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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Change that does not short-change the nation

By Augustine Anthony

The Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and Menteri Besar(s) are prisoners of our archaic system of governance that will turn even the most honest man into a political beast. How sad, indeed.

The system of governance is akin to a vehicle. If you give Lewis Hamilton a 1965 Morris Minor do not expect him to win the Formula One race against our local hero who sits in the latest McLaren-Mercedes car but I am also mindful of the saying that if you give a trainer a horse he might train it to be a race horse but if he is given a mule, do not expect the coveted Kentucky Derby roses.

The politicians are screaming for change. Echoes of these screams for better race relations, a system free of corruption, a nation nurtured with sound education inculcating a knowledge based society and equal opportunities for all but sensitive enough to the welfare of the poor are some of the tantalizing themes often heard everywhere but a theme devoid of tenacity may never clear the path for a national illumination.

Are all these changes attainable in a system of governance that is weighing down on every good man who occupies the seat of power?

Remember that good men will turn dire in a debilitating system of governance whilst evil lords do not have a choice but to accept and go with the flow in an invigorating atmosphere. As much as the mind cannot exist without the body, the system cannot survive without the people who perpetuate it.

If we want a better place for all in this country then we must understand the evolution of the system that is now in place and which has become unworkable. We must fervently work to re-engineer an effective replacement. The best and the most profitable companies that we know are not what they are because they consist of the most honest people but are companies that have put in place an effective and efficient system that curtails negative elements.

So what can we do?

Democracy:

Return democracy to its true worth in political parties.

Delegative Democracy was a workable concept 30 – 50 years ago when our country was still dependent on agriculture and mining activities as the main sector that propelled growth. Delegates needed to carry the voice of people from isolated agricultural outposts and small towns that mushroomed around the mining areas. Democracy in its true sense can destroy the unattended farm/agricultural land and mining towns that depended on labor intensity, if everyone wanted to voice their intention by journeying to the central decision making conclaves. Thus Delegative Democracy was an effective and cost saving way in which rural populations could still be proud of their participation in our national decision making process in political parties.

But now in a world where business is done at the speed of thought, one wonders why political parties’ structures are still based on delegates baby sitting the voice of people who are party members. Is this fault only with the political parties forming the ruling coalition?

(Democratic system of governance/government had been articulated often by other authors thus there will no need here to repeat that line of discussions.)

Separation of Powers

The concept of separation of powers that we so often romanticize is a myth. It does not exist. Even the British Parliamentary System that placed so much emphasis on this concept only found time to create a greater separation of powers by The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and with its implementation taking place even as we speak now.

Breathe true Separation of Powers

Allow the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Arm of the State (the term “government” is also used interchangeably here) to be truly independent. Let democracy independently determine the vibrancy of these three arms.

Political parties in our current system create a scheme for the selection of legislators who will in turn decide the head of the Executive who will then recommend the Chief of the Judiciary to the Sovereign of the State. Some of these legislators will then become part of the Executive and maintain a tight grip on Judiciary. In laymen’s term, it is called you scratch my back and I scratch your back and together we scar the people who are already seared in this withering system of governance.

The Federal Constitution

The Federal Constitution is a living thing. Understanding the Federal Constitution is not a mechanical process. It must be a speaking document. As any extraordinary living thing it must glow, grow and age gracefully.

Prime Minister

He must not only be the voice of the people but the conscience of the nation. He cannot be both if he is a precious ornament hewn by a few thousand expert hands who have mastered the art of politics. He must be graced by the people’s spirit. Give more space for people to choose the man who will in turn shoulder the burden of the collective conscience of the nation. In this way the select few thousands cannot hold the honest Prime Minster to ransom and an incompetent Prime Minister cannot dwell in patronage whilst assuming his seat of power.

Remember the Federal Constitution is a living thing. Amend it if possible for direct voting by the people for the office of Prime Minister. If we are afraid of failure, take heart that those who have made no mistakes are those who have tried nothing in their life.

A Prime Minister elected by this direct process should only be given short tenure of office with increased powers to hire and fire any of his appointees (may not necessarily be parliamentarians) with the option of renewing his term with fresh mandate from the people. Technological advancement dictates this condition where the Prime Minister serves a shorter term in office compared to the existing time in office.

The Federal Constitution formulated in 1957 and 1963. If in the 1950’s and 60’s people travelled the whole day to reach their destinations, now it is done in a matter of hours. Communications and documents that took days to reach its recipient are now accessible even before we can complete the phrase “rat in a hat”. So the expectation is reasonable that what took the Prime Minister to achieve in 5 years at the time of Independence can now be achieved in a much shorter time frame.

Further it must be borne in mind that the Barisan Nasional coalition government consisting of various political parties, had survived all these years because UMNO being the dominant party and exerting extreme dominance is able to maintain a stable government despite many competing political parties within this coalition.

However it will be quite a challenge for Pakatan Rakyat being a loose coalition with contradictory ideologies to maintain coalition discipline in the event it is able to garner enough parliamentary seats to form a government. Aspiring parliamentarians from within this loose coalition will scramble for power and prominence, the outcome of which is something predictable in view of the current level of cooperation that we witness in the various state governments under the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

Finally, if there is a contest for the Prime Minister’s position from within any of these political parties from the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, then expect the coalition cooperation to fizzle out even before take off. The only way out of this stalemate is to come to a consensus that direct electoral mandate will determine the choice of Prime Minister. By this way post election coalition bargaining for ministerial position can be averted if the Prime Minister is elected directly and given the free hand to decide all the Prime Minister’s men.

(This same concept advocated for the Prime Minister should also be extended to The Chief Ministers and Menteri Besar.)

The Speakers of the Houses Of Parliament and State Assembly
The provisions for the appointment and their respective roles in these houses are all spelt out in the Constitution. However for too long the public perception is that the Speaker is a “rubber stamp” and a “yes man” to the government of the day whilst in the conduct of the affairs of the house and its proceedings.

Bring independence to the office of the Speaker that includes its location and staffing. The constitutional provisions provide for a Speaker who is not aligned to any political parties. Would the decision makers have the political will to declare this chair independent of political parties? A truly independent Speaker can be a breath of fresh air in all house proceedings allowing lively debate whilst at the same time maintaining order in the house.

Members Of Parliament

The Federal Court is not the highest decision making entity in our country. The Parliament is. Parliament can veto the decisions of the Federal Court. The irony is while we expect the interpreters of the laws of this country (judges) to have a sound understanding of the law; it is rarely the expectation that the makers of law (parliamentarians/legislators) should have equal competence in at least on the overall apprehension of the policy making process.

It is no excuse to say that the ruling government has more parliamentarians to rush and push through various Bills that is against the aspirations of the nation. A parliamentarian with sound understanding of the overall implication of certain Bills could still articulate them albeit unsuccessfully in parliament but he can always take heart that his argument will be well documented in the Hansard that public can view at any time. A well argued point though unsuccessful could still be brought to the public and be rallied upon.

For example The Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission Act 2009 (Act 694) contains provisions that are likely to give rise to abuses and violation of fundamental liberties of citizens but sadly we do not hear parliamentarians even whispering about it.

It is funny though that some parliamentarians have made a name for themselves by engaging in mostly irrelevant and unnecessary remarks.

Local Government

The clamouring for Local Council elections was after all a lip service. A process that can attain the same result if local council elections are held is available but never explored. The important thing is not about the election for positions in local council but attaining the spirit of Section 10 of the Local Government Act 1976. But sadly political patronage is still the order of the day regardless of political parties.

Youth

The biggest asset and the greatest treasure of this nation is its youth. For too long the creative thinking of our youth has been curtailed. The fear translated into legislations that involvement in politics will erode academic achievement of students and youths is as misplaced as the fear that involvement in sports will take away their academic concentration.

Youths have energy, idealism, boldness and flexibility of thought. Empowering and capacity building must take place at this stage to create a better future. As the political bickering of the “mature” people rages deep into the night, more and more serious crimes are being committed by our youths and this is clear evidence that there is a serious lack of gainful investment in our youths.
Sports/Sporting activities that unite youths under one national banner had been systematically destroyed by selfish politicians at great cost to the nation and its future.

Environment

While our local politicians busily bicker in the dishing out of an unholy share of logging compartments as an easy way out to instant riches, do they even bother that the ice sheet in the Arctic is melting ever so rapidly.

“Things could be very bad,” glaciologist Dr Gordon Hamilton tells. “If we don’t start to do something about it now we’ll very quickly reach a tipping point from which there’ll be no return. And the consequences for society as a whole would be catastrophic.” Source CNN – Greenland’s frozen landscape warming up.

But our environment that suffers from the senseless deforestations, the pollution of our watercourse, the large land clearance for mono-crop plantations that deteriorates the quality of our air and much more which are so intertwined with global warming that leads to climate change does not seem to concern many of our politicians. It is important to remind ourselves that climate change is no longer a topic of scientific curiosity and scrutiny. Do political parties invest in educating the aspiring election candidates on the importance of environment? Do the ambitious lawmakers have any basic grounding of how the environment affects almost all things that we do on a daily basis.

The lists of concerns for change are not exhaustive and while we are at it , all these attractive words and phrases such as Inclusive, Blue Print, Road Map, Holistic Approach, Empowerment, Capacity Building means nothing if the leaders are only concerned about giving lip service to all these real anxieties.

In an uncertain political landscape with many politicians consumed by petty squabbles for their personal survival, change that does not short change the nation (which requires certainty of purpose) must never slip out from the thoughts and feelings of honest politicians and leaders.

NAJIB SAYS UMNO IS NOT RACIST. HERE IS A VIDEO ON RACISM - VIEW IT AND YOU DECIDE



Najib: Menzahirkan perubahan

US charges billionaire Rajaratnam with record insider trading

Galleon hedge fund partner Raj Rajaratnam (centre) is escorted by FBI agents. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Oct 17 — Billionaire hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam and executives from some of the most prestigious US companies were charged yesterday with the largest hedge fund insider-trading scheme ever.

Investigators said they used court-approved telephone wire taps for the first time in a Wall Street insider trading case, sending shivers through the hedge fund industry which has traditionally picked up and shared trading tips to make big profits.

At the centre of the case are Rajaratnam, his Galleon hedge fund and two executives from hedge fund New Castle, which was a unit of Bear Stearns Asset Management before Bears Stearns Cos collapsed in 2008, but is still in operation.

Three executives from major American companies IBM, top consulting firm McKinsey & Co and the venture capital arm of chip giant Intel Corp are also facing criminal charges.

“This is not a garden-variety insider trading case,” Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for Manhattan, said at a news conference. He said the scheme made more than US$20 million (RM70 million) in illegal profits over several years.

One of the criminal complaints accuses Rajaratnam, 52, considered the richest Sri Lankan in the world, of conspiring with Intel Capital treasury department managing director Rajiv Goel and Anil Kumar, a director of McKinsey & Co. The alleged offenses took place over three years starting in January 2006.

Galleon had as much as US$7 billion under management, the complaint said.

Early yesterday evening, a US magistrate judge in New York said Rajaratnam may be released on a US$100 million personal recognisance bond secured by US$20 million in cash and property.

In a brief appearance, Rajaratnam sat in court with his arms folded. The judge restricted his travel to a radius of 110 miles from Manhattan and Rajaratnam, a citizen of both Sri Lanka and the United States, surrendered travel documents.

A prosecutor argued that Rajaratnam was a flight risk, but his lawyer Jim Walden said: “A court’s going to learn there’s a lot more to this case. There is no way that this man is going to flee.”

A second criminal complaint accused three other people — New Castle portfolio manager Danielle Chiesi, New Castle general partner Mark Kurland and Robert Moffat, a senior vice president in the IBM technology group — of insider trading crimes and earning millions of dollars in illegal profits.

“It shows that we are targeting white-collar insider trading rings with the same powerful investigative techniques that have worked so successfully against the mob and drug cartels,” Bharara said.

All six were charged with securities fraud and conspiracy in two criminal complaints filed in US District Court in Manhattan. Kumar was permitted to be released on a US$5 million bond, Kurland on a US$3 million bond, and Moffat and Chiesi on a US$2 million bond. In California, Goel posted US$300,000 cash for bail.

The six were also charged in a separate civil complaint by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC said the accused traded on insider information from 10 companies.

The companies included Hilton Hotels Corp, Google Inc, IBM, Advanced Micro Devices Inc and several other companies.

The prosecutor also fired a warning shot for the rest of Wall Street.

“Today, tomorrow, next week, the week after, privileged Wall Street insiders who are considering breaking the law will have to ask themselves one important question: Is law enforcement listening?” he said.

Securities fraud charges carry possible maximum prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Whitney Tilson, founder and managing partner of T2 Partners LLC and the Tilson Mutual Funds said: “I’m not surprised that among 8,000 hedge funds there will always be a few rogues behaving badly. It’s quite stunning somebody who is already a billionaire could be so foolish.”

She said that for the “few dishonest hedge funds, it hopefully will serve as a big wake up call.”

Rajaratnam, born into a family of well-to-do Tamils in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, is one of the largest investors on the Colombo Stock Exchange.

Last month, he pledged US$1 million to help pay for the rehabilitation of former soldiers of the separatist “Tamil Tigers,” which fought 25 years to create a separate state for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils but were defeated in May.

But yesterday, he was handcuffed and walked in front of TV cameras as federal agents arrested him.

“Galleon was shocked to learn today that Raj Rajaratnam was arrested this morning at his apartment,” Galleon Group LP said in a statement. “We had no knowledge of the investigation before it was made public and we intend to cooperate fully with the relevant authorities. Galleon continues to operate and is highly liquid.”

An Intel spokesman said Goel, 51, was placed on administrative leave on Friday. He said Intel was not aware of the case until Friday and has not been contacted by authorities.

Kumar, also 51, was on a leave of absence, a McKinsey spokeswoman said. She said the firm “was looking into the matter urgently.”

Chiesi, 43, worked for New Castle, an equity hedge fund group of Bear Stearns Asset Management before Bear Stearns crumbled in March 2008, according to the complaint. Kurland, 60, was a senior managing director of BSAM, the same unit that ran two funds that suffered fatal mortgage market losses in 2007. Representatives for New Castle could not reached for comment.

Moffat, 53, was group executive of IBM’s systems and technology group and a 31-year veteran of the company. Moffat was accused of passing insider information about an IBM deal with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. An IBM spokesman declined to comment.

The Galleon case also dealt another black eye for credit rating firm Moody’s Corp Moody’s Investors Service, one of the major rating agencies that have been strongly criticised for their role in the global credit crisis.

An analyst at Moody’s who was involved with evaluating Hilton passed on insider information that Hilton would be acquired by Blackstone Group and that Hilton would likely announce the acquisition before July 4, 2007, according to one complaint. A Moody’s spokesman said the firm would provide investigators with assistance in its investigation of the matter.

The cases are USA v Raj Rajaratnam et al No. 09-mj-2306 and USA v Danielle Chiesi et al No. 09-mj-2307, US District Court for the Southern District of New York. — Reuters