bring everyone to book.

Just look at the simple issue of traffic summonses and how we have to launch operation after operation to get the recalcitrants to pay up.

For a young person setting out in the workforce, the message has already been drummed in that he can afford to buy a car without worrying about maintenance costs and the extra expenses that come with ownership. And that he should not just get one, but as many credit cards as the banks will give him.

The duty of care on the part of the loan providers to make sure of his credit-worthiness is often sacrificed for the sake of adding more customers to their lists.

The number of 25,000 over five years may seem small. But it will grow unless both the borrower and the lender do their part.

The young and the reckless sometimes need to be given proper advice from the old and the wise. The STAR Columnist The STAR Says June 24, 2015

A not-so-imaginary case study

ONE of the methods that we use in university when teaching is to give our students a scenario and have them try and solve the problem based on what they have learnt.

So, for a bit of fun, let’s try it here. Pretend you are a student and below is an assignment question.

There is a university and it is facing some difficulties. The campus has been having water supply problems – namely water is not reaching the various residential colleges.

There are 13 colleges and their water supply has been erratic. When there is a supply, the water is oftentimes dirty.

This has led to great inconvenience and also to problems of hygiene.

Five of those colleges had no water at all for four to five weeks.

Water has to be brought by lorries into the colleges. The students can see these water trucks being filled just at the entrance of the campus, which makes them wonder why there is no water deeper in the campus where their colleges are. The water company claims that this is because of the poor pipes within campus.

Naturally, the students are very upset. They approach the university with their complaints and are told that the problem is due to the water company and that the university is working on it.

After weeks of this situation continuing, they decide to take matters into their own hands by organising three separate actions.

The elected student council arrange a forum to discuss what can be done about their water woes.

They then organise a peaceful demonstration where at the end of it they hand a memorandum to the elected Member of Parliament in that constituency. And finally they put together a donation drive amongst the public where the money collected will be used to buy bottled water for the students living in dry colleges.

Place yourself in the shoes of the university administration.

Choose one from the following possible actions and explain why you chose that particular action.

a. You do nothing.

b. You engage with the students (through their elected council) explaining exactly what the university is doing and at what stage your attempts at rectifying the situation are. You are as open as possible, offering evidence as to what you think is the cause of the problems.

c. You take disciplinary action against 13 students. Some are the organisers of the three events (that is to say they are members of the elected student council whose job it is to watch out for student welfare) and others are students who merely attended said functions.

You state that the students did not get the university’s permission to organise such things as required by the university rules.

You also point out that a loud hailer was used during one or more of these events and this was again done without the university’s permission. And for good measure, you point out that the actions of the students had tarnished the good name of the university.

Postscript: The above scenario is not made up but is based on a real situation happening currently. Guess which measure the university chose?

Azmi Sharom is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own. The STAR Columnist Brave New World June 24, 2015

Get serious about fighting corruption

We must separate the roles of the Attorney-General as legal advisor to the Government and Public Prosecutor who prosecutes cases in court.

IT has become fashionable for critics to express dissatisfaction every time the Auditor-General presents his report to Parliament. So when the second report this year was tabled on June 15, the reaction was generally expected.

But the reaction from Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed is particularly important. Nur Jazlan, who is also Ideas’ Council member this time, says that he is disappointed with the performance of many Government agencies because they have failed to improve.

He also said that not long ago he praised Government officials for showing improvements every time the Auditor-General’s report is published. But he felt compelled to retract that praise because this time it was particularly bad.

He went on to say that many of the problems originate from the attitude of civil servants. Apparently the quality of our civil servants has deteriorated, and they don’t even bother to read the rules.

When the PAC Chairman makes such a bold statement, you know that there is something really wrong in the way civil servants manage our money. It is ironic that the Prime Minister recently announced a bonus for our civil servants despite such abysmal indictment.

Under Nur Jazlan, the PAC has been doing a much better job in identifying weaknesses in Government machinery and in demanding accountability. In fact, thanks to the PAC, the public now knows about the risk posed by Pembinaan PFI Sdn Bhd, a Government-linked company that has one of the biggest liabilities among Malaysia’s GLCs. The company has been off the audit radar for almost 10 years, despite the large amount of debt that it has accumulated.

The work of bodies like the PAC is important in our push for better governance in the country. The issues the PAC looks into are not necessarily about corruption.

Their responsibility is wider, covering also problems such as leakages and failure to adhere to published policies and procedures.

Fighting corruption, on the other hand, is more commonly associated with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). I am still waiting to see if the MACC would act on a recent admission by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that a Special Branch report found that around 80% of our border enforcement officers are involved in corruption.

Nevertheless, I am very aware that even if the MACC were to start an investigation, that is only half of the journey. The other half lies outside of the MACC’s jurisdiction, and that is the prosecution of corruption cases.

Our system is designed in such a way that the MACC, just like the police, can only investigate and not prosecute. Prosecution is the sole discretion of the Attorney-General, who doubles up as our Public Prosecutor.

I have no problem with the MACC not having the power to prosecute. In fact, I think it is right to keep prosecutorial powers away from the investigation agency. Back in 2012, we at Ideas looked into this issue and compared the experience of Indonesia and Hong Kong in fighting corruption.

We published the findings in July 2012 and concluded that it really does not matter whether or not the MACC has prosecution power. Instead, what is most important is the integrity of the judiciary and the Attorney-General’s office.

Any effort to improve the quality of MACC, therefore, will have to be accompanied by reform in both the judiciary and the Attorney-General’s Office. Focusing on the MACC alone is not sufficient.

If we want to see a more effective fight against corruption we must separate the roles of the Attorney-General as legal advisor to the Government and Public Prosecutor who prosecutes cases in court.

Let me justify that with a simple analogy using the case of the allegedly corrupt border enforcement officers.

Let’s say the MACC do investigate the allegation and find that the problem runs all the way up to Ministerial level.

The MACC then passes the files to the Attorney-General. How much confidence do we have that the Attorney-General will prosecute his friends in Cabinet?

It is obvious that as legal advisor to the Government, he is conflicted. How can he prosecute the very party he is supposed to advise?

There are actually many more proposals to improve the MACC that deserve public attention. If you are interested in this topic, I suggest you search for reports published by the Special Committee on Corruption now chaired by Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang. This bipartisan committee, whose membership consists of members of the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara, regularly comes up with some very good ideas.

One of those ideas is for the MACC to be given independence in recruiting their own officers. This suggestion has been mooted since 2010 and it makes a lot of sense. To be truly independent, MACC cannot continue to be dependent on seconded staff from the Public Service Commission, because this creates a conflict of loyalty.

But unfortunately, this idea has not received the attention that it deserves from the Government. There are times when I ask myself if our Ministers are really serious in the fight against corruption. For if they are really serious, why are they ignoring sensible ideas coming from a committee whose membership is from among their own colleagues?

Don’t they realise that the longer they choose to do nothing, the more people will feel that they have things to hide?

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own. The STAR Columnist Thinking Liberally 23 June 2015

Hot over HOTS questions

MY daughter will be sitting for the UPSR in September. We have been informed that there will be more HOTS (High Order Thinking Skills) questions this year as compared to the last two years.

The concept of HOTS itself is something that has been lacking in our public school system for some time.

I, too, do not wish my children to become rote learners and, personally, I have always taught them how to analyse and rationalise situations.

However, it appears that the concept is not being implemented as well as expected.

Now, instead of rote learning the answer directly, the students are being taught to rote learn the way of thinking!

An example of this is a question presented to the class. They were given a map of the solar system showing all the planets and the sun arranged in their proper order. The question was: “Which planet, in your opinion, is the hottest?

Now, the students have learned before that the hottest planet is actually Venus (due to its atmospheric conditions) and not Mercury (which is closest to the sun).

However, the teacher explained that the right answer to give would be Mercury, simply for that reason (i.e. it is closest to the sun).

So are our children now being taught to get the answer wrong just because they have to “think” in a certain “logical” way? Will we penalise those students who have managed to remember the right answer?

In such cases, it is actually unfair to those students who do have HOTS because they end up over-thinking and over-analysing the question, trying to figure out which way they are supposed to “think” despite knowing the right answer.

I have told my daughter to answer such questions as such: “The hottest planet is Venus due to its atmospheric conditions and not Mercury, despite it being closest to the sun”. That way, hopefully, whoever is marking will be able to see that the student actually knows how she is supposed to “think”, but chose to give the right answer.

But that is if the question is subjective. What if it is objective?

I feel any such HOTS questions should be subjective, because we need to see how a student is rationalising their answer.

Objective questions give no chance for a student to display that. Can someone from the Education Ministry explain what the actual answer to the question above on the planets should be?

HOT OVER HOTS Kuala Lumpur The STAR Home News Opinion Letters to the Editors 23 June 2015

Case must be tackled head on

THE latest issue of a teacher who is alleged to have told non-Muslim students to drink inside the school toilet and also not to “drink your urine” has inflamed Malaysians.

This is not the first time an issue like this has made the headlines and especially in this month where Muslims are observing Ramadan.

So, in the wake of this new case, the Government, Education Ministry and schools as well as Muslims are being made to bear the brunt of the outcry.

Making mincemeat out of the incident would be totally unethical just as much as covering it up or trying to pull wool over it is definitely not permissible.

No, we must learn to handle such incidents with clarity, reasonableness and affirmative action if we want to take our nation forward.

It needs collaborative spirit from all sides if we want to be a mature political, social and economic parliamentary democracy. It calls for, above all, sound leadership.

To begin with, not all teachers are saints or angels. It is no different for any other profession or careers too.

As much as one ugly duckling in any family does not take the shine away from the rest, likewise one bad apple does not destroy the entire basket of the teaching profession provided, of course, that we take decisive and appropriate action.

And any such remedial action taken must be immediate and

long term in nature and effectiveness.

Blaming the Education Minister in totality in this case will not wean out good from bad.

At the same time, the authorities and politicians must learn not to go on the defensive immediately but they do not have to pussyfoot either.

What the leaders and politicians must remember is to make a statement to the press that reflects utmost professionalism. They must not be perceived to be taking sides or shifting blame.

They must be familiar with the art and science of public relations which, if ethically employed, can help them to soundly manage such difficult situations.

Meanwhile, perhaps it is also time for the Education Ministry, particularly at the ministerial level, to also use such incidents to cut across the divide and showcase the policies in place.

The deputy Education Minister rightly used his ability and office by making statements that would temporarily augur well in this situation.

However, he needs to use this situation to help the citizens to recognise that the ministry is with the people regardless of religion and race. He must immediately spell out existing remedial steps until such time that a long-term solution is carved out.

By all means, announce that in view of this incident a task force comprising educationists, ministry people, members from opposition camps and civil society is being considered to re-visit existing policies to address such undesirable outbursts.

An MIC leader rightly responded to the situation by making the right statements. It helps to allay fears and win support across the divides.

The police should be the last to jump onto the bandwagon of publicity. Each time they do so, it gives the impression that they are in cahoots with the ruling political party.

The police should merely state that all affected and involved parties, be it the Government, relevant ministry, school and/or concerned parents, will be assisted in this matter in the best way consistent with the laws of the country. The key word here is “assisted”, not “take action”.

We cannot continue to brush incidents like this off as “a miscommunication” or “I was misquoted” anymore.

As the saying goes, a crisis is a time for us to spot the opportunities to improve situations and win hearts. But to do so, we must be ethics-centred.

J. D. LOVRENCIEAR Kuala Lumpur The STAR Home News Opinion Letters to the Editors June 24, 2015

The truth is out there

DATUK Seri Idris Jala must be lauded for taking on Bloomberg’s William Pesek for what Idris describes as the latter’s recent “disgracefully biased and ill-informed article” on Malaysia, “Article was disgracefully biased” (The Star, June 22).

What are the acrimonious issues between Idris and Pesek?

Firstly, Pesek mentioned Malaysia’s “underlying economic distress” and “prolonged slow growth” caused by “race-based policies that strangle innovation, feed cronyism and repel multinational companies”.

Idris denied these allegations, stating that economic growth expanded by 6% last year and would grow at an internationally projected 5.6% for the next four years.

Idris is right, but that doesn’t mean Pesek is wrong. Actually, if not for some race-based policies, expenditure wastage, extremism, cronyism and corruption, economic growth could have been greater given Malaysia’s rich natural and multiracial human resources.

So, much more could have been done to better distribute income and spread the economic benefits across the 40% lower income groups.

Secondly, fiscal deficit and debt have been restrained, said Idris. But the question lingers on that it would be difficult to sustain this fiscal management given the continuing corruption, wastage of public funds and the 1MDB debt overhang.

It is also misleading to compare our high deficits and debts to the even larger deficits and debt of the United States, Japan and Singapore. Don’t forget they are rich developed countries that have wider margins of economic resilience to rely upon.

Our economy in fact is and can be perceived as less robust and sustainable in the longer term. This is due to the doubts and uncertainties resulting from the growing racial, religious and political polarisation and excessive politicking going on now.

Thirdly, poverty, especially absolute poverty, has actually been considerably reduced, as highlighted by Idris. But with rising prices, especially with the declining ringgit, GST and other charges, the urban poor now find it extremely difficult to make ends meet.

At the World Bank Global Economic Prospects Report 2014 seminar, which I chaired at Bank Negara, it was stressed that transport costs take a high toll on the incomes of the 40% low income urbanites.

Then you add high house rentals, tuition fees, rising food prices, etc, there is an almost hand-to-mouth existence.

Fourthly, it is true that inclusive policies and developments have been impressive, and Idris has shown that Pesek is woefully wrong in his criticism here.

Public services like water, electricity, roads, schools, hospitals and clinics are spread all over the country.

Idris and all of us can be happy that even remote areas in Sabah and Sarawak have now greater access to government facilities and amenities. But much more needs to be achieved not only in quantity but also quality.

Despite high and consistent investment in education to raise literacy and employment, productivity and incomes, our education standards from primary schools to universities have been weak by international standards and ranking.

This is what causes “economic distress” and keeps us stuck in the middle income trap. The poor standards in English, Maths, and Science are doing us considerable harm.

I believe Idris will agree with these views, which are shared by a large number of Malaysians. But most political leaders will not act faster to overcome these problems, so how could Idris rebut Pesek on this?

Fifthly, on Pesek’s “alleged failure to dismantle race-based policies that strangle innovation” point, Idris countered that “Malaysia eased rules governing overseas investors”. But this does not adequately cover Malaysian non-bumiputra investors. Malaysians are moving their private capital and potential investment here by the billions. The bumi-non-bumi dichotomy is depleting our capacity to compete.

The brain drain continues as many Malaysians, including Malay colleagues, feel more insecure about rising extremism and perceived discrimination in so many fields.

Pesek is not wrong here and we cannot afford to be indifferent to the reality on the ground regardless of more liberal treatment given to foreigners at the expense to Malaysians.

Sixthly, the ringgit is indeed weakening. Pesek argued that “the ringgit’s fluctuations are a decent summary of the country’s wayward course in recent years”. I agree with his views, as I have publicly written earlier.

The decline of the ringgit reflects the confidence in the national economy. Idris suggested that Pesek perhaps “would like to discuss this matter with Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, one of the most admired central bankers in the world”.

But knowing the good Governor, I think she would be the first to acknowledge that economics is not an exact science and that there is no place for economic analysis or judgments that can be cast in stone.

The ringgit’s decline could worsen if the economic structure and our policies are not transformed more substantively. This is where Idris could help from an economic point of view, with help from the Treasury and the Economic Planning Unit.

Seven, Pesek, I believe, is facetious when he suggests “a return to old leadership is urgent”. I would not presume, like Idris, that Pesek has criticised the country “to please a former Prime Minister .

But Pesek’s logic is somewhat skewed here. Many would argue that our present predicament is largely due to past failed policies and practices, so what is he really up to?

Eight, Idris is reasonable in saying that we will attain “a high income status nation by 2020”. But the rakyat would respond: “What is in it for me?”

If the socio-economic welfare of the rakyat continues to deteriorate, they will feel more frustrated. So we have to ensure the economic benefits seep down to the bottom 40%.

Ninth, Idris is not wrong in stating that “many countries and institutions can see the progress we are making”. Indeed, we have and are doing well so far. But will we be able to sustain this progress? Compared to most of the developing world, we are streets ahead. Many countries admire our several successes and want to know how we made it despite our many divisive forces.

Tenth, as Idris asserted, there are differing opinions on our performance and future path as a developed country after 2020.

The overriding question, however, is whether our present strong economic fundamentals are sustainable in the long term.

This is where Idris and Pesek genuinely differ. Idris stressed on our generally successful economic past and our present achievements.

But he was quite quiet about our many weaknesses while Pesek examined the structural weaknesses and light transformation of our economy in the interests of long-term sustainability.

I believe the truth is to be found somewhere between the two respected professionals.

TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM Chairman Center of Public Policy Studies (ASLI) The STAR Home News Opinion Letters to the Editor 26 June 2015

Article was disgracefully biased

WHEN I read William Pesek’s latest commentary on Bloomberg View, I barely recognised the country he was writing about.

He starts by referring to Malaysia’s “underlying economic distress” and “prolonged slow growth”, which he says are caused by “race-based policies that strangle innovation, feed cronyism and repel multinational companies.”

The facts, however, are these:

1) Between 2009 and 2014, Malaysian Gross National Income grew by 47.7%.

2) Growth last year was 6%, and over the next four years the OECD predicts Malaysia will enjoy annual growth of 5.6%. It would be perverse to characterise this as “slow”.

By contrast, the Economist reported last month that “The European Commission is forecasting growth in 2015 of 1.5%, which would be the euro area’s best outcome since 2011.” A growth rate nearly four times that of some of the most advanced economies in the world hardly suggests “distress”.

3) Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched Malaysia’s “Economic Transformation Programme” in 2010. Let me highlight some key achievements:

Firstly, in the last five years, the annual investment growth has been 2.5 times more than in the preceding years.

Each year, total investment reached a new record for Malaysia. The bulk of this investment is from the private sector. If the private sector has no confidence in Malaysia as alleged by Pesek, why would they put in record investment year on year under the Najib administration?

Secondly, the country’s fiscal reforms are being successfully implemented, cutting Malaysia’s fiscal deficit for the past five years, while keeping public debt at only 53% of GDP. This level of public debt is far lower than in many countries, such as the United States, Britain, France, Japan and Singapore.

Thirdly, as detailed in the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report 2014, Malaysia’s efforts at reducing poverty have been a great success, virtually eliminating absolute poverty to less than 1%. Since 2009, the income of the bottom 40% households has increased by a compound annual growth rate of 12%, even higher than the national average of 8%.

Inflation has been kept in check at only 2.4%. And through the implementation of minimum wage legislation, we have lifted 2.9 million people immediately out of absolute poverty.

Fourthly, we touched the lives of five million people through rural roads, electricity and water projects. This represents possibly the biggest Government expenditure over a five-year period in the history of Malaysia. All of these were done in the name of inclusive economic development.

4) That should be enough to dispel the suspiciously negative picture Pesek paints. But let me address some of his other inaccurate accusations too.

As for the alleged failure to “dismantle race-based policies that strangle innovation”, let me quote from a report in a respected international news organisation:

“Malaysia eased rules governing overseas investors, initial public offerings and property purchases, peeling back decades of benefits to ethnic Malays.

Foreign companies investing in Malaysia and locally listed businesses will no longer need to set aside 30% of their equity to so-called bumiputra investors, Prime Minister Najib Razak said today.

He also raised overseas ownership thresholds in the fund management industry and at local stockbrokers.”

At Initial Public Offerings, “Publicly traded companies will no longer have to meet any bumiputra equity requirement under today’s liberalisation measures.”

If Pesek disagrees with any of the above, perhaps he might discuss it with his editors. The report was published, after all, by none other than Bloomberg.

5) At another point, he writes that Prime Minister Najib has “deepened the economy’s reliance on oil and gas production”. The International Monetary Fund believes otherwise.

The headline on its “Economic Health Check” report this March was: “Favorable Prospects for Malaysia’s Diversified Economy”.

6) Pesek rounds off his imaginative piece of writing by declaring that “the ringgit’s fluctuations are a decent summary of the country’s wayward course in recent years”.

Perhaps he would like to discuss this with Malaysia’s Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, one of the most admired central bank governors in the world. She has repeatedly said that the ringgit is undervalued.

Here is what she said recently: “When the oil price plummeted, the wrong perception of the degree of dependence of the Malaysian economy on the oil and gas sector led markets to think that we would be more affected than others.

Of course the ringgit is undervalued. It doesn’t reflect our underlying values, which are solid and strong.”

7) Pesek’s opinions do not seem to have a strong connection to the facts. He gives away his true agenda when writes that “Asia-based journalists have missed Mahathir Mohamad since he left office in 2003” and suggests “a return to old political leadership” is “urgent”.

It may be that nostalgia for the past and his distance from Malaysia have clouded his judgement and led him to write an unsubstantiated hatchet job on the current prime minister in order to please a former prime minister about whom he gushes, his “mercurial governing style and fiery rhetoric made for great copy”.

He certainly seems to have changed his mind about Tun Mahathir. Only last year he wrote: “The insular and jury-rigged system of affirmative action, national champions and fat subsidies over which Mahathir presided now holds the economy back.

The Malaysian leader also had a tendency to embarrass his nation on the international stage with his nutty anti-Semitic tirades.”

He concluded: “Malaysians must find fresh inspiration by looking forward, not back to 1990.” We agree.

Why does Pesek now think we should look back to a system he described in such a derogatory manner last year?

8) Malaysia has undergone an impressive economic transformation under Prime Minister Najib and the country is on course to reach the goal of becoming a high income status nation by 2020 – as the figures and achievements I have mentioned above make clear. Because of our achievements, I was invited to share our experience at both Harvard and Oxford universities this year.

At the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, I had the privilege to share Malaysia’s success story with government ministers from many countries.

Last month, I was invited to share our experience with Russian cabinet ministers in Moscow.

9) I wonder why it is that many countries and institutions can see the progress we are making, but Pesek chooses not see any of it?

His latest outburst is consistent with a series of slanted articles that unfairly run down Malaysia and its leadership.

10) Differing opinions are bound to be expressed on Bloomberg View. The defence of “fair comment”, however, does not apply to getting facts so woefully wrong.

We would hope that the editors at Bloomberg agree, and will correct or take down such a disgracefully biased and ill-informed article.

DATUK SERI IDRIS JALA Minister in Prime Minister’s Department The STAR Home News Letters to the Editor June 22, 2015

5 mystical places in Malaysia you shouldn’t be naked at

Respect for local traditions and customs should be part and parcel of the dos and don’ts for any traveller. The recent case of some climbers who decided to prance around in their birthday suits on Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is a case in point. It was no laughing matter.

There are loads of myths and legends in a culturally diverse country such as Malaysia. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that some of the nation’s most beautiful landscapes hold the most fantastical stories. Some of these tales are made of the stuff of nightmares that give travellers the occasional heebie jeebies while others are just downright tragic. Star2.com has rounded up five mystical places in the country.

It’s wise to note that the general rule when you’re at these places is to maintain proper conduct and not do anything that might be perceived as disrespectful, such as talking loudly or behaving inappropriately.

1. Tasik Chini, Pahang

Tasik Chini, Pahang.

Some believe that an ancient Atlantis-like city ssnk to the deep depths of Tasik Chini. Photo: Tourism Pahang

The quiet and tranquil beauty of Malaysia’s second largest natural freshwater lake betrays the fearsome myth that surrounds it. For a very long time, an Orang Asli legend warned of a dragon-like beast guarding the serene place. Known as Naga Seri Gumum, the mythical animal has also been referred to as “Malaysia’s Loch Ness Monster”.

Over the years, there have been odd reports of sightings of the lake’s gigantic occupant. Scientific study, however, hasn’t uncovered the existence of such a creature. Historians, on the other hand, believe that the lake is the site of an ancient Khmer city. Some even claimed that the city sank to the bottom of the lake and that the dragon is in fact, keeping watch over the doomed citadel under the calm of the waters. According to an old Orang Asli tale, one particular spot at the lake is unnaturally calmer than its surrounding areas and one is advised to keep quiet when passing by.

2. Gunung Santubong and Gunung Sejinjang, Sarawak

Gunung Santubong, Sarawak.

View of Gunung Santubong from the Bako National Park during sunset. Photo: Filepic

It’s impossible to mention one without the other. The tale of Princess Santubong and Princess Sejinjang is popular lore among Sarawakians and has many versions. According to legend, both were beautiful celestial beings who, corrupted by vanity, quarrelled incessantly.

One day, the argument escalated and Sejinjang hit Santubong on the cheek with a pestle. Santubong fell and materialised into what is today Gunung Santubong. Before her fall though, Santubong hurled a beam from her weaving loom and cracked the head of Sejinjang, parts of which fell into the sea to become islands, while others fell near Santubong to become Gunung Sejinjang. Today, the outline of Gunung Santubong depicts that of a woman lying down, with a dent on the side of the “head” where the princess had been hit.

3. Tasik Dayang Bunting, Langkawi

Tasik Dayang Bunting. Langkawi.

According to legend, Tasik Dayang Bunting was the favourite bathing pool of a celestial princess once upon a time. Photo: Tourism Malaysia

The picturesque Tasik Dayang Bunting tells a tragic love story. Photo: Tourism Malaysia

Located about 20km away from the town of Kuah is the picturesque fresh water lake on the island of Dayang Bunting. The more popular legend associated to the lake is that it’s the favourite bathing pool of the heavenly princess Mambang Sari. Enraptured by her beauty, the mortal prince Mat Teja courted the princess by means of magic trickery.

Both got married and a very pregnant Mambang Sari eventually retreated to her favourite lake to give birth. Sadly, the newborn died after seven days. Heartbroken, the grieving princess threw the infant’s body into the lake and returned to the heavens. Today, the lake – translated from its Malay name, it means Lake of the Pregnant Maiden – is sometimes visited by women who believe its waters hold fertility powers.

4. Gunung Ledang, Johor

Gunung Ledang, Johor.

A waterfall at the mystical Gunung Ledang. Could the legendary mountain princess have taken a royal bath in its waters? Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most captivating Malaysian mythical tales belongs to Puteri Gunung Ledang and the mountain she allegedly resides at. Legend says the Majapahit Javanese-Hindu princess set seven near-impossible conditions when Malacca’s Sultan Mahmud Shah asked her hand for marriage. The last term – a bowl of blood from the Sultan’s young son – became a deal breaker for the princess and the king was willing to stab his sleeping son for it.

Deterred by the Sultan’s coldheartedness, the princess disappeared into her abode at the highest mountain (which used to be called Mt Ophir) in the southern peninsula of Malaysia and was never to seen again thereafter. But then again maybe she has, if you take into account the supernatural sightings of the legendary princess by hikers from time to time.

5. Gunung Kinabalu, Sabah

Gunung Kinabalu, Sabah.

The view of the majestic Mount Kinabalu from Kundasang town. The mountain is revered by the Kadazan Dusun people. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

With the recent headlines, this list would not be complete without mentioning Malaysia’s Unesco World Heritage site – Mount Kinabalu. The highest mountain in the country is revered by the Kadazan Dusun people of Sabah and is an integral venue of their beliefs. Their ancestors believe that the mountain’s peak rises to the heavens, thus making it the final resting place of their dearly departed. The Kadazan Dusun also believe that the mountain has been designated as the centre of the world by the great deities Kinohiringan and Umunsumundu.

Another popular legend tells the story of a Chinese prince who – upon slaying a ferocious dragon and retrieving a huge pearl that the beast guarded – married a Kadazan Dusun maiden. However, he soon abandoned her and return to China. Heartbroken, the woman retreated to the mountain. It’s believed that she was soon turned into a stone and her wails can be heard in the wind even till today.

Need to be strong in BM

THE fact that 37% and 43% of Chinese and Indian students respectively failed to perform satisfactorily in Bahasa Melayu at the SPM level deserves attention, “Students urged to use more BM” (The Star, April 15).

Chinese students from the new villages might be incompetent in the subject and could not perform well in the SPM exam “Wee: Don’t let your kids quit school” (The Star, May 31).

While expressing his concern, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong highlighted the poor performance of Chinese and Indian students in BM at SPM level.

For the Chinese students, this inadequacy contributes to the dropout rate among them. It can safely be assumed that many Indian students also face a similar predicament. The high enrolment of Chinese children in vernacular schools indicates the parents’ preference for mother tongue education.

However, the medium of instruction, Chinese, which helps them in their primary education could actually hinder their learning in secondary schools if they are not properly grounded in BM at primary level.

Students who are incompetent in BM will find the going tough when all the lessons, except English, at secondary level are taught in BM. Their inability to follow the lessons will lead to loss of interest in studying. Attending schools will then become a chore rather than a fun-filled routine.

In fact, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that students who are poor in BM struggle throughout the five or six years of secondary school. This may lead some parents to think that teaching their children vocational skills may be better, thus prompting the minister to urge parents not to withdraw them from schools prematurely.

The implementation of “Memartabatkan Bahasa Malaysia & Memperkukuh Bahasa Inggeris” (To uphold Bahasa Malaysia and to strengthen the English Language) in 2010 was a double-edged sword.

The policy that ensures each child is able to master both Malay and English requires students to have a better command of BM for both the formative and summative tests.

In 2014, up to 20% of UPSR and PT3 questions were based on HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) questions, “Transforming our Education” (The Star, June 3).

The HOTS questions test students’ application and reasoning skills, and proficiency in BM is the prerequisite to answer them competently.

The limited exposure to BM in vernacular schools could have contributed to this incompetency.

The solution requires the Chinese and Indian communities as well as the Education Ministry to think out of the box to ensure that each child gets a solid foundation in BM before he or she completes primary education.

This is of paramount importance if we are to achieve the aims of the Education Blueprint 2013-2025.

Ting Lian Lee Johor Baru The STAR Home News Opinion Letters June 25, 2015

Nurture from young

WHEN I ventured into educating students and later future teachers in the field of Moral Education, it was a big turning point in my life. Teaching English is so much simpler but I found more meaning in teaching a subject that helps transform lives.

One of the essential characteristics of educators like us is to be the role model that is expected out of us. That is not an easy chore, as “you are not able to please all the people all the time”.

As a student representative, I politely gave up my position as the head prefect as the school was not listening to the voices of the students when they complained about the dirty canteen. Only after such a drastic act did the school administrator look into the issue more seriously.

Mutual respect is the most essential element in building a harmonious society.

But I had to take the risk and do the daring, drastic act. I felt that the school respected me as a head girl but not my friends, who were part of me, and there was no use in being a student representative if your collective voices are not heard.

Coming from a multicultural and multireligious background, I find mutual respect is the most essential element in building a harmonious society.

Our forefathers have built a nation based on trust, integrity and harmony, based on their unique historical and cultural diversity. After years of building and scaffolding such a solid nation, why are we so easily distracted by actions of certain bad apples, especially in the education system of the country?

Everyone is so sceptical about the other, yet we all work towards developing a holistic nation. Thus, the values put across by individuals called “educators” are always considered, observed and judged by the whole nation. In a recent incident, where a certain educator told students to have their drinks in the toilet followed by a joke of ensuring that they don’t drink their own urine, the matter was not seen as anything serious but rather as a misunderstanding by the students and parents, who listened to their children and lodged the police reports. I still find it difficult to digest the fact that students should drink in toilets.

My more serious question here is, does the educator respect the right and responsibility of the other; that is, the vulnerable students who can only express their rage to their parents or other teachers?

My curiosity gets greater thinking about the other educators within that school community and what their reaction was when such statements came from a person of authority.

Do all educators agree that students should consume water in the toilet? In a strong top-down system, respect is greatly mentioned in all documents and speeches but mutual respect is still lacking.

Accepting an individual for what he or she is and what he or she presents to be is to respect that individual. But being in the education profession, the expectation of society anywhere in the world is much higher.

Respect may exist from mild acceptance to total admiration. And, naturally, educators globally are admired by their students, their parents and society for who they are and what they transform students to be.

Consequently, respecting someone comes down to a judgment one makes, and like any judgment, it is a choice. We weigh the observed evidence and screen every bit of our own prejudice in light of consequences that will follow from the choice.

The final thing that determines whether you respect the other is how much you respect yourself. I am me and you are you. I respect myself and you. We can build a relationship based on mutual respect, and this is beyond the power of individuals and authorities. Rather, it needs to be nurtured from young.