Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coke reveals ambitious 2020 growth targets

Came across this headlines, and my mind took me to another 2020 milestone. A milestone spoken and worked upon for over 10 years now I suppose. Malaysia has far greater resources compared to Coca Cola. Sure Coke has far less politics if not no politics to contend to. And maybe Coke also has far less crooks committed to achieving stated goals. Whereas in the Malaysian instance we have crooks from top to bottom for whom a goal such as Vision 2020 provides the excuse for the policies that will enable them to plunder maybe!!

Anyway, rather than dwelling on that, why not we take Coke's ambitions as a challenge? Let us, Malaysians take that challenge to see who gets to that goal better than the next.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pakatan Rakyat!! the Ideal!!

Finally, after all the talk Pakatan Rakyat has submitted its application to be registered as a coalition with members of PKR, PAS and DAP. Supposedly it is a statement of their commitment towards a common cause, a common purpose and a common goal. But is it really?

Barisan Nasional leaders point out the differences and the frequent squabbles between members of coalition partners. The current Zulkifli Nordin challenge to Sivarsa shows the diversity in cause, purpose and goals of MPs from even within the same party. Some Indian members of PKR have chided PR for ignoring Indian interests and see themselves as representing Indian interests as their main cause and achieving benefits for Indians as their ultimate goals. Obviously each of them have an audience out there that cheers them on and from which they receive their "accredition" to soldier on.

You also have the intransigent positions taken by some leaders like Karpal Singh who insists that the Islamic State will happen over his dead body. That surely must irk even the most hip of clubbing Muslims. Of course it is most often in response to PAS continued commitment to their Islamic State ideal.

To Karpal Singh, all that I want to say is that hey, its only at best an aspiration. You cannot deny anyone their aspirations. That would be like denying a citizen of hope. Actualising that aspiration would be like my aspiration to ascend to the top of Mt Everest!! Rather than you laughing at my aspiration I would appreciate that you respect it. I have not asked for support and even if I did, it would be perfectly alright to deny me that support. Similarly, respect PAS' Islamic State objectives. Understand it and tell them politely that you cannot support it. But it is not necessary to get yourself worked up over it because if PAS pushed it any further they know that what ever advances they have made will just wither off very quickly.

So what is it that is needed for this coalition to work?

I would like to suggest that politicians as well as citizens understand and separate the different roles played by the different interests that come to play here. In this, PAS and its members would have to confront the greatest of obstacles. So will those in PKR like Zulkifli Nordin.

I have to accept the fact that there is the Muslim believe, some might even say obligation and others a compelling indictment that politics is part and parcel of practicing the religion or the faith. There are many who are motivated and moved to action by their submission to this edict, as they see it, on them. Yet, there are others amongst the Muslims who, possibly having been influenced by "non-Islamic" or secular ideas who would rather not be swept away by the impositions of their faith.

Nevertheless, those wishing to pursue this agenda have to confront the fact that the dynamics and the demographics of the country are such that that objective cannot be pursued without the acquiescence of those who might be diametrically opposed to it. You could wait for the acquiescence to happen, or like the Moguls did, you could do it by the sword. But we are living in the 21st century and the motivators that moved the Moguls are all but dead today. It is life in Malaysia as we know of it today that needs to be governed. In its governance is where politics plays its part.

So What Is It That We Want Governed?

How much of our lives do we want dictated by someone else? In Centralised Economies of the past in communist Soviet Union and China personal choice was not something that was allowed beyond your own home. Even the number of children you could have was dictated to you. I know I have not extended any politician any invitation to invade my life and extract from it my hopes, my choices, my dreams, my opportunities and my miseries. Neither have I given permission to any religious leader of any religion, including my own, to invade my life and that of my children. My freewill is for me to to exercise and not surrender!

That being the case, what do I expect of my elected leaders? Lets put it another way. Am I an asset or am I a liability to the nation? As a taxpayer, as an employer or as an employee I am contributing to the development of the nation. As a parent I am also contributing in ensuring valuable human assets are developed for the country. As a taxpayer, I contribute towards the the roads, the drains, the street lights, the security, and all the other services rendered to the people where the benefit is enjoyed, well, almost equally, without reference to our proportionate contribution to the nation's coffers. Sure I am an asset. And sure I can and I have the right to decide the type of government I want. And I can decide what it is that I want governed, administered and regulated.

Yes, there is the public space that needs governing, administering and regulating. And there is the private space I expect to be given the due respect for and from which I want the regulators well away from. If the regulators want to make themselves really useful beyond governing, administering and regulating the public space, they could, if they want, make it more conducive for me to go about taking advantage of all that this country has to offer. In a legal way of course.

The Government's Task

If in the last paragraph I have been able to impress what is expected and there is a political movement that can dedicate itself to giving me that, than that is what I really would support. The question to Pakatan Rakyat, the coalition, is, can they commit to that? In fact, I should say, in the light of what might appear to be very valid objectives the founding coalition partners are confronted with objectives of their own parties that might just be opposed to one another. One wants to have an Islamic State and do everything Islamic. Another wants a purely secular state and does not attribute any good to any claimant.

To PAS, I would like to ask, what is it about a secular state that it finds offensive? Has not Islam thrived in secular states? What is it about good human values that it finds offensive until it can be adopted or determined or claimed as something stemming from Islam? To DAP, and to some extent myself, what is it about a Muslim claiming a good to have come from Islam so unacceptable?

But really, in what is called for in governing, administering, regulating and leading a country's public space, are these concerns, fears, bias or prejudices going to dictate how the coalition parties are going to work together? I hope not!

And it is this premise that I have to take if I am to be asked to list practical and inspirational organisational solutions to make Pakatan Rakyat stronger. Even before I begin the list, I have to assume that the parties in the coalition and their respective members are not on the same page in so far as their expectations, hopes, aspirations are concerned. They also are not on the same page on such things as what they can do or cannot do. Also, I don't know really what should come first. A practical and inspirational list of solutions or should it be a list of things that we have to agree upon. One thing that surely will unravel this coalition will be to leave to chance the assumptions that they all, representing different sets of interests, bring to the table. If today, after over 52 years we are debating the so called "social contract" it surely has to do with the unspoken and unwritten assumptions that were brought to the table when the three leaders of UMNO, MCA and MIC met. Their assumptions about each of their communities they saw themselves representing would have been valid at the time. But are they valid today? If not, than is the "social contract" spoken of valid today? Indeed Pakatan Rakyat should not even look at the social contract for answers as, if they do, than might as well we not have this Pakatan and we all go back and support the BN.

If it is at all possible, if we imagined ourselves to be on a ship that has hit troubled waters, I know and I am confident that our humanity will take over where we would be able to work together and support one another to get out of the troubled spot. Provided of course we do not give in to our bias, selfishness, prejudices and preferences.

For a Cohesive Pakatan Rakyat we need to:

1. Spell out the Goals and Objectives for the nation and the rakyat that will be for Pakatan Rakyat to achieve. This does not have to be the same as those of the component parties.

2. Define public space and private space so that we all will and can know from there all that is common and that binds us and we can also tell off the politicians to stay off from what is our private space.

3. Insist that as it is geographical constituencies to which leaders are voted in for that they represent all within that constituency and that they will not do or say anything that any one sector or more within that constituency will find offensive or objectionable.

4. Adopt the policy that if we were in business, our market would be the entire citizenry rather than just one sector of the market. Best exemplified by the Nasi Lemak sellers. Usually Malay, but their market is all of us without bias or prejudice!! Why can't our leaders be like our Nasi Lemak sellers? The Nasi Lemak that is most popular is the one that is truly a Malay recipe and not one that is doctored and adulterated to meet another's perceived preference.

5. Have a clear education policy is needed. A bold statement that the national education policy and experiment introduced by Mahathir when he was the Education Minister has failed as reflected by the increased demand for vernacular education will be a good start. Is anyone brave enough to state that the success of the vernacular schools is testimony to and represents the rejection of the Education Services wished on the nation by policy makers? What we have today is simply to pacify and retain MCA and MIC in the BN fold more than it is to nourish our ethnic minorities with culture and language!! The Education Policy should be guided by what is best for the people and the nation in the context of the world we live in than the sentiments and emotions of a few who have little else to justify their political participation to.

6. Acknowledge that matters of the state that the coalition needs to govern have nothing to do with cultural and religious traits and needs of the people. This should be left to the respective communities to take care of. As Mahathir once said, to a handful of us when we met him at his office, the business of government should be to issue laws, regulate, administer, enforce and govern matters of the state and not anything else, really. Of course he did admit that reality of the nation also required the government to provide medical, policing, education and other public and social services. I can't remember him saying that it was his duty to ensure the propagation, protection or whatever of any religion or culture or race. I came out feeling that there was only the Malaysian race!!

7. Recognise that there is a Malaysian race. We know it and recognise it when we are abroad. Then we identify ourselves as Malaysian. We are glad to see fellow Malaysians of any race. Indeed if anyone of our fellow citizens need help with immigration or customs, we gladly help, unless of course if you are a Menteri Besar carrying money he cannot account for. Can we try and be such Malaysians here at home and not see ourselves as Malay, Indian or Chinese?

8. Trust the best Malaysian to do the job. Why should it be that the Home, Finance, Education and Defence Ministers have always got to be Malays? Why should the cabinet positions reflect any racial quota or composition? Why can't it be an all Malay cabinet if indeed all of them are the best for the job? Or all Chinese or all Indian or Kadazan or what ever? Meritocracy is the word.

The above are but just some of the more important trust building imperatives that Malaysia needs if it wishes to advance and the people are to benefit the most from that development. Sadly, however, these ideals will be whittled down by politicians because of their own ambitions, perceived support, greed, fears, prejudices and distrust. To navigate through all this all these inhibitors should be confronted head-on. Not to embarrass or to cause anyone to fail or lose out. But politicians especially are not wont to expressing their own negative attributes that reduces them to the little nothings that they usually are.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lee Hsien Loong's Speech

I don't normally copy paste speeches or news reports. If and when I do, I usually would have something to say. But here in Lee Hsein Loong's Speech I have nothing to add. He has said it all. As a Malaysian, I can only ask, can we dare hope?

Risks of religious fervour Monday, 09 November 2009 04:10

This speech by Lee Hsien Loong is widely circulated on the Internet. As always, there will be those who miss out on it. This is published here specially for them. It may be late but it’s still a good read anytime.

"To live peacefully together, we need good sense and tolerance on all sides, and a willingness to give and take. Otherwise, whatever the rules there will be no end of possible causes of friction." PM Lee, on how fragile religious and racial harmony is in Singapore and how crucial it is to be tolerant

SO what are these risks? Let me just highlight three of them.

Aggressive preaching - proselytisation. You push your own religion on others, you cause nuisance and offence. You have read in the papers recently about a couple who surreptitiously distributed Christian tracts which were offensive of other faiths, not just of non-Christians but even of Catholics. They were charged and sentenced to jail.

But there are less extreme cases too which can cause problems. We hear, from time to time, complaints about groups trying to convert very ill patients in our hospitals, who don't want to be converted, and who don't want to have the private difficult moments in their lives intruded upon.

Intolerance is another problem - not respecting the beliefs of others or not accommodating others who belong to different religions. You think of this one group versus another group, but sometimes it happens within the same family.

Sometimes we have parents from traditional religions whose children have converted. The parents have asked to be buried according to traditional rites and their children stay away from the funeral or the wake. It's very sad. From a traditional point of view, it's the ultimate unfilial act but it does happen occasionally.

Exclusiveness is a third problem - segregating into separate exclusive circles, not integrating with other faiths. That means you mix with your own people. You'll end up as separate communities.

We foresaw these dangers 20 years ago. We passed the Bill, Maintenance of Religious Harmony, in 1989/1990.

Before we did that, then PM Lee Kuan Yew and the key ministers met all the religious leaders. We had a closed-door session at MCYS. We spoke candidly. We explained our concerns, why we wanted to move this Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. The religious leaders spoke up candidly, they gave us their support. We moved with their support.

We continue to keep in close touch with them, to meet regularly. I do that personally, exchange views, keep the line warm and the confidence on both sides so that I know you, you know me. If there is a problem, we are not dealing with strangers but with somebody we know and trust.

Once or twice, I've had to meet them over specific difficult cases. No publicity, relying on mutual trust and the wisdom of our religious leaders to defuse tensions. I'm very grateful for their wisdom and for their support. Because of this active work behind the scenes, we've not needed to invoke the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act for 20 years. But it's something which is important to us which we must keep for a long time.

Four basic rules

We can never take our racial and religious harmony for granted. We must observe some basic principles to keep it the way it is.
First, all groups have to exercise tolerance and restraint. Christians cannot expect this to be a Christian society, Muslims cannot expect this to be a Muslim society. Ditto the Buddhists, the Hindus and the other groups.

Many faiths share this island. Each has different teachings, different practices. Rules which only apply to one group cannot become laws which are enforced on everyone. So Muslims don't drink alcohol but alcohol is not banned. Ditto gambling, which many religions disapprove of, but gambling is not banned. All have to adopt 'live and let live' as our principle.

Secondly, we have to keep religion separate from politics. Religion in Singapore cannot be the same as religion in America, or religion in an Islamic country.

Take Iran, an Islamic country. Nearly everybody is Shia Muslim. Recently, they had a presidential election which was fiercely contested between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, and the outcome was disputed. Both sides invoked Islam. So Mousavi's supporters had a battle cry - Allahu Akbar (God is Great).

In Singapore, if one group invokes religion this way, other groups are bound to say: 'I also need powerful support. We'll also push back invoking our faith.' One side insists: 'I'm doing God's work.' The other side says: 'I'm doing my God's work.' Both sides say: 'I cannot compromise. These are absolute imperatives.' The result will be a clash between different religious groups which will tear us apart.

We take this very seriously. The People's Action Party reminds our candidates, don't bring all the friends from your own religious group. Don't mobilise your church or your temple or your mosque to campaign for you. Bring a multi-racial, multi-religious group of supporters. When you are elected, represent the interest of all your constituents, not just your religious group in Parliament. Speak for all your constituents.

Thirdly, the Government has to remain secular. The Government's authority comes from the people. The laws are passed by Parliament which is elected by the people. They don't come from a sacred book. The Government has to be neutral, fair.

We are not against religion. We uphold sound moral values. We hold the ring so that all groups can practise their faiths freely without colliding. That's the way Singapore has to be.

You may ask: Does this mean that religious groups have no views, cannot have views on national issues? Or that religious individuals cannot participate in politics? Obviously not.

lee-hsien-loong-singapore.jpgReligious groups are free to propagate their teachings on social and moral issues. They have done so on the IRs, organ transplants, 377A, homosexuality.

And obviously many Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists participate in politics. In Parliament, we have people of all faiths. In the Cabinet too.

People who have a religion will often have views which are informed by their religious beliefs. It's natural because it's part of you, it's part of your personality. But you must accept that other groups may have different views informed by different beliefs and you have to accept that and respect that.

The public debate cannot be on whose religion is right and whose religion is wrong. It has to be on secular, rational considerations of public interest - what makes sense for Singapore.

The final requirement for us to live peacefully together is to maintain our common space that all Singaporeans share. It has to be neutral and secular because that's the only way all of us can feel at home in Singapore and at ease.

Common spaces

Let me explain to you with specific examples.

Sharing meals. We have different food requirements. Muslims need halal food. Hindus don't eat beef. Buddhists sometimes are vegetarian. So if we must serve everybody food which is halal, no beef and vegetarian, I think we will have a problem. We will never eat meals together. So there will be halal food on one side, vegetarian food for those who need it, no beef for those who don't eat beef.

Let's share a meal together, acknowledging that we are not the same. Don't discourage people from interacting. Don't make it difficult for us to be one people.

Our schools are another example of common space where all races and religions interact. Even in mission schools run by religious groups, the Ministry of Education has set clear rules, so students of all faiths will feel comfortable.

You might ask: Why not allow mission schools to introduce prayers or Bible studies as compulsory parts of the school activity or as part of school assembly?

Why not? Then why not let those who are not Christian, or don't want a Christian environment, go to a government school or go to a Buddhist school? Well, if they do that, we'll have Christians in Christian schools, Buddhists in Buddhist schools, Muslims in schools with only Muslim children and so on. I think that is not good for Singapore .

Therefore, we have rules to keep all our schools secular and the religious groups understand and accept this.

For example, St Joseph 's Institution is a Catholic brother school but it has many non-Catholic students, including quite a number of Malay students. The Josephian of the Year in 2003 was a Malay student - Salman Mohamed Khair.

He told Berita Harian that initially his family was somewhat worried about admitting him to a Catholic school. He himself was afraid because he didn't know what to expect. But he still went because of SJI's good record. He said: 'Now I feel fortunate to be in SJI. Although I was educated in a Catholic environment, religion never became an issue.'

Indeed that's how it should work. I know it works because I understand that Malay students in SJI often attend Friday prayers at Baalwie Mosque nearby, still wearing their school uniforms. SJI thinks it's fine, the mosque thinks it's fine, the students think it's fine, and I think it's fine too. That's the way it should be.

Another example of common space - work. The office environment should be one which all groups feel comfortable with. Staff have to be confident that they will get equal treatment even if they belong to a different faith from their managers - especially in government departments, but in the private sector too.

I think it can be done because even religious community service organisations often have people who don't belong to that religion working comfortably and happily together. This is one very important aspect of our meritocratic society.

Thus we maintain these principles: exercise tolerance, keep religion separate from politics, keep a secular government, maintain our common space. This is the only way all groups can live in peace and harmony in Singapore .

Aware and responsible church leaders

This is the background to the way the Government looked at one recent issue: Aware.

We were not concerned about who would control Aware because it's just one of so many NGOs in Singapore. On homosexuality policy or sexuality education in schools, there can be strong differences in view but the Government's position was quite clear.

But what worried us was that this was an attempt by a religiously motivated group who shared a strong religious fervour to enter civil space, take over an NGO it disapproved of, and impose their agenda. It was bound to provoke a push back from groups that held the opposite view, which indeed happened vociferously and stridently.

The media coverage got caught up and I think the amplifier was turned up a bit high.

This was hardly the way to conduct a mature discussion of a sensitive matter where views are deeply divided. But most critically of all, this risked a broader spillover into relations between different religions.

I know many Singaporeans were worried about this, including many Christians. They may not have spoken aloud but they raised one eyebrow.

Therefore, I'm very grateful for the very responsible stand which was taken by the church leaders. The National Council of Churches of Singapore issued a statement that it didn't support churches getting involved. There was also the statement by the Catholic Archbishop. Had these statements not been made, we would have had a very serious problem.

The Government stayed out of this but after the dust had settled, I spoke to the religious leaders, first the Christians and then the religious leaders of all faiths, so that everybody understood where we stood and what our concerns were. So we can continue to work together to strengthen our racial and religious harmony.

Unusually serious subject

This is an unusually serious and heavy subject for a National Day Rally. Normally, you talk about babies, hongbaos, bonuses.

No bonuses tonight but a bonus lecture on a serious subject. We discussed this in Cabinet at length and decided that I should talk about this. I crafted the points carefully, circulated them many times. Different presentations in Mandarin, Malay and English, because different groups have different concerns, but a consistent message so that there's no misunderstanding.

I also invited the religious leaders to come and spend the evening with us tonight. They can help us to help their flocks understand our limitations, to guide them to practise their faiths, taking into account the context of our society. Please teach them accommodation, which is what all faiths teach. I look forward to all the religious groups continuing to do a lot of good work for Singapore for many years to come.

Finally, let me share with you one true story which was published recently in an Indian newspaper, The Asian Age, and picked up by The Straits Times. It was about a young man from Gujarat , a Muslim, who migrated to Singapore after the Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.

A train carrying Hindu pilgrims was stopped in Ahmadebad and set on fire. The circumstances were unclear but 50-odd men, women and children burnt to death, trapped in the train. The Hindus rioted. They had no doubt what the cause was. One thousand people died, mostly Muslims because Ahmadebad has a large Muslim community.

So this young Muslim decided to come to Singapore after the riots. We call him Mohammed Sheikh. It's not his real name because he still has family there. The article said: 'During the bloody riots, he watched three of his family members, including his father, getting butchered. His family had to pay for being Muslim.

'Besides losing his family and home, Mohammed lost confidence and faith in the civil society. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life cursing his destiny. He wanted to move on.'

So seven years ago, Mohammed came to Singapore and got a diploma in hospitality management. Now he is working in an eatery and he hopes to open his own business one day. He told the interviewer, had he stayed in Gujarat , 'I would have been hating all Hindus and baying for their blood, perhaps.'

Now 'he loves it when his children bring home Hindu friends and share snacks'. He told the interviewer proudly, 'My children have Christian, Buddhist, Hindu friends.'

He even hopes to bring his mother to Singapore so she can see for herself that people of different races, different faiths can be friends. The interviewer asked him what Muslim sect he belonged to and which mosque he went to in India. He said: 'I don't want to get into all that. Now I am just a Singaporean. And I am proud of it.'

This story reminds us that while we must not neglect to strengthen our harmonious society, we are in a good position.
So let us rejoice in our harmony but let us never forget what being a Singaporean means. It's not just tolerating other groups but opening our hearts to all our fellow citizens.

Our future

If we stay cohesive, then we can overcome our economic challenges and continue to grow.

This is how we've transformed Singapore over the last half century - solving problems together, growing together, improving our lives.

From the Singapore River to Marina Bay, we've totally transformed Singapore over the last half century. 1959 was a moment of great change but nobody at the Padang in June 1959 imagined the change in today's Singapore.

We will continue to improve our lives, provided we work together and remain a harmonious and a cohesive society so that in another 50 years, we would have built another Singapore, which is equally unimaginable today.

The key is to stay united through rain or shine.