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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kashmir’s 'mufti azam' summons Christian priest to explain alleged conversions

SRINAGAR: Mufti Bashir-ud-din - J&K's official " mufti azam", or head Muslim clergyman - issued fresh summons to a leading Christian priest, CM Khanna, on Friday, asking him to appear before his court to explain his activities of reported conversions of young local boys and girls at his church in Srinagar. Khanna said the mufti was annoyed with him because he had expressed his inability to help the mufti in the admission of a boy to a Christian missionary school.

Talking to TOI, Mufti Azaam Bashir-ud-din said: "Our shariat court had summoned the Christian priest, CM Khanna, to appear personally today at 11am but he failed to appear. Now we have issued fresh summons to him for personal appearance on November 12."

A shariat court has existed in J&K since the early 1960s; Mufti Bashir-ud-din is the judge of the court and the appeal against this court lies in the civil court. Mufti Bashir said that the court was recognized by the state government because of the majority Muslim character of the state. The shariat court, however, has no enforcing agency like police to implement its judgments, he said

Mufti Bashir-ud-din said: "I have received the complaint that the said priest, CM Khanna, is involved in converting young Muslim boys and girls to Christianity. This warrants action as per Islamic law. So we summoned him to appear before the shariat court to explain his position."

The mufti claimed to possess a video cassette purportedly showing Reverend Khanna urging young Kashmiri Muslims to embrace Christianity and asking them to take a dip in a pond inside the church near the cricket stadium in Srinagar.

"I will take all necessary measures in exercise of the powers vested in me by Islamic shariat," the mufti said when asked what course he would take if the priest failed to appear in his court.

"It is a matter of grave concern that Christian missionaries active here should be running an organized and integrated campaign to convert young Kashmiri Muslims to Christianity," he said.

When contacted, CM Khanna said : "I am an officiating priest at the Srinagar church and Mufti Bashir-ud-din last fortnight asked me to help him in getting admission to some boy in a Christian school called Tyndale Biscoe school, but I told him that the school was not under my control and he had better approach the principal of the school. He was annoyed over the issue."

Khanna said that he had not received any summons and the allegations levelled against him were false and concocted. "I am at present out of state," Khanna told TOI on the phone.

MTUC warns Najib labour law battle will go on to polls

MTUC members protest amendments to the Employment Act, outside Parliament
 in Kuala Lumpur, October 3, 2011. — Picture by Choo Choy May

SUBANG JAYA, Oct 28 — The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) warned Datuk Seri Najib Razak today that the votes of 5.7 million workers “could decide matters” on polling day unless labour law changes that could affect job security and workers’ rights are withdrawn.

The umbrella body, which comprises 390 of the 692 labour unions and a total of 802,323 members, said in a press conference today that “we are non-partisan, but our battle will have to go on” against amendments to the Employment Act passed on October 6 which it has called “a return to slavery.”

“We call on the prime minister to hear our calls that have become shouts and screams on behalf of 5.7 million voters. There are 5.7 million workers who are registered workers. That is our signal to him,” general secretary Abdul Halim Mansor told reporters today.

The MTUC affirmed today that its nationwide picket in at least 20 locations on November 3 continues “an ongoing action” against legislation that it says will “green light investors to hire Malaysians as contract workers instead of permanent staff.”

It said this will encourage companies to outsource more of labour requirements, handing over responsibility over rights and benefits such as social security and Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions to third-party contractors who “can escape easily when business goes bad.”

The MTUC had first protested the amendments on October 3, drawing hundreds of workers to the gates of Parliament.

Najib tabled his Budget 2012 proposals earlier this month that provided cash handouts and an extra one per cent employers’ contribution to the pension fund for those earning up to RM5,000 a month, which covers most of MTUC’s members.

His government has also promised to implement a minimum wage policy by end-2011 but Pakatan Rakyat (PR) have already pledged a national minimum of RM1,100 and support for the union’s protest against labour law changes.

Najib is expected to hold a general election soon, after announcing RM4.5 billion in direct assistance to citizens and pay hikes for some 1.3 million civil servants for next year’s Budget.

Winning the mind, not the heart

A business leader says that Barisan Nasional must not take the Indian community for another ride, and calls for concrete steps to be initiated.
KUALA LUMPUR: The mammoth turnout for the Deepavali open house in Batu Caves has been trumpeted as another sign of the Indian community’s support returning for the ruling coalition under the stewardship of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
In the last general election, Indian voters, whose support for BN remained unwavering till then, cast their ballots for the opposition, leaving the coalition with a bloodied nose.
Upon assuming office in the following year, Najib embarked on a quest to win back the heart and mind of the Indian electorate.
While a spate of by-elections revealed that his efforts to woo Chinese votes yielded little, if no success, the voting trend in the same by-elections appears to be encouraging as far as Indian support is concerned.
Indian leaders in MIC and other pro-BN organisations have lauded Najib for his willingness to elevate the socio-economic standard of the community.
However, a seasoned political observer and business leader noted that the prime minister is winning over the minds with mere cosmetic changes and fanfares but has yet to make inroads into the hearts of the Indians.
Politician or statesman?
According to Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar, Najib must make an important decision.
He must decide between being another run-of-the mill politician churning out “quick-fixes” to win votes and a statesman who will initiate genuine reforms to uplift a community that has been, in the words of MIC president G Palanivel himself, marginalised for decades.
“Spending millions on Deepavali bashes, fancy billboards and holding concerts will not benefit the community. We must journey beyond such superficial efforts to remedy the malaise,” he told FMT.
“BN should not take the Indian community for another ride,” he stressed, showering criticism on the community’s leaders who are willing accomplices in this plot.
The community leaders who help the ruling coalition perpetuate the oppression of the Indian community, he added, are committing a cardinal sin.
“This is because they are digging the graves of the future generation even before the dust has settled on the graves of the older generation,” he said.
GLC ads meaningless
Commenting on the Deepavali advertisements by government-linked companies, Sivakumar said it would have been more meaningful if Najib had announced that a certain percentage of employment opportunities or business contracts have been set aside for the Indians in GLCs such as Petronas and Pos Malaysia.
“For years, these companies only display their ‘all-encompassing’ attitude in advertisements during the festive season but the reality on the ground is starkly different.
“Are we as Malaysian citizens whose forefathers’ sweat and toil contributed immensely towards the progress of this nation, asking for too much?” he added.
Acknowledging that Indian support is growing for BN, the Miba president warned that the urban middle class and more educated Indian voters remain unconvinced and the government should not make the mistake of resting on its laurels thinking that all is well.
“These voters want to see significant changes and not dancers prancing on the stage. They are not interested in being paid to attend functions or a free lunch. If the government fails to deliver the goods, they will not deliver the votes. It’s as simple as that,” he added.
He said these voters want a just, equitable, transparent and accountable government which respects fundamental human rights.
Learn from Singapore
The Johor-based businessman said that the Malaysian government should learn from its counterpart across the causeway with regard to uplifting minority groups.
“Even the other day, I was having a chat with an elderly Singaporean gentlemen and he was telling me how in the early years, the Indians in the republic experienced similar social ills.
“But with the right policies and actions, the Singaporean government empowered the Indians there both economically and academically. Look at them today… compare them to us,” he said.
Sivakumar also took a swipe at the mindset of the civil service here, saying that it is still trapped in a dungeon of discrimination.
If Najib’s 1Malaysia concept is to be successful, he said, the rot in the civil service must be fixed first and those in government positions should stop considering the non-Malays as immigrants.
“Only then can we have an effective delivery system,” he added.
The Miba president also criticised Najib and Indian leaders for nurturing divisiveness through the caste system instead of uniting the community similar to Singapore.
“Why must the prime minister attend this and that caste function. This is a disease that has paralysed the Indian community for a long time and it should not be allowed to continue.
“I am aware that there are those who feel strongly about this issue but the hard truth is that the caste system will only impede our march forward. So let’s progress and not regress,” he said.

Proxy war in the battle of three PMs

Lim Kit Siang says that Najib's credibility rests on his human rights stand at CHOGM.
PETALING JAYA: DAP adviser, Lim Kit Siang, today questioned whether the twin warnings by former Inspector-General of Police, Rahim Noor, and former premier, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, on human rights in Malaysia was in fact “an open proxy shot in a battle of three prime ministers”.
Rahim had likened the rise of human rights movements to communism during Perkasa’s general assembly on Wednesday.
His statement sparked outrage among various human rights groups but won endorsement from Mahathir who warned that human rights was being used for political benefit by the opposition.
In his latest blog post, Lim noted the uncanny timing of both warnings with the opening of the CHOGM today, which will consider a report of an 11-member Eminent Persons Group (EPG).
The report contains reform proposals to end its organisational “decay” and avoid the Commonwealth being condemned as “hypocritical” for allowing rogue member states to violate human rights and democratic conventions.
Lim said that the EPG report includes 106 recommendations including the appointment of an independent Commonwealth Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights commissioner empowered to monitor violations and propose action against rogue states.
“And heading the EPG is none other than our fifth prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,” he pointed out.
“Were the warnings by Mahathir and Rahim a warning to Najib not to support Abdullah’s EPG proposals in improving the Commonwealth’s response to human rights violations?”
Poor analysis
The Ipoh Timur MP further queried whether Najib would now endorse Abdullah and the EPG proposals or buckle under pressure by Mahathir and Rahim to shield rogue Commonwealth countries from scrutiny and censure.
“The stand Najib takes in Perth will be a clear indication as to whether his promises of democratisation and political transformation have any credibility,” he said.
The EPG report had also warned that it was time for the Perth CHOGM to authorise the urgent reform it recommends and to mandate a concrete implementation plan.
It further emphasised that “there may not be another chance to renew, reinvigorate and revitalise the Commonwealth to make it relevant to its times and people in the future”.
“Najib should take serious note of this warning as it is of equal pertinence to him as to the relevance of his premiership and Umno-BN rule to the people and country of Malaysia,” Lim said.
“Will Najib prove to be unequal not only to the task of Commonwealth reform but also to the challenge of reform and national transformation of Malaysia?”
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), meanwhile, expressed incredulity that both Mahathir and Rahim appeared to be getting away with their “absurd and irresponsible” statements.
In a media release this afternoon, LFL remarked that Rahim’s statement came as no surprise seeing as he was guilty of widespread human rights abuses during his tenure as IGP.
“Nobody in their right mind can fathom his poor analysis in trying to dismiss human rights as a communism-like wave,” it said.
“Mahathir was another blatant violator of human rights during his tenure as prime minister. One clear example is the mass arrests during Ops Lalang and police brutality during the early years of reformasi.”
LFL pointed out that the attitude of  BN governments since independence is that  human rights advocates and activists are mere pests who should be disregarded and  persecuted.
“In taking this position they are absolutely wrong and failing in their duty to the rakyat,” it concluded.

India's Congress Party and Corruption

Manmohan Singh, looking unhappy
Sniping at anti-corruption crusaders won’t save them
A sustained campaign of sniping at the leaders of the anti-corruption movement by senior members of India’s Congress Party speaks of policy confusion and lack of leadership. What is it designed to achieve?

Two members of corruption protest activist Anna Hazare's campaign team -- Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal -- were found to have allegedly fiddled expenses and diverting donations . That gave the Congress Party opportunity to ridicule the anti-corruption campaigners.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, another key member of Hazare’s team, delivered the opinion that people of Kashmir should decide whether they wished to stay in India, be independent or switch to Pakistan. That is a 'sacred-cow' issue with most Indians. He was assaulted in his office by thugs believed to be members of an extreme Hindu fundamentalist organization.

Thus Team Anna are on the back foot and divided. But that doesn’t absolve the Congress Party of accountability for corruption in government. A corrupt government smearing anti-corruption campaigners does not win it sympathy from a public fed up with civil servants and politicians who abuse their positions.

Manmohan Singh, a weak prime minister out-maneuvered by powerful political warlords, signals administrative dysfunction to voters. There is no one in the driver's seat. This is a lame-duck government that will in all likelihood be turfed out at the next general election.

Corruption works for everyone except the dispossessed. The victims of India's systemic corruption are the powerless masses who can't get relief from policemen, government clerks or elected representatives with their hands out for bribes. The middle classes are annoyed that they have to grease palms at every turn. The rich leverage it to bend the system to their benefit.

State legislators and parliamentarians see election to the government as their ticket to amassing wealth by exerting influence on government contracts. Corruption works for everyone except the dispossessed. So what incentive is there for Parliament to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, also known as the citizens’ ombudsman will, which seeks to pass restrictive laws dealing with political corruption?

None. About 25 percent of sitting parliamentarians are convicted of crimes or pending charges. A larger proportion manage to benefit without legal trace. Indian 'black money' estimated at more than US$1.4 trillion is stashed in Swiss banks. It has been estimated that up to 40 percent of India’s gross domestic product disappears from the economy, stolen by politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats. The last thing India's political class wants is public scrutiny of its methods of enrichment from public finances.

Thanks to the Right to Information Act which was forced on the government in 2005 by an earlier public campaign, activists can request sight of documents, memos and contracts which were previously inaccessible. That data can be quickly distributed through social networks to name and shame the guilty. The politicians deeply regret passing the information act. Manmohan Singh recently floated a trial balloon saying the RTI needs to be reviewed as it inhibits civil servants from appending notes and comments to proposed bills and projects and that it slows down the normal functioning of government.

That brought a torrent of protest from social activists, amply magnified through TV talk shows and press commentary.

Taking lessons from the effect of the information act, the political class is in no rush to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill despite lobbying by Anna Hazare which has brought thousands to the streets. It is a severe tool designed to rid India of its Neta-Babu (bureaucrat-politician) nexus through swift justice meted out by a citizen's Ombudsman and his avenging angels. It gives corrupt judges, ministers, civil servants and legislators little legal privilege. It is punitive and extreme to a political class used to distorting legal process to escape responsibility.

Election risk 

Anna Hazare has warned that if a strong Jan Lokpal Bill is not passed into law by the winter session of parliament, he will tour all the states where by-elections are due and re-ignite public anger against Congress Party candidates. That is no idle threat.

The public fury that was triggered across the nation by Anna Hazare's fast in August has not gone away. India's voters are restive. And the game has gone well past the stage for the government to invoke security as a cover to lock him up.

Congress Party strategists are toying with the parliamentary process and legal punditry to water down the Lokpal bill and starve budget allocations for the ambitious central and state anti-corruption machinery. By a clever combination of toothless legislation and budgetary under-provision, politicians of all parties hope to escape dismissal, seizure of assets and jail.

After all, what’s the point of getting elected if you cannot leverage your position to become a millionaire?

(Cyril Pereira is a senior journalist who comments regularly on Asian affairs.)

I’m 25, Malaysian. Should I give up on Malaysia?

by Alex Lee
Friday, 28 October 2011

My recent trip back to Malaysia made me realise the lack of political awareness in the country. Business owners, working individuals, family and friends have virtually given up trying, or simply not want to court unnecessary trouble. They continue to complain of our government’s incompetence. But simply complaining will take us nowhere.

Only abusers and authoritarians, who do not want to hear the truth and how we feel want us to be silent, allowing them to continue squandering our nation’s coffers and they be left unpunished. Countless loopholes in the legislations are making the rich even richer, and the poor to continue to suffer.

A simple example is the real estate situation in Malaysia. Housing has become impossible for new starters to own, with the unaffordability standards at an all-time high. Yet, the rich are still able to continue reaping gains from the market, inflating prices, causing houses to be even more and more unaffordable. In the rural areas, people are struggling to access basic needs such as water and electricity, not to mention basic healthcare.

Malaysia has an incredible pool of talent, and I would attest to that, having gone to school with many of them. Unfortunately there has been a continuous brain drain from our country; and these are intellectuals with tertiary-level education. The outflow of talent has not been matched with equal and compatible inflow, thus damaging the quality of Malaysia’s narrow skills base.

54% of the brain drain can be traced to Singapore, 15% to Australia, 10% to the US, and 5% to the UK, resulting in Malaysia’s economic growth rate to fall to an average of 5% pa. Major push factors include corruption, social inequality and lack of academic freedom.

Malaysia is now at a unique moment in its history. For the first time, there’s a broad realisation that the country must move in a new direction.

Malaysia is fortunate to have some great political leaders, who have made huge sacrifices, and facing countless allegations, are still standing strong to fight another day for our country. They have shown us the way and given us hope to introduce the true essence of a democracy.

We are on the verge of being able to make a great change to our country in the next coming election, but will it be possible without the support from all of us?

Is it important for Malaysians to realise that each of us have a role to play in creating a Malaysia we can be proud of? We live in Malaysia, and we love Malaysia. Malaysia has so much potential, and so much unique diversity that if we are able to deal with all the grouses and discontent that people speak about, we would be a world-class country.

But we must act. Our communities must be transformed and become independent, action communities that perhaps one day there is no need or a reduced need for us to rely on politicians. We need to build a non-partisan, issue-based, youth-driven, community-centred platform to promote greater ownership, participation and seek workable solutions to problems that affect our communities.

We need to learn how to ask the right questions and make more informed choices in our daily lives. We need to have more control more of over our well-being rather than having “top-down” policies implemented on us without our consent, tacit or otherwise.

Most of all, we need to claim our civil space for otherwise, ruthless, manipulative, racist elements will claim that space for us.

By that time, the damage will be too deeply embedded to allow any rescindable change. The time is now. We need to activate all Malaysians to drive our agenda for a better Malaysia.

Let us all unite and work towards creating a society with integrity.