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Thursday, January 19, 2012

World Bank warns of 'very difficult year'

The US economy will continue to suffer, the World Bank estimates, but not as much as poor countries [GALLO/GETTY] 

 Bi-annual report slashes growth projections and predicts a downturn in 2012 that "no country and no region will escape".
 The World Bank has warned the international community to brace for slow growth and economic challenges in 2012 stemming partly from Europe's debt woes.

The bank substantially cut its forecasts for growth in both developed and poorer nations in its twice-yearly report, issued late on Tuesday.

"Europe appears to have entered recession, and growth in several major developing countries [Brazil, India and to a
lesser extent Russia, South Africa and Turkey] has slowed," the bank said as it updated forecasts made last June.

It predicted the global economy will expand by 2.5 per cent in 2012 and by 3.1 per cent in 2013, well behind the 3.6 per cent growth for each year that the bank had projected in June.

The US economy will also suffer from slower global growth, the report said, though not by as much as developing countries.

"The world is very different than it was six months ago," said Andrew Burns, head of the bank's global economics team and lead author of the report. "This is going to be a very difficult year."

Sobering assessment

The report noted two major reasons for the projected global slowdown: Europe's debt crisis has worsened and several big developing countries have taken steps to prevent growth from overheating and fueling inflation.

Developing countries' economies will continue to out pace those of richer, developed countries, but the World Bank also
lowered its forecasts for growth in these countries to 5.4 per cent in 2012 and six per cent in 2013.

That was down from previous estimates of 6.2 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively for growth in developing countries.

"The downturn in Europe and weaker growth in developing countries raises the risk that the two developments reinforce
one another, resulting in an even weaker outcome," it said.

It also cited failure so far to resolve high debts and deficits in Japan and the US and slow growth in other high-income countries, and cautioned those could trigger sudden shocks.

On top of that, political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt oil supplies and add another blow to
global prospects, the World Bank said in a sobering assessment of the challenges facing the economy.

'Global crisis'

It said that while Europe was moving toward a long-term solution to its debt problems, markets remain skittish.

"While contained for the moment, the risk of a much broader freezing up of capital markets and a global crisis similar in
magnitude to the Lehman crisis remains," the World Bank said, referring to the US investment bank that went bankrupt in 2008 and helped intensify a global financial crisis.

Against that backdrop, it said developing countries were even more vulnerable than they were in 2008 because they could
find themselves facing reduced capital flows and softer trade.

In addition, many developing countries have weaker finances and would not be able to respond to a new crisis as vigorously.

The World Bank pointed out that since last August risk aversion to Europe has shot up and "changed the game" for
developing countries that have seen their borrowing costs escalate sharply and the flow of capital to them decrease.

"No country and no region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn," the World Bank said, adding that now was the time for developing countries to plan how to soften the impact of a potential deep crisis.

Tortured Afghan child bride slowly recovering

KABUL — The Afghan child bride who was tortured in an attempt to force her into prostitution is slowly recovering but is still hardly able to speak, a nurse told AFP during a visit to the girl's bedside Thursday.

Afghan child bride Sahar Gul, 15, lies in a bed as she recovers at the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital in Kabul today (AFP, Shah Marai)

Sahar Gul, 15, who was burned and beaten and had her fingernails pulled out was found last month in the basement of her husband's house in northeastern Baghlan province, where she had been locked in a toilet for six months.

"Since the past few days, Gul can walk very slowly, she can eat and talk in a frail voice," said nurse Latifa Mirzad at the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, as the bruised and battered girl looked on silently.

"She is hardly able to speak of her ordeal but sometimes she says in a weak voice 'my father in-law and mother-in law have beaten me'."

Gul's case was taken directly to President Hamid Karzai by a delegation from the Afghan Women's Network on Wednesday.

"The president assured his full support to strictly punish the perpetrators of the crime against Sahar Gul so that nobody can commit such a crime in the future," said the network's Lema Anwari.

Karzai pledged in a statement after the delegation's visit to take action against the "cowardly" perpetrators of violence against women.

The president said that he always took measures as soon as he heard about cases of violence against women, and would continue to take the issue seriously so that the culprits were brought to justice.

According to figures in an Oxfam report in October, 87 percent of Afghan women report having experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission logged 1,026 cases of violence against women in the second quarter of 2011 compared with 2,700 cases for the whole of 2010.

Uniting Malays Not Over (Umno)

Many decades have passed since the inception of Umno but the organisation has failed dismally to unite Malays in Malaysia under its umbrella.

Umno, the acronym for United Malays National Organisation, despite being in existence for decades, has failed miserably to unite Malays under its banner. Therefore, it should perhaps re-define Umno as Uniting Malays Not Over.

All was well upon the inception of Umno by Jaffar Onn and the fight against the British that led to Merdeka. Umno was also well under Tunku Abdul Rahman’s leadership. But the changes that led to Umno losing favour with the Malay populace can be traced back to as early as the 70s.

Umno has since then become a fractious and divisive organisation which even led to its de-registration and the setting up of a new Umno during the era of the Mahathir administration. But the fact that a Malay organisation, claiming to represent the bulk of the Malay population, does not even have a Malay equivalent in naming itself speaks of the muddled politics the party has been engaging in until now.

Aside from the fact that Umno uses an English expression in describing itself, it is ironic that it doesn’t see the need to emphasise the importance of the English language among Malays, but personally most Umno leaders seem to favour an English education for their children.

While for the largely Malay masses, Umno champions and stresses the use of the Malay language – that it is a unifying language and therefore must be safeguarded to guarantee the future of the Malays – yet, in reality, the children of Umno leaders are generally packed off to obtain the best possible education in the English language.

It is primarily this and other forms of double standard practised by Umno leaders that have caused Malays to seek political affinity with PKR and PAS. While the Malays usually tend to hold on to traditional values and value the role of Umno in Malaysia, they now view the party as having strayed from the basis of which it was formulated.

While Malays value very much the contribution of Umno to their well-being, this is now a thing of the past, as the loss of interest in Umno now is due to the self-seeking attitudes of most Umno leaders and members.

Malays no longer see Umno as a party that champions the struggle of the Malays. In the new millennium, Malays have begun to realise that the winds of change have taken place at Umno, especially since the departure of Mahathir.

Precarious position

While during the reign of the Mahathir regime the rot had started to set in, the wily politician was able to still appease and appeal to the Malays. But the unity among the Malays started to crumble with the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim as deputy prime minister and the subsequent establishment of PKR.

Enter PAS which began to capitalise on the disappointment of the Malays with Umno and seized the opportunity to make gains, even presenting itself as a viable option to non-Malays. The interest in these two parties caught on among the Malays and led to the political tsunami that almost ousted the ruling Barisan Nasional from power in 2008.

In realising that Malay grassroots support has shifted to PKR and PAS, Umno tried to restore confidence among Malays by removing Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and hoped that the replacement prime minister will be able to curry greater favour with the large Malay voter base.

While urban Malays seem to be the bulk of Umno supporters today, the party is in a precarious position and has so far found no solution to being able to unite Malays under its umbrella. Umno’s loss of grassroots Malay support has gladly been absorbed by PKR and PAS.

As it stands, Malays as a race are more fragmented and, politically, their allegiance is currently skewered three-ways among PAS, PKR and Umno. The reality of Malays being divided and being ruled by a tripartite leadership does not augur well for Umno but is again welcome news for PKR and PAS.

The Najib-led Umno has strived hard to become the preferred political party of choice for Malays. But in doing so, the initiatives used and employed have made Malays even more wary and suspicious of the overtures made by Umno.

While it is conceded that Umno still has a large membership base, the steady numbers of Malays who are beginning to see a better future by hedging with PKR and PAS is becoming apparent. Even DAP has been holding the olive branch to Malays and making progress in recruiting Malay members.

What has gone wrong with Umno, once holding formidable sway over the Malay population of Malaysia? The steady rise of economic prosperity in which large numbers of Malays have not been able to savour much is the root cause of Malay disenchantment as they witness only pockets of Malays emerging super rich.

Elite Malay group

This creation of an elite Malay grouping spawned by Umno and the great schism it has created with the rest of the Malays have become noticeable and evident and the root of bitterness.

The fact that while the economy grew, and while even the other major races fared better, Malays largely feel they have been betrayed by Umno for not spreading the wealth over a wider base of the Malay population.

This grievance has caused the once-favoured Umno to be no longer the champion of the Malay struggle. The gauntlet seems to have fallen on PKR and PAS to restore parity and the equitable distribution of wealth.

Malay voters see the roles played by PKR and PAS leaders as consistent with their call to bring about reforms, while Umno is being viewed as mere slogan chanters who do not practise what they preach.

This dichotomy between creed and deed, this lack of evidence that Umno is sincere but displays the fa├žade that it cares for the well-being of Malays is really a feeble attempt by Umno to secure the support of the Malay base.

But Malays have become quietly smarter and wiser and are aware of the bag of tricks of Umno politicians and need no direction or guidance as to what their role should be in seeing a better Malaysia. In the 13th general election it should not come as a surprise to most people (except maybe Umno) that the actual transformation that really takes place is the Malays themselves showing the exit door to Umno.

When that happens, perhaps Umno’s slogan of “Dulu, Kini & Selamanya” (Before, Now and Forever) should be changed to “Dulu, Kini & Tak Lama Lagi” (Before, Now and Not for long).

Christopher Fernandez has been teaching and writing throughout Asia since 1984.

Film-makers upset over Indian festival

PETALING JAYA: A group of Malaysian Indian film industry players are unhappy that the Malaysian Indian Film Festival (MIFF), organised by MIC Youth, was held in India last week.

The group, led by producer K Murali, claimed that holding the Malaysian Indian Film Festival in Chennai was akin to “blowing our own trumpet” and that it did not benefit the local Indian movie industry.

The MIC Youth organised a three-day movie festival last week where 10 local Indian movies selected by the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (Finas) were screened in Chennai. An award presentation ceremony was the climax of the festival.

“The festival would be better if it was held in Malaysia. Our film industry is very small compared to India. Indians there are not interested in our movies,” he said at a press conference here, today.

“So, what is the point of holding such a festival in India? Instead, we should send our young actors or technical people over to India on how to produce better movies. From what I heard, the 10 movies brought there were not watched by Indians but MIC members who were in India to attend the Pravasi Bharathiya Divas conference (an Indian diaspora forum).

Also present the press conference were K Loganathan (actor), K Gandhiban (actor and director), V Manivannan (actor) and S Mohan Rao (actor).

While the group slammed the MIC Youth, Murali said he would arrange a meeting with MIC president G Palanivel to find ways to stimulate the local Indian movie industry.

Gandhiban, meanwhile, said the industry players were in the dark over the criteria used to select movies for the festival.

“We want to know on what basis were these movies selected… what are the criteria,” he added.

The group aimed their harshest words for the festival’s organising committee chief P Vijay.

“According to Vijay all the 10 movies were selected by Finas and he also gave an assurance that next year my films also will be selected to be screened at the festival.

“If it’s true the movies were selected by Finas, then how come Vijay can give assurance that next year my films will be selected for the festival?” Ghandhiban asked.

Real culprit

He said Vijay, who is the MIC Youth’s arts and cultural bureau chief, should be sacked from the party.

“He is the real culprit behind the video piracy in Malaysia and MIC should not give position to someone who spoiled the local music industry,” alleged Ghandiban, better known as Ben-G.

The group also questioned how a movie produced by Vijay won two awards, when he was the organising committee head.

Meanwhile, when contacted, MIC Youth chief T Mohan said the the wing wanted to hold the film festival in India with the aim of exposing the local movie industry to Indians.

“I am surprised that these people do not understand our intention to hold the film festival there. It would enable our movies to have a wider reach. We have quality actors and technicians. But, since our industry is too small, we are facing tough challenges to bring our movies to the international level,” he said.

“India is the best place to promote our movies to enable us to move forward. I would regard the festival as a success. Some Indian producers are keen to work with our actors and technical people.

“This is a good thing. Even, a few distributors from India are interested to distribute our local movie named ‘Appalam’. So, this is the way to promote our films,” he said, adding that he spent money from his own pocket for the festival.

Maid claims she was treated like a slave

The maid claims that she had no off days and worked from dawn till next morning and often went hungry.

MELBOURNE: A Cambodian maid has revealed that she was treated like a slave by her employer in Kuala Lumpur, according to a report in “The Age” newspaper today.

Apparently a one-metre snake “ended” Orn Eak’s two-year ordeal when it entered her employer’s apartment, and her services were subsequently terminated.

(Serpents, or nagas, play a particularly important role in Cambodian mythology.)

“When the snake crawled into my employer’s apartment she blamed me and kicked me out,” Orn Eak, 28, told the newspaper’s Southeast Asia correspondent Lindsay Murdoch.

“I got the blame for everything, including the death of my employer’s elderly mother.”

Single with a five-year-old son, Orn Eak said she went to Malaysia to work because her mother was struggling to survive in their village in Kompong Thom province.

Orn Eak claimed she had no days off and worked from dawn into the early hours of the next morning, caring for her employer’s disabled mother. She said she was often beaten and went hungry.

The mistreatment worsened after the old woman died in hospital.

Last October, Cambodia imposed a temporary ban on sending domestic workers to Malaysia following numerous complaints of abuse. The order was signed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen following “some negative information” about the working environment of Cambodian maids in Malaysia.

Orn Eak’s mother, Ee Tha, 55, told “The Age” that she received only two payments in almost two years from her daughter’s employer totalling US$270 (about RM840). The employer deducted Orn Eak’s flight ticket home from her salary, which was supposed to be US$180 a month.

When Orn Eak arrived back in Phnom Penh in November, a woman picked her up at the airport and took her to the employment agency.

“I told the story about the snake to a director. Five men came into the room and beat me. They pushed my head onto a glass door and kicked me on the ground,” she said.

Ee Tha, who was asked to come to Phnom Penh to take her daughter home, said: “When I saw that my daughter’s face and body were cut and bruised, my heart dropped.”

After Ee Tha refused to leave the employment agency’s office with her daughter until she was given the money she was owed, a director finally handed over US$1,200 (about RM3,740) – that meant Orn Eak earned only US$1,470 (about RM4,580) for nearly two years’ work.

Social workers have verified her claims of abuse, the newspaper said.

- Bernama

Hindraf and ABU vs Umno

The two movements have decided to join hands in a bid to end the rule of Umno and Barisan Nasional.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) will join hands with the Anything But Umno (ABU) movement in a bid to end Umno’s rule.

Speaking to reporters today, Hindraf national coordinator W Sambulingam said the government must be changed.

“Umno or Barisan Nasional which has been the governing party for the last 54 years has left the nation in a deplorable condition. We have to vote BN out,” he added.

Sambulingam said Hindraf and ABU would initially hold nationwide ceramah against Umno.

During the first phase, he said, 11 ceramah will be held in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Johor.

“Our first ceramah will take place in Jalan Kebun in Klang on Jan 21,” he added.

Promiment lawyer and ABU coordinator Haris Ibrahim, who was also present at the press conference, welcomed Hindraf’s decision to join ABU.

He also invited other like-minded NGOs and individuals to join in the fight.

“We are pro-rakyat. So whoever feels that they are pro-rakyat can unite with us,” he said.

ABU was formed last year, and the movement focused on four major issues – the Lynas plant, price

hikes, racist politics and unjust laws.

National identity is not a race

Said Zahari

NEW year, new you? Not if you’re national identity in Malaysia, it would seem. We ended last year with disputes over Article 153 provisions for bumiputera special privileges and began this one with discussions of a Race Relations Bill, hurtfully racialised statements, ethnocentric election strategising and accusations of religious subversion.
Said Zahari’s 1969 poem comes to mind: “Once again / Colour, race, religion and language/ Become sharp blades/ To use in the carnage.”
Here’s an idealistic wish for 2012: that public debate in Malaysia will stop treating our collective identity as a communitarian competition. I’m not arguing for a colour-blind society — colours are pretty. And with whatever credibility I retain after that last clause, I’ll argue that beauty is not relative. Strength need not come from comparison. Wealth may be limited, but we have enough to share.
Identity constructs
I refuse to believe that I am a minority in these beliefs. I may represent a minority religion and language within a minority race, but I grew up with comfortably multicultural social circles in national schools and never felt outnumbered until I left Malaysia for school.
This is not to suggest that those with less diverse backgrounds or stronger ethnic consciousnesses are any more or less Malaysian than I am. Our nation’s name honours our roots in Sanskrit-influenced maritime sultanates alongside our modern transoceanic federation. We don’t deserve the title “Malaysian” unless we value all the ways of being differently Malaysian.
Not that this is easy. Not least because identity is both historic and immediate, demanding generosity and rigour to avoid either trivialising or romanticising the past.
Syed Hussein Alatas (Wiki Commons)
Syed Hussein Alatas, 1969 (Wiki Commons)
Like all national histories, ours is richly messy. I’m still in the process of learning about the mess, most recently through some brilliant books. Syed Hussein AlatasThe Myth of the Lazy Native (1977) taught me about the colonial origins of the ethnic stereotypes that continue to haunt us. T.N. Harper‘s The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (1999) animated in meticulous detail the Emergency-era trauma and intergroup independence agreements caricatured in Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) history textbooks.
A book I want to read next is Charles Hirschman‘s Ethnic and Social Stratification in Peninsular Malaysia (1975). Hirschman’s work on the evolution of Malaysia’s ethnic definitions was cited in Farish Noor‘s 2008 paper on the development of racial politics in Malaysia. Even a brief sample of this research tempts me to cynicism: thinking constructively about ethnicity becomes a struggle when it turns out that many of our ethnic perceptions were constructed by political opportunists, whether colonial or local.
(© lusi |
A confused conversation
No wonder we haven’t figured out how to talk about ourselves. I’m no legal scholar, but it doesn’t take an expert to notice that the Constitution sometimes denotes Malaysia’s sub-communities as “ras, keturunan atau tempat lahir” and sometimes “kaum”, all of which have varying linguistic and ideological foundations.
Official forms today are more likely to ask for your particular “bangsa”, despite the fact that the term “kebangsaan” includes all of us. It’s not unlike the tension between calling our national language either “Bahasa Melayu” or “Bahasa Malaysia”.
This is another difficulty of affirming different Malaysian identities: some of our identities are founded on mutually irreconcilable claims. Some of these claims are primarily conceptual — for example, the friction between our Islamic heritage and our other missionary religions. Other conflicting claims involve policy problems. Affirmative action remains an open question.
Diversity in national identity
Thankfully, unity can coexist with disagreement. Understanding and respecting other perspectives does not require identical standpoints. I would like to think that a wider range of views can facilitate navigation of the unavoidably public but deeply personal territory of national and cultural identity.
My personal appreciation of the symbolic precedent of Malays in Malaysia has been informed by my appreciation of the symbolic precedent of Israel in Christianity. To some, that statement may be sacrilegious; to others, laughable. To yet others, the parallel will be recognisable but uninspiring — I’d felt similarly about a professor’s assurance that Arabic grammar was like geometry.
This array of possible reactions diminishes neither the fact that many have suffered injustice for and against Malay and Israeli sovereignty, nor my right to call myself Malaysian and Christian. But it does make exposing my identity a risk.
National unity is replete with such risks. Choosing to identify a group as large and heterogeneous as a nation is an act of reckless trust, especially in a country that offers a spectrum of smaller and thus safer identifications.
Norhayati Kaprawi
But I am encouraged in this trust by other Malaysians’ audacious expressions of nationality. Last July, thousands of netizens of all races claimed Anne Ooi as their Aunty Bersih. This past Christmas, Norhayati Kaprawi and Harakah Daily editors were among those who publicly advocated for interfaith amity.
In The Spectre of Comparisons (1998), Benedict Anderson notes that Malaysia “arose out of the last large British imperial garage sale”. I love garage sales. There’s an energetic authenticity that comes from face-to-face negotiations amid variously used treasures and trash. I would pick the exasperating but fascinating mess of our garage sale — precipitated as it was by conflict on many fronts — over the centralised gimmicks and careless labelling of a Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia any day.
Here’s to us.

Why did they free Anwar?

P. Ramakrishnan - The Malaysian Insider

JAN 18 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal and discharge could not have earned the judiciary any brownie points. Neither did the trial judge, Justice Datuk Zabidin Mohd Diah, come across as someone capable of blazing a new trail in proactive justice.

In fact, the court proceedings only disappointed Malaysians the way the judge denied the defence the many crucial notes they were entitled to, dismissed their right to question the prime minister and his wife by granting their application not to appear as witnesses, and refused to recuse himself as the presiding judge by dismissing Anwar’s application that he was biased in the proceedings.

He even strengthened this belief by concluding at the end of the prosecution case that Saiful was a “truthful and credible witness” without even hearing the defence side of the case. The bias was so blatant and so obvious.

Who can forget the doctor who testified under oath at the trial? He wilfully refused to refer to his notes in a deliberate attempt to deny the defence his notes.

In spite of Karpal Singh coaxing him to refer to the notes while testifying, he stubbornly refused to look at his notes. The question arises, why would he want to deny the defence access to his notes? Was he coached not to refer to his notes? What was in those notes that would have been helpful in Anwar’s defence that they desperately wanted to hide?

Again, the way Anwar’s DNA was obtained was questionable and unethical. In spite of Anwar having assured the police that he would turn up at the police station to give his statement, he was waylaid, arrested and taken to the police station as if he was a common criminal. And they unnecessarily kept him overnight to obtain his DNA surreptitiously. Indeed that was how they obtained his DNA.

Anwar’s objection to the admission of his DNA was initially allowed because it was obtained by trickery. But later the judge allowed the DNA as an exhibit following the prosecution’s appeal.

So when the judge acquitted Anwar at the end of the trial, his decision was a clear contradiction to the way the case had progressed and proceeded. Going strictly by the court proceedings, Anwar should have been convicted. There were no two ways about it. The court decision took everyone by surprise.

The entire proceedings went against Anwar thus allowing an injustice to prevail. It created the unmistakable impression that the court was colluding with the executive to put away Anwar for good.

Widespread anger

So why was Anwar freed?

While the prosecution went all out to obtain a conviction, the powers-that-be could not ignore the sentiment on the ground. There was wide-spread anger and frustration among a wide-ranging spectrum of the population.

I was on my way to keep an appointment at the General Hospital in Penang on January 9, when I was informed of the outcome, moments after the judge had delivered his verdict to acquit and discharge Anwar. I met so many people at the hospital, the majority of whom were Malays and who were total strangers. When I told them that Anwar was freed, all of them without an exception praised God and were openly very happy.

I called my friend in Kuala Lumpur and related my experience with these people. I was told that this euphoria was not confined to Penang only but was felt everywhere in KL and elsewhere in the country.

With this kind of sympathy and support for Anwar, a guilty verdict and a prison sentence would have outraged all these people. The backlash arising out of this injustice would have punished the Barisan Nasional mercilessly in the 13th General Election.

Political motive?

According to many observers, it was a political decision to go after Anwar with this trumped up charge as he was seen as a threat to the BN’s continued domination of Malaysian politics. Now it was also a political decision to free him in order to mollify the public anger against the BN.

But if this was their strategy for the time being, will they allow Anwar the freedom to roam around the country, galvanising the people and spreading the wings of Pakatan all over Malaysia?

It is very likely that they would want to appeal this verdict and knowing the trend of the judiciary — you win round one and lose round two — the appeal would be allowed. In this way they can keep Anwar tied down with the court cases and continue to harass him giving him little rope to campaign effectively.

But this raises a serious issue. Who will decide if the prosecution should appeal? Following the norm, that decision is with the Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail. But would that be fair to Anwar?

In the first sodomy trial, Manjit Singh who was representing Nallakaruppan revealed that Gani Patail had asked Nallakaruppan to incriminate Anwar offering a plea bargain. This incident should disqualify Gani Patail from deciding on the question of appeal. Apparently there would be a case of conflict of interest.

But the best decision is for the executive and the judiciary to accept the decision of the High Court and bring a closure to this unhappy event. There would be no justification for wasting countless hours of the court and unnecessarily incurring huge further costs in pursuing this case.

If the A-G proceeds with the appeal, the inevitable conclusion would be that it is a case of political vendetta against Anwar, plain and simple. It would debunk the claim made by some that the verdict showed the judiciary is independent. It would only establish the fact that nothing has changed in the judiciary. The rot has permeated beyond repair and redemption.

Hope only lies in a change of government for a better Malaysia and a better future for Malaysians. —

Free speech goes both ways

ImageThe Star

Howls of protest are heard when attempts are made to block hate speech, which is ironic because very often the speaker has no interest in respecting anyone else’s rights either.

I JUST returned from a symposium on social media, freedom of expression and incitement to hatred in Asia.

Forty Asian delegates as well as Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, gathered to discuss what is happening in our countries and what can be done to meet the challenges that the Internet, particularly, poses.

The good news is that Malaysia is not the worst country when it comes to laws restricting freedom of speech on the Internet.

This is not to say we don’t have such laws but we are still grappling with the whole issue.

Delegates told of how, in some countries, if anything said by an individual online offends anyone, then the person who said it can be prosecuted.

Thus, if you opine that someone is a nobody, or that you don’t like someone’s hairstyle, then that person can say he’s offended by it and report you.

In many countries, there are laws preventing people from insulting various entities, including the government, royalty and religion.

The trouble is often the definition of insulting is vague and governments tend to be insulted on behalf of other people who may not care at all.

But that would be reason enough for them to prosecute someone.

Thus this leads to much abuse by these governments, especially towards people they don’t like.

The right to freedom of expression is of course balanced by responsibilities.

As Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, the exercise of the right to freedom of speech carries with it special duties and responsibilities and therefore may be subject to certain restrictions.

However, these shall only be such as provided by law and are necessary “for respect of the rights and reputations of others” and “for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals”.

Our own Article 10 in our Federal Constitution allows the freedom of speech, assembly and association, but is then restricted by certain other provisions and laws.

For instance, it should be clear to everyone that child pornography, which violates the rights of children, should be prohibited and nobody should object to the blocking of such websites.

However, the Special Rapporteur reports that most governments rely solely on blocking of such websites and not on prosecuting those who produce them.

Also, despite child pornography being a by-product of child trafficking, most governments have done very little to tackle this root cause of the problem.

Another legitimate restriction to free speech is to censure hate speech, especially those that incite others to violence.

Even these have to be carefully enacted, so that only speech where there is a clear and immediate danger of violence occurring towards anyone or group is restricted.

We know that sometimes people say things in the heat of the moment they don’t really mean or intend to carry out.

On the other hand, sometimes there are people of influence who seem to encourage their followers or supporters to take steps to harm others.

Those are the ones that need restricting or even prosecution.

The other issue is privacy.

In order to be able to express their opinions freely, people need to have their right to privacy protected.

However, we now see governments requiring real name verification before comments can be made online.

This discourages many people in countries where there is legitimate fear of persecution for different views.

Even worse, there is little done when the personal details of people are posted online causing them to be harassed and even threatened.

We have seen very little will in governments to protect the privacy and security of these individuals, just because they may have different views.

Sometimes, it is not just the privacy of these individuals that are violated but also those of their families and friends.

Clearly, in Malaysia, these violations of privacy and of freedom of speech overall are made not just by the government, and by their supporters, but also by those opposing them.

Hate speech has of late been allowed free reign on the Internet.

Every time a blog owner tries to block someone who posts hateful comments, we get accused of restricting freedom of speech, which is ironic because very often the blocked person has no interest in respecting anyone else’s rights either.

Unfortunately, most Malaysians are complacent about these issues.

But as the Special Rapporteur pointed out, the freedom of speech, opinion and expression facilitates other rights such as the right to information, to education, to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress.

Violations of free speech, whether through laws or just intimidation, affect all of us.

We should always be watchful when it happens.

BN Sticks To Genuine Multiracial Approach

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 (Bernama) -- The Barisan Nasional's (BN) multiracial approach has tended to the needs of all Malaysians as compared to the opposition pact PKR-DAP-PAS, said MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Chor Chee Heung.

He said as an example, during the BN Convention, presidents of all component parties be they Malay, Chinese, Indian and native Sabahans and Sarawakians were given a platform to speak up and were represented in policy decision making process, something which PAS, PKR and DAP leaders should start learning about.

"Exclusion of Indian leaders from the Pakatan banner during the recently concluded opposition pact convention in Alor Setar showed that the opposition wants Indian votes but couldn't care tuppence on respecting Indian stalwarts or caring for the Indian community's welfare," he said in a statement issued here Wednesday.

He further said the third opposition pact convention signaled more impending harrows under the Opposition rule.

"It is bad enough that gender segregation was enforced on both the audience as well as the press corps, to which DAP and PKR bigwigs could only sit and watch by doing nothing.

"The convention's organisers could even marginalise DAP chairman Karpal Singh by excluding his picture montage from the official banner despite him being chairman of DAP, thus claims by PKR and DAP to represent multiracial interests fall flat," he added.

Chor, who is Housing and Local Government Minister, said if the organisers failed to accord respect for Karpal but had montages of PAS Spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and others including DAP veteran politican Lim Kit Siang, how much more would the opposition ignore the presence and welfare of the Indian community as a whole.

"Is this the so-called acknowledgement that Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar can offer Karpal despite the latter having staunchly defended the former throughout both sodomy trials as lead counsel?" asked Chor.

"In view of all the examples listed above, it is no wonder that opposition pact desires Indian support, but could not care tuppence in respecting the Indian community, much less look after their needs," he added.

Hindraf collaborates with ABU

After Proton, will KTM be next?

After Khazanah sells its 43 per cent stake in Proton to DRB-Hicom (owned by Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary), will the government privatise KTM next?
The Edge (16 January) reported that MMC Corp (controlled by Al-Bukhary) had announced that it is proposing to take over KTM. Al-Bukhary again? KTMB has reportedly been asked to assist MMC in conducting due diligence on the rail service to decide whether MMC wants to take it private. The due diligence could could take six months and the entire privatisation exercise could take 18 months.
The railway workers union has naturally expressed concern. It maintains that it won’t be proper for KTMB to be privatised. “KTMB is for the rakyat and should remain as it is today, or returned to the government if necessary,” its president Abdul Razak Md Hassan was reported as saying. “If given to a private party, we can expect the fare of the commuter trains to increase.” According to him, KTM charges 70-80 sen per km for its commuter train compared to more than RM1.00 on the ERL, Putra, Star and Monorail (Business Times).
The Edge asks, “Was there even an invitation to others to put in a proposal to privatise the railway company?”
Why even consider privatising the rail services run by KTM – especially after the double tracking work, which will definitely speed up rail travel, increase the volume of passengers and result in economies of scale for KTM.
Just after the government has spent billions of public money on the double tracking and state-run KTMB is poised to reap the considerable benefits and improve its profitability, along comes a company expressing interest in taking over the railway. So predictable. (By the way, what is Pakatan’s stand on the move to privatise KTMB?)
There is absolutely no reason why KTM cannot be run efficiently and break even as a state-owned entity with the right management and adequate public investment in improving services. There’s actually no need to make a big profit for KTMB as the railway provides an essential public service. Look at how other country’s have improved their rail services without having to privatise. This public service is all the more crucial in the face of dwindling oil reserves for fossil fuel-powered motor vehicles and higher oil prices.
But sadly, our rail services have been neglected all these years, presumably because the BN government felt it had to prop up the ‘national car’ and minimise competition from other modes of transport (while highway concessionaires reap huge profits from tolls).
Regarding the takeover of Proton by DRB-Hicom, the Wall Street Journal reported:
The deal could further add to the influence of DRB-Hicom’s owner, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, who also bought Khazanah’s 32% stake in national postal company Pos Malaysia for 600 million ringgit when Mr. Najib’s government began its divestiture program. The Malaysian tycoon first rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990 when the country was led by Mahathir Mohamad, and it was the former premier who first flagged to local media last year that Proton could soon be sold.
Bukhary controls a couple of the largest ports in Malaysia, Port of Tanjung Pelepas and Pasir Gudang port in Johor, as well as Senai Airport.
Syed Mokthar’s Tradewinds gained control of Bernas, which has a monopoly of rice distribution in the country. Tradewinds also controls Central Sugars Refinery Sdn Bhd and Kilang Gula Padang Terap Bhd.
In 2007, Gamuda and Bukhary’s MMC were awarded the northern portion of the rail double-tracking job for RM12.5bn.
In April 2010, DRB-Hicom reportedly received a letter of intent from the government to manufacture and deliver a dozen variants of the Malaysian AV-8 armoured wheeled vehicle.
The tycoon also has an interest in Malakoff Corp, the country’s largest independent power producer.
In December 2010, the Singapore Straits Times noted that Al-Bukhary had emerged as “the single biggest beneficiary of state contracts and concessions worth billions of ringgit, making him Malaysia’s most favoured corporate son and the government’s partner of choice”.