August 31st, 2015

English is not an impossible dream

Although the Education Ministry’s postponement of English as a must-pass subject in the SPM last week was unexpected, it explains here the steps it is taking to strengthen English language proficiency among students and teachers.

THE English language is without a doubt the most influential language in the world. Trade and commerce in the globalised world are dependent on English as a lingua franca.

Academic and scientific researches are also largely authored in the English language. The government and Education Ministry are fully aware of the importance of the English language to the long-term development and well-being of Malaysia today and the future.

Many proactive measures and policies have been instituted to ensure our children and graduates have a strong command of the language.

The ministry has taken a dual-pronged approach to increase the quality of English at both the school and tertiary level of education. The first is remedial in nature and the second is policies that will strengthen English overall among students.

The first phase is to retrain current teachers to reach a satisfactory level of English proficiency through various methods. Among the methods employed to do this is the Native English Speaking Programme (Program Penutur Jati).

So far 1,800 primary schools have undergone this programme across six geographical zones. 360 mentors whose native language is English have spent 360,925 hours of personal input time to train 4,639 teachers so far.

There has also been an improvement to the teaching and learning pedagogy of the English language for teachers. This improvement stresses on factors such as class administration, student motivation, research literature and teacher evaluations to further improve the delivery of English lessons.

To build a strong foundation, the ministry has embarked on the first phase of increasing literacy by choosing 21,568 students randomly across the country based on the School Based Assessment.

On average 58.6% of students increased their proficiency by one band. 30.8% increased it by two bands.

Though it might not be considered a mind-blowing achievement, it’s a start in the remedial process.

The Literacy and Numeracy test (LINUS) is an intervention programme aimed at providing students with access to equality in education.

The programme is focused on Years One, Two and Three in primary schools.

Remedial programmes

At the early stage of schooling, students will undergo screening tests to identify their strengths and weaknesses in literacy and numeracy skills.

Weaker students will then be given extra attention and care, so that they will be able to keep up in mainstream classes.

This is another example of a remedial programme carried out by the ministry that is reaching its third cohort this year. The Professional Upskilling of English Language Teachers (Pro-ELT) is a professional upskilling of English language teachers’ programme. So far the ministry has done three cohorts and trained a total of 15,500 teachers in this programme.

Based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), 76.4% of teachers improved one band. These remedial measures are slowly but surely showing results.

The fourth cohort has already begun in June this year with 7,000 teachers taking part and in total 22,500 English teachers would have benefited from this programme.

However it’s important to remember that although the above measure is a step in overcoming the problem, almost a third of teachers have not yet been trained and met the minimum requirement under the CEFR band system.

This being the situation, the ministry has decided to postpone its ruling on the SPM compulsory pass in English. It wouldn’t be fair if 30% of students do not have a teacher who is proficient enough to ensure an effective learning and teaching process takes place.

However, the policy is earmarked to start in 2017, which is actually a year off the previously determined date.

Other steps taken by the ministry is in collaborating with Teach For Malaysia, where a total of 62 teachers for three cohorts have been employed in rural schools to teach English directly to the students.

They also work together with existing English teachers to create new and fun ways to make children take an interest in learning and using English in their daily life.

In this vein, the ministry also conducted 264 English camps involving almost 18,000 students from 2012 to 2014.

Future plans to ensure English teachers become better, will take off at the end of the year when English experts from India are brought and placed in all district education offices to train local school English teachers.

This will be an ongoing process and these experts will monitor, evaluate and provide remedial steps to upscale the standard of English being taught.

In a longer term, foundation and structural changes will help alleviate the standard of English in our country - the English Language Standards and Quality Council has created a roadmap which is 80% complete.

Titled “Roadmap for English Language Education in Malaysia”, it is responsible for creating overall holistic steps to make English a strength in Malaysia and not a weakness.

On June 1 this year, this roadmap was presented to members of the English lab organised by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) and the Performance and Delivery Unit (Padu) and hopefully the final draft will be ready to be launched by the end of the year.

Another long-term action carried out by the ministry was to ensure anyone who wanted to join the teaching profession has a minimum of five As in the SPM.

This is to ensure the quality of teachers in the future are those who are good students, and not those who chose teaching as a last resort.

Also, students who apply for critical courses now have to attain a higher band in the Malaysian University Test for English (MUET) in order to qualify for their chosen courses in public universities.

This policy will be extended in time to include more courses.

All the steps above are designed to uplift the standard of English among Malaysians. But this is a national agenda that needs all Malaysians’ support in order to succeed.

From buying an English storybook for a child or nephew to subscribing to English newspapers for our kids to read, all of us need to be agents of improvement for the English language wherever and whenever possible.

I’m confident that with such support, the country will and can become a nation that is proud of its command of the English language.

I dream of the day when we export this talent to other nations which were once like us.

P. Kamalanathan The STAR Home > News > Education Sunday August 30, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Teaching two-gether for better outcomes

PAIR teaching or team teaching for critical subjects should be encouraged in primary and even secondary schools.

If we have enough teachers in schools, two teachers should go to a class and teach the class.

Pair teaching or team teaching involves a group of instructors working together purposefully, regularly and cooperatively to teach a group of children in a classroom.

The teachers together can set the course goals and content, design scheme of work and lesson plan, select common materials such as texts and films, and develop tests and evaluate final examinations for the children.

Young and new teachers from teacher training institutes can be paired with senior teachers in schools.

Both teachers can learn and interact with one another for the mutual benefit of the children in the class.

Having two teachers in class would be an effective teaching and learning technique that has to be considered by the education authorities.

Two teachers would be better equipped to handle classes that have more than 25 children.

The two teachers can deal effectively with children who are of different levels of competency.

The pair teaching approach allows for more interaction between the teachers and their charges.

The “no one child should be left out”, as encapsulated in the national education blueprint, can be realised through the pair teaching approach.

Discipline problems can be greatly reduced with the two teachers in the classroom.

Children would not be able to be idle or play around in the classroom with two teacher to check on them.

The two teachers can share the teaching responsibilities and reduce the workload.

Critical subjects like English language, Science and Mathematics can be considered for pair teaching.

For a start, we can begin with big schools that have a few classes for each standard.

Teaching periods can be scheduled side by side or simultaneously for pair teaching.

Teachers can address different study skills and learning techniques.

Pair teaching may not be the answer to all problems plaguing teachers but breaking out of the taken-for-granted single-subject and single-teacher pattern could encourage innovation and transformation in the classroom.

Pair teaching requires planning, skilled management, open mindedness, creativity, humility and willingness to risk change and even failure.

Teacher strengths are combined and teacher weaknesses are remedied through pair teaching.

Teachers complement one another.

The teachers learn new perspectives and insights, techniques and values from watching one another.

The pair teaching resolves the teaching burden to an extent and boosts morale.

The presence of another teacher reduces children-teacher personality problems.

In an emergency, one team member can attend to the problem while the class goes on.

However, pair or team teaching can make more demands on the teachers’ time and energy.

Teachers must arrange mutually agreeable times for planning and evaluation.

Discussions can be draining and group decisions may take longer.

Some teachers may simply dislike the other teachers on the team and working together with them.

Pair teaching is an innovative and challenging technique that needs to be considered seriously in our education system for effective teaching and learning outcomes in the classroom.

Samuel Yesuiah Seremban The STAR Home News Opinion Letters August 30, 2015

Less talk, more action on TVET

IN OPENING an international conference on educational and training recently, the Education Minister proclaimed that Malaysia is now one of the leading countries in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) under the heading Kuala Lumpur Declaration (The Star, Aug 15).

After “besting” Singapore both in research publications and English proficiency, Malaysia has added, it seems, another feather in its cap.

But what is the reality of Malaysia’s TVET?

Consider the following. There is no national statistics on numbers enrolled in TVET, the number of trainers or the number of people trained, let alone by subject matter or type of training.

Unesco’s Institute for Statistics puts the enrolment in secondary vocational education at 178,480 in 2010.

This compares with secondary school enrolment of over 2.3 million in the same year. Even allowing for underestimation of TVET enrolment, it is less than 10% of secondary school enrolment.

Indeed, the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 has signalled TVET as one of ten “shifts” that must be made to strengthen Malaysia’s education.

Why is this shift needed? In 2013, at the World Bank’s request, my colleagues and I completed a year-long study of the system.

The Malaysia study, together with studies for other countries, can be found at http://saber.worldbank.org/index.cfm.

What we found is far removed from what has been claimed.

Our study noted that like the rest of the education system, the country’s TVET has seen major advances over the last decade.

At the start of this century, the system was long on policy announcements that reflected the drive towards Wawasan 2020, but fell considerably short on implementation.

This was because a highly fragmented system rendered monitoring difficult and coordination even more so.

This was compounded by a lack of harmonised standards. Evaluation was based on how much was spent, not how much was achieved.

By 2010, things had changed for the better.

While policy advocacy continued to be strong, thanks to greater urgency from reduced economic growth after the Asian Financial Crisis, implementation and supervision have also improved, both made easier by a harmonised set of occupational standards, the National Occupational Skills Standards (NOSS).

Evaluation has also moved away from its focus on input (how much was spent) towards output (how many were trained).

Yet the system faces many major challenges it must overcome if it is to be a viable pathway for education.

The first is that implementation still lags behind policy rhetoric.

Despite the refocus on output, inattention to impact (how many are employed in the occupations they are trained for) means that spending efficiency still takes a back seat. Nor is there any evidence that performance comes with accountability.

Second, the pervasive public sector mentality of control and distrust of the private sector has meant little cooperation between the public and private sectors.

In a seminar we conducted for our research, private sector providers of training complained repeatedly of the absence of a level playing field.

As with academic education, “public-private partnership” has remained little more than a slogan.

Third, the “government knows best” attitude also extends to industry.

Collaboration between the public and private sectors received greater attention under the 10th Malaysia Plan and Economic Transformation Programme.

These collaborations between the public sector’s engagement with industry remains superficial.

The ad hoc nature of these collaborations poses challenges to any effort to integrate the private sector into an inclusive national training framework that reflects genuine public-private partnership.

Fourth, if private sector training providers have received scant respect and recognition from industry, another group of stakeholders has no voice at all.

These are the workers themselves, who are the beneficiaries of training, but who have found no voice in the training they receive.

With the government giving increasing attention to incorporating employers in the organisation and substance of training, Malaysia has been described as “business friendly” but not “market friendly”.

Fifth, whatever improvements made did not extend to institutional coordination.

At the time we completed our research, Malaysia had a multitude of ministries overseeing an equally disparate array of training institutions with little coordination among them. This included state-level training institutes.

Lack of coordination raises the prospect of overlapping mandates and responsibilities, geographical and subject matter coverage, qualitative differences in the delivery of programmes, and even inconsistency of messages.

These all add up to spending inefficiencies that undermine the harmonised standards under NOSS.

Sixth, coordination problems have been compounded by a lack of institutional memory of the development of the TVET system.

The many changes, together with the rotation of staff involved in TVET, make for difficulties with coordination of policies and strategies over time, in addition to across institutions.

Arguably the most daunting challenge for Malaysia’s TVET is the general perception that it is the refuge of the academically unsuccessful.

While this is not unique to Malaysia, it is not helped by the government’s penchant for limiting information access to the public.

This is part and parcel of the control mentality referred to earlier. With the advent of the Internet, this is beginning to change. But remoulding perceptions will take time to produce results.

Finally, lest we make another claim of being better than Singapore, here is what was found using the World Bank’s assessment methodology.

In terms of system oversight and service delivery, we are where Singapore was in 1990, while Singapore has reached our stage in strategic leadership in 1970. Korea has done nearly as well as Singapore. We are about the same level as China’s Xinjiang province.

Thumping one’s chest has its place in political posturing, but a little humility will go a long way towards promoting credibility in official statements.

It is also conducive to learning from others’ successes.

Cheong Kee Cheok, Faculty of Economics and Administration, Universiti Malaya The STAR Home News Opinion Letters Sunday August 30, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Demand for IT grads in the workforce

Growth in the information technology sector is moving at a phenomenal pace which means there will be a an increasing demand for professionals in the sector.

INFORMATION technology (IT) globalisation has changed the overall socio-economic, cultural and geographical aspects of our societies.

The advancement and globalisation in information technology has pushed the world into a tunnel like “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” museum, where every next step introduces us with amazing new technologies, software and applications. It’s like a one-way tunnel that stretches endlessly.

The IT industry has become so advanced and fast that now people talk about new technology and products that are about to come out instead of what they already have.

We are enjoying the most modern and advanced technologies, software and applications of IT in various forms.

This is not limited to just web applications, online shopping, trading and services, mobile applications, social networks, and free messaging and calling services.

Even IT has become a need for other fields like engineering, medicine, business administration, mathematics, accounting and finance and the arts.

The applications of IT are overwhelming and everywhere. All other fields are using IT products, services and applications.

This has led to interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary fields, and have created a lot of opportunities for IT professionals in all the fields.

The computer era that started with mainframes and PCs has now entered into a new age of smart mobile phones, handheld and pocket devices with intelligent systems and applications.

The whole world is now in our pocket with just a single touch. People remain connected with each other 24/7 through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and calling and messaging services like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Vimeo and Line.

Any incident, news or invention reaches the other corner of the world within minutes. These applications are not only available on PCs and laptops, but also on smart phones and tablets.

The market is flooded with the latest electronic gadgets. The big companies like Apple and Samsung have produced a variety of smart phones and tablets of all price ranges.

Due to this, people can afford and use the latest technologies, products and services for their personal use, jobs and business.

Cheap technology made available to everyone has played a role in changing all other fields and has made them IT-dominant. No other technology in recent times has captured the whole world that quickly.

These technologies and services are not luxuries or fun anymore, but have become necessities for every person, business, job, household, employees and companies.


Hot jobs: There is a huge need for IT graduates across all levels in both the private and public sector. - File photo

The widespread use of smart phones and tablets with the support of WiFi, 3G and 4G services have totally changed the meaning of utility software. The traditional applications developed for PCs with Windows and Mac platforms are now available for Android and iOS platforms.

In addition, a large number of smart, interactive and lightweight mobile applications for all types of daily work with interactive interfaces are continuously available for mobile phone users.

Many banks, companies, government departments, shopping and social networking websites have given mobile versions of their applications.

Similarly all our payments and needs can be taken care of through our smart phones, simply because of technological advancements. The benefits of the advanced use of networked computers come through cloud computing, grid computing and cluster computing and high-speed Internet. The big data and Internet of Things are the latest trends that sketch the future of IT.

These technological evolutions have completely changed the trends and preferences of individuals as well as all sectors of the world economies and societies. Individuals are using technology for their personal use, such as staying connected with their families, friends and colleagues, information sharing and fun activities.

The public and private sector companies and institutions use it to improve their business processes, business operations, profit earnings, as well as understand their clients, market analysis, trend analysis, customer behaviour, market competitions, quality services, strategic information and decision-making.

Since its inception, the IT field is now at its peak. Such technological advancements have made IT a necessity at both public and private sectors at all levels.

As a result, it has greatly increased the demand for IT sector employees in all areas, including business, engineering, agriculture, finance and management. The IT industry is divided into three segments, namely hardware, software and services.

In all these three areas, there is a clear shortage in the supply of good-quality fresh graduates and experienced professionals in many different IT areas, including SAP, big data, programming, web development, database administration, mobile applications, network and information systems security, project management, and multimedia authoring.

Realising the importance of IT, Malaysia is also working on various plans and strategies both at domestic and international levels.

With the support and favourable government policies, Malaysia is also able to keep pace with development and advancements happening at international levels.

Digital Malaysia is such a strategic national programme to move the country towards the digital economy by 2020. The main objective is to promote persistent use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in all aspects of the Malaysian economy.

It will ultimately help develop a global community, increase gross national income and improve the standards of living. In short, it will empower the government, businesses and all Malaysians.

The 2020 Digital Malaysia programme has targeted to produce 160,000 high-value jobs, with additional RM7,000 income per annum for 350,000 citizens.

As a part of this programme, digital entrepreneurs, including Malaysian youth and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), will be some of the main target groups.

According to a study conducted by MSC Malaysia on talent demand and supply, the demand for ICT professionals is growing such that annually the ICT industry would need more than 33,000 knowledge workers.

By 2018, the total demand for ICT professionals is projected to be 134,438. In 2014, there was a shortage of 5,800 computer science (CS) and IT talent workforce against the demand of 13,300.

In short, the supply of CS and IT graduates fulfils only 60% of the demand. It is important for Malaysia to keep a balance in supply and demand of both fresh and experienced graduates to meet the growing demands of the IT industry.

Malaysia is complementing its requirements by hiring foreign talents from India, Thailand, UK, Japan, China and the Middle East, but there is need to bridge this supply-demand gap from the domestic workforce.

Currently, 59% of the Malaysian IT pool belongs to user groups such as technical helpdesk analysts, IT business analysts and computer operators.

However, there is also need to produce more professionals at a creator level, such as software engineers, programmers, solution architects and designers.

At present, programmers and technical support people are the most common roles in the existing workforce.

Some 80% of the job vacancies require experienced professionals while the remaining 20% are for fresh graduates.

The IT industry needs 107,000 experienced people and approximately 27,000 fresh graduates between 2014 and 2018.

Since 2010, there has been an 8% increase in the salaries of fresh graduates and the trend shows that it will keep increasing.

While multinational companies (MNCs) offer higher starting salary to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), salary increments for IT professionals are more attractive and competitive among SMEs than MNCs.

The average salary of an IT professional is around RM7,000. A typical IT project manager earns a monthly salary of about RM9,000.

In the coming years, the jobs that will be in high demand are software engineers, programmers, mobile application developers, SAP analysts and consultants, animators (graphics and multimedia), customer support engineers, technical support engineers, software architects, IT project managers, IT managers, data centre managers, security specialists, operations heads, network, systems and information security specialists and data analysts.

Similarly, SAP, Oracle and network technologies are expected to be in huge demand as well. The IT industry is now facing a severe shortage of fresh graduates as well as experienced talents in the emerging fields of big data analytics, data science and Internet of Things.

Besides their qualifications, fresh graduates need to have interpersonal communication skills – an absolute necessity these days.

The job market for fresh IT graduates and experienced professionals is quite vast. IT professionals are an integral part of any organisation, not just in Malaysia but in other countries too.

To produce a good quality IT talent pool, there is a need to improve the fresh graduates’ soft skills, such as communication, problem solving, presentation and leadership skills, positive attitude and good command of English.

There is also a need for industrial exposure and training for both students and lecturers and better academic-industry collaborations.

We are soon going to see a new phase in the IT field, such as enormous data growth, multimedia and animations, touch and sensory applications, network and system securities and the Internet of Things, where billions of devices will be connected to each other.

This is a never-ending journey. All these circumstances show that the demand for IT professionals is only going to continue at a rapid pace, with higher salaries and good fringe benefits.

‘My Tok was tall, dark and handsome'

THE late Tunku Abdul Rahman is remembered for the rousing cheers of “Merdeka” and his eloquence as a speaker. To Malaysians, he is the Father of Independence, but to his granddaughter Sharifah Menyalara Hussein or Lara, he is just Tok.

“Other relatives called him Tok Tam because of his dark complexion, but he would point out that he was tall and handsome, too! “

But Tok was different at home. He wouldn’t make long speeches or lecture us,” said Lara. “It was not his style.

He would be subtle, indirect and we often had to read between the lines. What he left unsaid was often as important as what he said.

“He would often sit me down and tell me that humility was the greatest human asset, and that greed and materialism were wrong.

“We should just live with enough and not more.

Respect one another and value each other’s strengths and weaknesses... also to be compassionate as he was to people less fortunate and animals, and to always learn to give back,” said Lara.



Tunku Khadijah Tunku Abdul Rahman (second from right), Sharifah Menyalara Hussein (third from right) and her daughters Natasha (right) and Natalia. Tunku Abdul Rahman with his family members. On his left is granddaughter Sharifah Menyalara Hussein, or Lara.
Tunku’s eloquence and his ready wit meant he built rapport with other leaders better — especially women leaders remember he was tall, dark and handsome!

In fact, admiration for Tunku stretched even to the humblest man in the street.

Surprisingly, Tunku was an excellent cook and would make succulent roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

In fact, his daughter, Tunku Khadijah Tunku Abdul Rahman has written a book called Tunku’s Recipe.

“He was an avid sportsman, who played golf and swimming till his later years. And he loved horses,” said Lara.

“He had many friends and was very popular even in his old age. There were visitors every day from all walks of life and race.”

That was the beauty of Tunku. He was colour blind in that aspect.

Tunku was not openly loving as that was not his nature. Since he was brought up in a strict environment, he would transmit that kind of environment at home, too.

So, he was quite strict and not openly affectionate. He would show affection in other ways.

“He wasn’t the typical granddad you could just warm up to.
Tunku Khadijah Tunku Abdul Rahman (second from right), Sharifah Menyalara Hussein (third from right) and her daughters Natasha (right) and Natalia. Tunku Abdul Rahman with his family members. On his left is granddaughter Sharifah Menyalara Hussein, or Lara.
There was a certain aura about him, so you didn’t overstep your boundaries and spoke only when you had to.

And because there’s so much respect, you keep your distance,” said Lara.

“He was also so busy and preoccupied, so you hardly got to see him.”

Tunku would always tell the story of his mother, Che Manjalara, the sultan’s wife. She gave birth to a boy in February 1903, and that boy was Tunku.

“As a grandfather, the values he taught us were invaluable and I don’t think I would be the way I am without having learnt so much from him and watched how open, honest and humble he was.

“And incredibly, he didn’t need to accumulate material things because he always told us he had been bestowed with spiritual richness.

“Just a very simple man,” Lara concluded about Tunku.

Storytelling can achieve amazing results

in a conversation about cross-cultural differences, a would-be manager in a distant land asked me how best to criticise without causing loss of face or hostility among the working staff.

There’s a way that’s as old as the hills I told him: weave your criticism into your storytelling. Sometimes it is easier to gain empathy when the main bestricken character in the story is yourself.

You know, when I started in your position, I knew even less than you do now. Oh my God, the humiliation! That will get the listener’s sap flowing. And more than that, he has gained your trust, his brain has signalled that he is in the “It’s all right” zone.

To explain this scientifically you will have to talk about a neurochemical called oxytocin that is released in your brain when you become sympathetic or when you have warmed up to the person.

This is a major plus point in fund-raising and is one of the reasons why storytelling works better than just urging the person to do the work.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, far better would it be to use words to paint a favourable picture in the head of the person you are talking to.

At the school I went to we used to sing every Monday morning, “Let us now with thankfulness, praise the founders of our school...”

And then it went on into the efforts and sacrifices and the devotion of those who started it all going, including those who came from across the ocean.

We listened and sang that again the following Monday. I was then from the sticks where we had no such tradition, so I soon became engrossed into the story and soon the cloisters and the rooms began to take new forms and the echoes began to reverberate into a more distant past.

What is the use of tradition? This is how it can be of use.

First the pride of belonging, and then the importance of carrying on the work, and then — with hope — you will soon be cloaked in the desired excellence.

Tradition is nothing more than storytelling that seeps into your psyche. Or, if you want to ground yourself in something that’s easier to grasp, it gets the juices going in your brain, and chemicals in your brain shape your thought.

Empathy is what we are looking for here, and empathy is that all important state that makes us connect and be less inclined to throw the punch or give the headbutt. In a school in America (I’ve forgotten which) that had an intake of children who were more academically challenged than most, they started the entry procedure with a pep talk followed by a video of past students who came in bad but finally made good.

This was the message throughout: that you have it within yourself the capacity to change provided you yourself take charge of how you want to be shaped.

Results showed that the fresh intake did live up to expectations of success. The story worked.

Another factor that came into play could well be the in group mode.

People in a group situation develop characteristics, consciously or unconsciously, that are deemed to be common to the group. They can be saliently made aware of this or they take it on themselves to make out what these qualities are.

This formation of group identity is found even in situations of remote, non physical contact, such as in emailing groups. And group loyalty becomes the glue that binds them to the “brand”.

Storytelling is of course a great tool in instilling corporate cohesion. A sense of loyalty to the tradition binds as strongly in a school as in a shoemaking shop.

It leads towards excellence if that is what tradition urges, or it could lead to disaster if the tradition is not one that produces positive thoughts.

This flow of oxytocin sheds light on how storybooks shape children's minds. More significantly, it explains why bibliotherapy works.

Children who are isolated, lonely and desperate for company can find comfort in stories that have characters similar to themselves.

The way those characters solve their problems or work their way out of a situation becomes instructive.

They find their way out of the maze within the book together with the characters that have gained their empathy. These are comforting moments when the oxytocin signals them to enter doors and also to open doors within themselves — the brightness from the outside shining brightly into areas within.

When camaraderie becomes a thought and then the child is no longer isolated. A problem shared is a problem solved, an old pithy saying, but one that’s given the child reassuring insight.

But in another way, a story is the comfortable route to something that’s prickly when handled without the cover of a diverting thought.

Why? Because it is only through thought that we can convince, not by barging in through broken doors and defences that are set alight.

Yes of course you can conquer and subjugate, but rebellion may just be waiting for the moment when you are off guard.

You know Yusof, when I joined this company and was trying to do the work you are now doing I was useless. And then one day, someone told me, why don’t you do this and that?

I don’t want you to fall into the same trap.

So, where is Yusof now?

Is he thinking evil thoughts about this over critical boss or is he listening attentively to how his boss, who was once worse than he is now, was taken into the light?

Wan A Hulaimi The NST Columnist 30 AUGUST 2015 @ 12:00 PM

Transparent and accountable, Corrupt enforcers

Corrupt enforcers

ONE can be forgiven for concluding that arrests of public servants on charges of corruption merely skim the surface because it is not an easy crime to prove.

That arrests now happen almost on a regular basis indicates just how rife it is in the country. The most recent is the apprehension of eight Kelantan Forestry Department staff by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for complicity in illegal logging in the Ulu Sat forest reserve in Machang.

This is another instance of enforcers breaching the trust placed on them by their office. Not too long ago, the integrity of Immigration officers along the Malaysian-Thai border was questioned after the discovery of death camps at Wang Kelian, Perlis. Special Branch reports emerged alleging that 80 per cent of Immigration personnel at our borders were involved in all manner of smuggling activities, including human trafficking.

However, without whistle-blowers, the MACC is impotent to act. There was too, the case of the Customs officers in Port Klang, the MACC’s major opening salvo.

Evidence came in the way they lived; well beyond their means. It gave them away. Brought to court and charged, humiliation came in the way of being photographed with their underwear masking their faces.

In short, with the increasing empowerment of the MACC, its image changed from allegations of brutality against suspects to proper corruption-busting.

Their lament of inadequate prosecution reach only reinforces the suspicion that there is much more to the problem than the eye can see.

The worry is the reality reflected in the MACC’s success. It appears to lend proof to the persistently less than flattering image of the country given by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

There was, indeed, a time under the predecessor to the MACC, the Anti-Corruption Agency, when there was barely any exposure of corruption.

There were some, but nothing as regular as it is now. Obviously, it didn’t mean that corruption did not exist, but rather, that corruption was like a silent cancer breeding in the fabric of the public service.

Now that the problem is exposed, how can it be dealt with?

Naturally, corruption is inherent in positions vested with power. The abuse by the holders of the posts is what gives rise to the crime.

Where judges are concerned, it is argued that handsome salaries hinder corruption, hence their higher-than-average remuneration package. But, to repeat this with every powerful government post is to bleed the Treasury.

How, then, can the state eliminate corruption effectively? Transparency, it is said, removes the veil of secrecy, which breeds this most destructive of crimes.

Take for example, tender procedures for government projects. Negotiated tenders are open to abuse, while open tenders have a better chance of awarding projects to the lowest bidder.

Unfortunately, not all corrupt situations can be solved through transparency — like cross-border smuggling, for example. Therefore, the only recourse is severe punishment, the degree of which depends on the crime’s potential to breach national security.

Above all though, the best armour against corruption is personal ethics; the God-fearing, righteous, honest and trustworthy individual.

NST Editorial 29 August 2015

Transparent and accountable

PAHANG Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob’s announcement that he and 10 state executive council members will declare their assets to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was a breath of fresh air at a time when Malaysians wake up to bad news most mornings.

The message Adnan wants to send to the people of Pahang is that the “Pahang government, its menteri besar and exco members are together in fighting corruption”.

It is a positive first step, and inspires hope that those holding office in other states will also voluntarily divulge their assets before, during and upon leaving their terms.

If we accept the idea that public office is synonymous with high morality, then, public sector officials with power must show that they are acting for those they serve and not for personal gain.

Transparency, accountability and integrity are must-have traits of those who have the authority to decide contracts, allocate budgets and oversee a variety of decisions that involve taxpayers money.

Adnan’s point that top public officials in Pahang might be among the first in the country to disclose details of their assets is a telling comment on the state of asset declaration regime in Malaysia.

Local experts have suggested that Malaysia has an existing system of asset declaration, but, it is not comprehensive because it lacks transparency and a strong verification mechanism.

Among some suggestions are to make it mandatory by law for ministers and members of parliament (including senators) to reveal their assets; for the practice of ministers making known their assets to the prime minister to stop; and for all elected MPs and senators to be legally bound to state their possessions to a parliamentary committee that is independent from the Executive.

A greater role is envisioned for the MACC by giving it the mandate to verify and monitor asset declaration covering those made by politicians to the parliamentary committee and civil servants to their ministry.

The MACC must also have the authority to work with agencies, such as the Inland Revenue Board and Bank Negara Malaysia. And, the MACC must make all information available publicly following completion of the verification exercise. Since there are privacy issues to consider, interested parties may want to make a request for information.

If that is the case, Malaysia should mull over the possibility of introducing a Freedom of Information Act. However, when commenting on the possibility of this last week, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low said Malaysia was not yet ready to implement it, as there was as yet no structure for it.

Declarations of assets, liabilities and other interests owned or controlled by public officials, their families and close associates have become a key tool in combating corruption around the globe, according to Transparency International.

Asset declarations are increasingly required of certain categories of public officials. In some cases, such officials are identified as “politically exposed persons” or “PEPs”, and some countries have gone so far as to build PEP lists. Disclosure allows monitoring of a public official’s wealth.

The asset declaration statement becomes an important document for investigators when suspicions about an individual emerge.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of an asset disclosure programme is the reassurance citizens get that their leaders are doing the right thing. NST Editorial 27 August 2015