Author Archives: wcw

Standing tall together

IT’S a little more than a month away from our National Day celebrations, when the nation turns 62, but ironically, instead of proudly celebrating being Malaysian, some of us are continuing to preach about race and religion.

In negotiating with the British to earn our independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman took with him Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun V.T. Sambanthan on that fateful trip to London.

Tan was the founder and first president of the MCA and Sambanthan, the MIC president.

The multi-racial team was to show the British that people from different ethnic groups were united, effectively making the entourage Team Malaya on its trip to London.

With that display of solidarity, the British agreed to return freedom to Malaya, even though the Alliance’s (comprising Umno, MCA and MIC) ability to govern the country remained in doubt.

But six decades later, we have proven that Malaysians can keep the nation at peace, except for that blot in 1969.

And even with the collapse of the Barisan Nasional in the 2018 general election, we can hold our heads high that the contenders and voters respected the democratic process and allowed the transition to take place without pandemonium.

Indeed, we have every reason to be proud of ourselves – we can show the world that for all the difficulties and challenges the country has faced, Malaysians have always succeeded in showing tremendous patience, restraint and acceptance of each other.

But we still can and should do better.

The question, though, is, do we still want to emphasise race and religion after six decades in a bid to win votes in the next elections, and why would anyone want to play this card and stoke the fires of controversy?

According to 2017 figures, Malaysia has a population of more than 31 million people, of which bumiputera comprises 61.7% (Malays and indigenous peoples), Chinese 20.8%, Indians 6.2%, others 0.9%, non-citizens 10% (living in Malaysia).

Muslims make up 61.3%, Buddhists 19.8%, Christians 9.2%, Hindus 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 1.3%, others 0.4%, none 0.8%, unspecified 1% (2010 est.)

According to the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, based on Public Service Commission statistics from 2015 until June 2018, Malays made up the highest number (79.66%) of people in the civil service.

“This is followed by Sabah bumiputeras at (7.84%), Sarawak (5.59%), Indians (3.21%), other races (1.84%), Chinese (1.6%) and natives (0.25%),” he reportedly said.

Looking at the country’s 1.6 million-strong civil service, Bernama reported in 2016 about then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim saying that as of December 2014, the ethnic composition of the civil service was as follows: 78.8% Malays, bumiputera Sabah (6.1%), bumiputera Sarawak (4.8 %), Chinese (5.2%), Indians (4.1 %), other bumiputera (0.3%) and others (0.7%).

In the case of the powerful police force, then Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in 2016 that the police need more non-Malays to enlist as they currently comprise only 5% of the 133,212-strong force.

“Of the total, 80.23% (106,871) are Malays, while Chinese make up only 1.96% (2,615), Indians 3.16% (4,209), Punjabis 0.21% (275) and others 14.44% (19,242),” he told Parliament.

The Malaysian Army, Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Malaysian Air Force are also overwhelmingly populated by Malays.

According to a news report, the Malaysian army comprises 98.3% Malays and only 0.2% Chinese, with officers making up 96.2%, out of which 1.4% are Chinese.

The bottom line is that Malays and Muslims could never be under threat – that is just a ridiculous assumption. But that hasn’t stopped Umno, PAS and even Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia politicians from repeating it.

PPBM chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has invited the Malays to unite under PPBM, saying this was important as more Malay parties were being formed, which in turn reduces the potential of Malay parties winning in the elections.

Adding further, Dr Mahathir said the existence of the four Malay political parties, namely PPBM, PKR, PAS, and Umno, was sufficient in championing the Malay agenda, advising against the formation of more Malay-based parties.

Every one of these Malay-based political parties has called for Malay unity, giving the impression that the community is under siege and had better come together in one of these parties to safeguard their interests, including carrying out affirmative action.

The fear mentality is ingrained in the minds of the Malays, and the common bogeyman has always been the DAP for Umno and PAS.

The reality is that the number of Chinese – the second largest ethnic group after the Malays – in Malaysia will drop to third place after bumiputeras and foreign migrant workers by 2030, read a news report in 2016.

A huge dip in the birth rate of the Chinese to 1.4 babies per family in 2015 from 7.4 in 1957, and a sharp rise in the number of foreign workers, are now threatening the Chinese’ position as the second lar­gest grouping in Malaysia.

The report, quoting projected data from the Department of Statistics, said the population percentage of local ethnic Chinese would shrink to 19.6% in 2030 from 24.6% in 2010 and 21.4% in 2015.

The Chinese percentage is also projected to fall further to 18.9% by 2035.

In the report, Chief Statistician Datuk Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman said that although the Chinese population will increase to 7.1 million people in 2040 from 6.6 million now, the percentage compared to the Malays and Indians might decline to 18.4% in 2040.

Basically, there are now more foreigners than Indians, and soon, there will be more foreigners than Chinese.

At some point, the population of Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Rohingyas and others will increase, and their growing presence will have an impact on the demography.

Our politicians must be committed to a multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia because our unique plural society, for all its complexities, has proven to be an asset to this country.

Malaysia should be celebrating this multi-racial and multi-religious make up – it shouldn’t be done merely as branding exercises for Tourism Malaysia.

We need our leaders to instil an inclusive approach in Malaysians, and if politicians only want votes from the Malay and Muslim community based on issues of race and religion, then we are hurtling towards a disastrous future.

What we need is to remain committed towards Malaysia as a plural nation for the country to practise progressive and multiracial politics.

Malaysians need not fear each other, but instead, should be mindful of racist, religiously extreme and corrupt politicians, who can come in all skin colours.

Malaysia belongs to all of us of various ethnic groups and religions. This is our Malaysia. Kami Anak Anak Malaysia.

Red blood runs through us all

Contrary to the belief of some, the frequent use of racist slurs doesn’t make it right in any context, and it’s high time it is eradicated.

MOST of us have become desensitised to racist airheads and bigoted politicians, those who sporadically heckle the Chinese to “balik tongsan” (go back to China) and remind them to shut up and be grateful.

Failure to do so would mean being questioned and maligned with “apa lagi Cina mau?” (what more do the Chinese want?), as one newspaper infamously headlined a few years back.

Very rarely do we hear of calls to “balik India,” presumably because the size of the community is smaller, but the use of derogatory terms to describe Indians is becoming more rampant.

I have never heard of anyone shouting “balik Bugis” or “balik Aceh”, though.

So, there was a sense of déjà vu last week when US President Donald Trump intensified his attacks on four progressive Democratic congresswomen, demanding they be “sent back”, which is akin to the “balik tongsan” slur used here.

The orange man had referred to representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan).

Last week, Trump tweeted that such lawmakers should “go back” to their countries if they were dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the United States.

All four women are American citizens, and only Omar was born elsewhere. Her family reportedly emigrated from a Kenyan refugee camp when she was a child, though she is originally from Somalia.

Trump being Trump, managed to whip up a racist storm of epic proportions, with his supporters hysterically chanting, “Send her back!”, referencing non-Caucasian women politicians at his rally.

US presidential hopeful Kamala Harris has also found herself a victim of racist tweets, including those from Trump. She was born in Oakland to an Indian mother and Jamaican father, and is eligible to run for president but has been attacked for not being black enough.

Trump’s racist tone seems to have encouraged his Republican supporters to pursue this vile approach, exemplified by his aide Kellyanne Conway asking a reporter about his ethnic heritage at a White House press conference.

Andrew Feinberg, a reporter for Breakfast Media, a website about politics and technology, had asked Conway, “If the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?”

Conway paused and then asked him, “What’s your ethnicity?”

“Why is that relevant?” Feinberg replied.

That was the appropriate response, and Feinberg soon after added, “My own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I’m asking.”

The push by Trump has shocked many Americans, as it seems to have gained traction among his Caucasian supporters, especially those in the mid-west states.

Most Republican politicians have chosen to turn the other way, claiming they haven’t read Trump’s tweets, although the local news has become world news.

What happened in the United States really isn’t that much different from what’s happening in Malaysia, as politicians here find it easier to amplify race and religion to garner support, especially the crucial Malay votes.

Trump uses the non-whites as the bogeyman, to create fear and a sense of insecurity among lesser educated white people, to suggest that their jobs are being taken away by immigrants – when the reality is that many white people are reluctant to take on “difficult” jobs.

Immigrants, in the mind of Trump, simply means non-whites. His wife, Melania, is from Slovenia but because she is white, in his mind she wouldn’t be placed in the same category as Mexicans or South Americans.

Ivana, Trump’s first wife, was born in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic); Trump himself has acknowledged his German ancestry and is proud of it.

Like Trump, the three women lawmakers were born in the United States, even though their ancestry can be traced back to other countries.

In a nutshell, Trump won’t be telling anyone of Caucasian stock to “go back”, even if they have serious criminal records.

And let’s hope he won’t be making the “send her home” chant his campaign battle cry.

Likewise, it’s beyond some politicians here to accept that “balik tongsan” is simply illogical, because, similar to the other “foreign” ethnic communities with roots here including the Indians and Indonesians, we were born here and this great country will always be home, the place we will invariably be laid to rest in when our time is up.

Besides, these three nations – China, India and Indonesia – have enough people and they certainly wouldn’t welcome any Malaysians, whose only link to these them is their ancestral lineage.

As we celebrate our country’s national day next month, and Malaysia Day in September, it’s perhaps time for laws to be legislated to make it an offence to use racist remarks.

A commission to promote race relations is necessary to nip this malaise in the bud.

A good place to start will be Parliament, where racist remarks are shamelessly used by Members of Parliament who are far from honourable.

The reality is that whatever the colour of our skin, the blood that runs through our veins remains the same.

So in time of need, as we lie on the hospital bed, we won’t be asking where the blood came from.

Bears on the loose in British Columbia, Canada

It was an invitation difficult to resist – to visit one of the last remaining wildest places on earth, and probably one of the last biggest intact temperate rainforests on the planet.

So, together with a group of faithful travelling companions, we flew a total of 17 hours, including two transits, to the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia in Canada.

The only access to the islands of this 6.4 million-hectare land – the size of Ireland – is by boat or sea-float plane. But the logistics were no barrier since we were determined to set foot on one of the last frontiers.

This lush land of abundance is a sprawling wilderness located in the northwest corner of British Columbia, between Alaska and the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

It’s secluded and remote, and even hostile, at times. The meagre population of only about 18,000 comprises almost exclusively of indigenous folk who are called First Nation people. Their features very much resemble the Native Americans we are so used to seeing in the movies.

The grandeur of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The harsh weather has managed to keep the forests and seas in this area away from mass and destructive tourism. I was surprised that even many Canadians had not heard of this place.

The Canadian immigration officer who scanned my passport confessed that she had no idea what I was talking about or where I was even headed.

The plan was simple – we would hike up the thick forested hills and ease past the moss-covered rocks. Along the way, the trees, with their roots buried deep in the dark soil, would add to the visuals of rich flora.

The group had chosen a comfortable but hidden lodge in Nimmo Bay for the four-day adventure, a resort nestled in the southern part of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The itinerary included traveling on boats out in the freezing seas to look for humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, seals, sea lions and dolphins.

It is freezing but the only way to see humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, seals, sea lions and dolphins is by boat.

Along this coastal paradise, we had hoped to see black bears, and as much I dreamed of seeing wolves, my hopes were dashed when the organiser told us that it was impossible to see these gorgeous canines, except for their tracks. Lo and behold, I did see their paw prints on the ground, which proved a consolation in my books!

I was assured that July was the best time to visit this forest it being summer and all. But since this was Canada, I had packed thick clothing. As it turned out, it was still cold, even at this time of year. Indeed, it rained almost every day, and it was always windy and cold when I went out to sea daily.

The number one mission was to catch a glimpse of the orca, or killer whale – often mistaken for being a whale because of its name, though in truth, is the largest of the dolphin family – one of the world’s most prominent predators. (They are called killer whales because ancient sailors observed them hunting and preying on larger whales.)

But right off the bat we were warned that we’d probably only see their fins. The disclaimer was to lower unrealistic expectations. Besides, our boats had to stay 400 metres away from the marine animals, so spotting these magnificent creatures was always going to be a tall order.

It didn’t help either that there’s disturbing news of their dwindling numbers. Apparently, only about 74 of these toothed animals surge through the waters of British Columbia, according to reports.

Basically, we may not see them again if we don’t protect them. Threats include the lack of chinook salmon (their staple diet), the whir of boat engines and noises in general which interfere with their foraging exploits. Pollution is also a culprit which affects their ability to reproduce and battle disease.

Within the first 48 hours of our arrival, we decided that catching these mammals would be our priority, and no time would be wasted.

We saw humpback whales on the first day, but it was only on the second, while cruising Charlotte Straits, that we caught our first glimpse of wild orcas. Finally, there they were, wild and free with their family.

My disdain for show-performing killer whales has steadily grown over the years.

A family of killer whales at Numas Island. Photo: Liew Su Yen

The number of wild orcas, seen here at Numas Island, are slowly dwindling with only about 74 in the waters of British Columbia.

It’s plain animal cruelty and should be bereft of support. Why should we be surprised when performer animals turn on their trainers?

And aquariums and zoos are essentially prisons for animals. They don’t deserve to be locked up against their will.

I have great travelling companions who all share the same compassion and love for nature, and we kept reminding ourselves to be patient, and not be excessively excited.

Our boat coasted gently with the whales, where we watched them swim playfully and elegantly, without the fear of being hurt, or captured and sent to a distant aquarium.With their easily distinguishable black-and-white motif, large dorsal fin, and sleek and streamlined body, it was a privileged moment I wanted to soak every second of because I don’t know if I will ever be able to see them again.

Canadian rules are strict, and more importantly respected – our boat had to be at least 400 metres away from these mammals and no unnecessary noises are allowed because orcas are sensitive to sound.

I had to remind myself of the rules when I excitedly saw a black bear on the beach, looking for food on an island.

My guide advised me to calm down and said he was not going to steer the boat closer. Rules are rules, and this is Canada.

I had to get a little used to respecting these laws because as a Malaysian, I know the authorities talk about introducing new rules every other day, but almost none of them are enforced.

The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada is a lush land of abundance.

But despite the stringent laws to protect Canadian waters and backed by a population that is protective of its sea creatures, the animal’s flagging numbers suggest that this might all be too little too late.

Orcas are gentle and intelligent creatures which feed mostly on fish, though they hunt marine mammals such as seals, too.

Killer whales, found mostly in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, are highly social, and their populations are composed of matrilineal family groups, where the family members depend on older females – especially the grandmothers – on directions and foraging. The loss of females is devastating.

They are also clever and mate outside their families to avoid incestuous offspring, which could have a negative impact on them.

I was also lucky enough to spot two American black bears (Ursus Americanus), and unlike the killer whales, British Columbia has one of the largest populations of black bears in the world, their numbers anywhere between 120,000 and 150,000.

“Pretty much all of BC is considered ‘bear country’ with bears inhabiting everything from the coastal forests, through to the interior grasslands. From north to south and east to west in this province you’ll have a chance to see black bears,” says the British Columbia Conservation Foundation.The bears made a quick exit when they saw and probably heard our excitement, despite the distance. Our boat skipper told us, in no uncertain terms, that he would not attempt to come close to the bear on the beach, as “they will disappear, and we must respect their privacy.”

By now, it was very clear to me that Canadians go to great lengths to protect their oceans. There are rules even for fishing – a permit is required, even for a simple fishing outing.

There are also catch and possession limits, which include when and where you can fish, the species, size and number of fishes you can keep.

The giants weren’t the only animals to thrill me – I was also excited with the large number of harmless Moon Jellyfish or aurelia auruta, found in the shallow waters of Nimmo Bay.

The harmless and very beautiful Moon Jellyfish or aurelia auruta at Nimmo Bay.

I used my hands to scoop up some of these beautiful stingless transparent creatures, and I instantly recalled my adventure of swimming with thousands of stingless marine animals in the world’s largest jellyfish lake in Kakaban, East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

From killer whales and dolphins in the sea to bears and wolves in the forests, the Great Bear Rainforest also has its snow-capped mountains and glaciers, even during summer. Given everything we saw, it certainly lived up to its wild and remote identity.

And the only way to protect these animals and the mystic of this huge temperate rainforest is to keep humans away. It’s ironic how man, the orca’s purported saviour, is also its destroyer.

Sense of inclusion needed

Hong Kong. -Bloomberg filepic

IT’S lunch time in Hong Kong, but the soya sauce chicken rice seller at Queen’s Road in Shek Tong Tsui is looking distressed as the crowd isn’t up to expectations.

Rental is high in Hong Kong and customers are obliged to share tables in small eateries like the one I was in.

Once eagle-eyed restaurant owners spot the conclusion of a meal, patrons are swiftly handed their bills, subtly suggesting they leave the premises to make way for incoming customers. Otherwise, they’d earn short shrift from irate staff.

Life is hard in HK and most residents feel that it has become much harder.

The older ones are more tolerant and patient because they have lived through the country’s high and low points. They include those born in China who came to the island with their parents.

Retired civil servants complain of promotions bypassing them because the top posts were reserved for the whites under British colonial rule. They felt humiliated and have never forgotten this marginalised treatment.

The young ones are becoming angrier now. They see HK deteriorating, reflected in their inability to buy a flat the size of a car park lot, because something even that small would probably cost millions of ringgit.

HK is a crowded city where space is at a premium. Space, meaning a hole in the sky. Landed properties are for the super rich in a land where being rich alone isn’t enough.

Regular visitors to HK will tell you that the streets are filled with people for a simple reason: it can be claustrophobic living in a 400sq foot – or less – flat.

HK residents sometimes joke that they need to leave their flat to provide “privacy” for newly married children who sometimes can’t afford their own homes and still need to live with their parents.

“The walls are too thin, and it is best we give them some space, you understand what I am saying, right?” said my HK friend as we chuckled about the reference while dining on dim sum.

The waiting period for public housing is five years, if you are lucky, and it’s not uncommon to see an entire family living in one room in many parts of downtown HK. Apparently, more than 200,000 people live in subdivided homes.

Forget politics for a minute and let’s talk facts. An international survey reportedly showed HK sliding 12 places to an embarrassing 41 as a liveable city for Asian expats, its worst ranking in a decade.

“We call ourselves Asia’s world city, but Asians have given us the thumbs down as a liveable city. That’s a paradox that should shame us,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper reported.

Over the last two decades, HK people have found themselves priced out of the home market. The cost of living has gone up, but the standard of living has dropped sharply.

The smog has worsened and there are regular reports of hospitals overflowing in the winter months every year, ushering in the routine flu outbreak.

The competition for space is a serious concern in HK. The resentment towards China is simply because people in HK have found it hard to compete with the deluge of mainlanders.

Each time I go to HK, I can’t get past the sight of long queues of people from China – with deep pockets – at luxury goods outlets at Central.

“Last year, 65 million tourists flooded Hong Kong. That’s only about 10 million fewer than for the whole of the United States. Almost 80% who came were mainlanders, most of them day trippers who swarmed residential areas to buy groceries, ruining the quality of life for locals.

“How can life quality improve if you add the four million mainlanders who come monthly, on average, effectively raising Hong Kong’s population to well over 11 million?” pondered columnist Michael Chugani in the SCMP.

Milk powder is a favourite item of the mainlanders when it comes to groceries because of food safety concerns back home. Every mum and pop shop in HK seems to share a similar inventory.

HK people are loud and opinionated. And often crude and crass even, especially, when speaking in Cantonese.

This is a city of very hardworking and motivated people. It’s commonplace for a person to be doing two or three jobs to ensure ends are met, but these people also acknowledge the city has long passed its prime, with stats indicating its lost position as one of Asia’s top cities.

It has surrendered its edge as a financial hub to Shanghai and even nearby Shenzhen.

Chronicling the events of the last two decades reveals how those fortunes changed. Imagine that in 1997, China was very much reliant on HK, largely because the global superpower had not yet made it into the ranks of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which was stunting and limiting its export trade.

So HK’s position as a channel for entrepôt trade was exploited to deliver mainland-made goods to the rest of the world via its ports, and crucially, by circumventing the WTO’s trade restrictions. But that all changed when China entered the organisation in 2001, and from then HK began to play a diminishing role. The island went from handling half the republic’s trade in 1997 to a measly 12% today.

“In terms of total size and wealth, Hong Kong has also shrunk relative to China, which has experienced more than three decades of astoundingly high economic growth. In 1997, Hong Kong’s economy was one-fifth the size of China’s, and its per capita income was 35 times higher. By 2018, Hong Kong’s economy was barely one-thirtieth the size of China’s. Hong Kong is still richer, but the gap is narrowing, with its per capita income now five times higher than China’s,” claimed the New York Times International.

And to exemplify China’s newly accrued wealth, on a trip to Guangzhou, my jaw dropped when I saw the homes of the mainland Chinese in a sprawling gated property built by Forest City.

The HK film industry has nearly collapsed. With only the TV dramas in Cantonese keeping some actors home, most HK movie stars and singers have moved to China, where they are better paid and command bigger audiences.

Some still struggle to speak fluent Mandarin and drop their Cantonese accent, but most have successfully made the transition.

Knowing the realities of the huge China market, and not wanting to offend their audience, most of these big names opted to stay away from the recent HK protests. Pro-Beijing Jackie Chan was lambasted for pleading ignorance of the protest march.

Still, HK has its assets, though. It has an efficient administration system and remains an important channel. In China, tighter capital control measures are making it increasingly difficult to access outside money, the SCMP said.

“Hong Kong is also a top offshore yuan trading centre, leading the way for wider use of the Chinese currency in trade and finance – a priority for Beijing as it pushes for the yuan’s internationalization.

“… Hong Kong can also do more down the road. It can foster an ecosystem for the yuan currency, developing derivatives and indexes to convince people to hold the yuan in larger amounts,” Oliver Rui, a professor of finance and accounting in China, was quoted.

But China needs to do more to secure the faith of the islanders.

HK people understand and accept they are a part of China. There is no turning back and nothing is going to change that.

Hoisting British flags may be the manifestation of frustration for the idealistic young, but it won’t change their destiny.

At the same time, China needs to wake up to the fact that only 3.1% of those aged between 18 and 29 in HK see themselves as broadly Chinese (China nationality). This compares to 31% in 1997, according to a report based on a survey by the University of Hong Kong.

And we know that many of those who took part in the recent street protests included secondary school children, some not yet even 18 years old.

Even though China has overtaken HK, particularly from an economic standpoint, Beijing needs to foster and maintain a sense of inclusion, especially when the islanders don’t feel they are a part of China.

There was a time when HK residents laughed at mainlanders, calling them the disparaging “Ah Chan”, or village simpletons. However, mainlanders are growing richer and more powerful now. But like all good “bosses”, China needs to treat the island’s residents with respect, and it needs to motivate and win over their hearts and minds. China must make them proud to be Chinese citizens.

Together we stand

Farcical political situations and a depleting economy. If there’s a time to rally the troops to thwart the country’s follies, the upcoming National Day looks the opportune moment.

WHILE I was in Europe a few years ago, a Spanish waitress asked me about the corruption and racism that has ravaged Malaysia.

I was a little startled. Few waitresses would have asked guests such politically related questions, but because I was a regular, and friendly (I’d like to think so), she must have felt comfortable enough to raise the subject.

The only thing is, I was not in the mood and felt it was out of line. I was on holiday and the last thing I wanted to talk about was politics. While in Australia last month, a China-born driver asked me about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and of course, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

I didn’t even tell him that I was from the media. If I did, there would have been no end to the idle chatter on a long trip outside Sydney.

It was unprofessional of him to bring up politics and luckily, we didn’t touch on issues concerning religion. The trouble with most drivers is that they seem to have unsolicited “expert” opinions on contentious issues.

But the most depressing dialogue now must be that with Singaporean friends and relatives about our ringgit and its continuing slide. Perhaps I’m sensitive, but I can feel their insinuations about our ringgit being worthless next to their dollar.

The point is this – Malaysia has an image problem.

The ignorant and ridiculous remarks by some of our politicians, particularly on race and religion, haven’t covered us in glory, that’s for sure.

At a few Invest KL meetings I’ve attended, foreign fund managers and institutions make similar queries, reflecting their uncertainties and doubt.

It hasn’t helped that our economic standing has taken a severe beating. According to, which carried out a study on emerging markets in the last 20 years, Malaysia has slipped down the pecking order badly.

In 1988, under the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, Malaysia was the country with the highest weighting in the index at 33.8%, but it has plunged down to 2.5% as of last year. In comparison, China’s weighting in the MSCI EM Index has shot up to 29.9%, and this is significantly higher than the next largest countries included in the benchmark: South Korea (15.5%), Taiwan (11.8%) and India (8.1%).

We have lost plenty of time and opportunities. The general election is long over and by right, politics should have taken a back seat, except that it hasn’t.

Who cares what people – politicians included – do behind closed doors, so long as they perform well, since we are all measured by our competence at work, and not in bed.

There is an urgent need for Malaysians to come forward to create a new narrative for the country, and with the National Day next month, the timing is perfect for a campaign to propel Malaysia’s public opinion.

As lawyer and writer Syahredzan Johan aptly said, the clock is ticking for a “new, inclusive national agenda” to be accepted by the people, but it’s still within time to make that happen.

“The opportunity was ripe for far-reaching reforms when the people voted for the first change of government in the nation’s history in the 14th general election last year. We should have done it soon after the elections, when the mood for change was still strong,” he said.

But we missed the boat. We didn’t look for reconciliation. Yes, the looters and thieves needed to be reined in and made to pay for their crimes, but the ramifications also appeared to have extended into a witch-hunt, with emotional sparks of vindictiveness and baggage of settling old political scores.

It also didn’t help that we were portrayed as a nation on the brink of a financial melt-down, which invariably spooked many investors.

But that stage has passed. The National Day setting will be a timely occasion to bring Malaysians together. We have seen enough unproductive politicking. What we need more of is reproductive nation building.

Regardless of our political and religious differences, we are all bound by being Malaysian. We are all stakeholders in this great and wonderful country of ours.

We need to take this opportunity to present a new vision and call on all the people to work on the common agenda together. We need to issue a clarion call for Malaysians to come together to build a new future for the country.

The pact must involve all Malaysians, with a sense of inclusiveness, so they feel they have a place and future in Malaysia. As it stands though, pessimism permeates the air.

The unsettling mood, made worse by a poor market, has been compounded by increasingly divisive sentiments concerning racial and religious rights among the country’s political leaders, which cyclically, has flared up again in recent months.

We can’t have politicians running around drumming up racial and religious rhetoric in the name of Malay unity and creating myths of non-Malays – meaning the Chinese – usurping Malay political power.

Unfortunately, many people believe this tale. However, the truth is, those entrusted to protect the Malays and Islam are the ones who looted from our institutions in the first place.

The spin doctoring and inflammatory messages, aimed at winning back votes, could cause untold damage to the nation’s very fabric in the long run. It’s not just unhealthy, but toxic as well.

“The fear is that if this tide became a tsunami, even if the new government succeeds in delivering social justice and fulfilling its election manifesto, it would matter little if people voted based on racial and religious considerations,” said Syahredzan.

However, most of our moderate Malaysians can’t let the racists and religious bigots – who use the race and religion cards to justify their every action – take control of the national discourse.

Malaysia needs to set its global perception right so that when we travel overseas, or meet investors, we can all hold our heads up high and say that we are on the right track – that we are putting the wrongs right, and that this is our way forward. We need to nudge the stick shift into fifth gear, hit the gas and scream down the road of progress.Otherwise, I’m going to have to be friendly again, and grin and bear it when foreign service industry people talk to me about the undesirable things concerning Malaysia.

Alma maters which matter

THE Convent Light Street in Penang will always be a special place for me. It remains the only sister school of my alma mater, St Xavier’s Institution, where I had my primary and secondary education.

The CLS, the school’s acronym, sits next to SXI, and both share a sports field with an incredible seafront view. Not many students in Malaysia can boast of playing games under the sun while enjoying the sea breeze. In the case of CLS, some parts of the building, including classrooms, get to enjoy the picturesque sights.

Studying in a boys’ school, my first meaningful interaction with the fairer sex was as a boy scout with the girl guides at CLS, and other convent schools in Penang.

I’m sure many old Xaverians can relate similar fond memories and stories of their wonder years growing up as teenagers. So, it was painful to read recent news reports about three iconic convent schools there – which produced many great scholars – facing closure by 2024, following the downtrend of mission schools in the country.

The three schools – SK Convent Light Street, SMK Convent Light Street and SMK Convent Pulau Tikus – are said to be packing up and the land returned to its owner Sisters of Infant Jesus Malaysia.

“The Education Ministry has heeded their request and gave its approval to return their land. And we have stopped the intake of new students in the three schools since last year,” state Education director Dr Mahanom Mat Sam said.

As expected, the news was greeted with great concern, dismay even, and Datuk Tan Leh Sang, who chairs the board of governors of CLS and Convent Pulau Tikus, had to quickly dispel the notion by insisting the schools were not closing but “transforming for the better.”

With all due respect, I don’t think Tan has shared much on the direction of the schools. The Sisters, always media shy, have chosen not to speak. This obviously doesn’t help, as parents, students, former students and even Penangites, are stakeholders who have enormous emotional attachment to these schools.

There are emotional ties and a great reverence for the Sisters, who have dedicated their entire lives to the schools and educating many Malaysians of all races. Many of us want to help, contribute and support, but would struggle to do so if kept out of the loop.

There has long been talk that CLS, located in a predominantly Chinese majority area, has found its student enrolment dropping because of competition from nearby Chinese primary schools. That doesn’t come as a surprise since over 90% of Chinese parents send their children to Chinese primary schools.

With such a huge building, the continuing decline would surely have an impact on the future of CLS and other convent schools. The cold hard truth is, education in Malaysia is in trouble. Good public education – not just education – must be available to all. Whether we concede or not, the standard of our education system has been dipping.

According to Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, Malaysian students continuously rank in the bottom third of international student assessments. So consequently, more parents are sending their children to private schools – unlike years ago, when even the rich sent their kids to normal schools – though this trend will put the have-nots at a disadvantage. But that shouldn’t happen!

“Although we are only a middle-income country, Malaysia’s international schools are the No 8 most expensive in the world,” she said in a video series, adding that international schools were increasing by over 20% each year.

CLS, like regular government schools, was always going to face this predicament. Certainly, the effects are greater in a place like Penang. Given the absence of statistics and details, we can’t know how to help CLS “transform for the better.”

Suggestions have been bandied about turning these mission schools into private or international ones, and perhaps to assist the poor, a quota of seats can be allocated to the underprivileged. This is done in the United Kingdom an there is no reason why it can’t be done in Malaysia. One of the most prestigious private schools in UK, the Benenden school, even offers scholarships to students in Hong Kong to study there. There is already a Methodist School Penang (International) with similar setups in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. There is also a St John’s International School in KL and a St Joseph’s International School in Petaling Jaya.

Many middle-class parents in urban areas are stretching their sen to send their children to either private or international schools because they want the best for them, so their kids can secure spots in top schools overseas. Many of our politicians, who champion racial and religion issues, also send their children to study at these schools, even at secondary level.

For a while now, our passing rates in public exams have been compromised. The word is the bar is lowered to enable students to pass, especially in Math and Science subjects. So, the perception generated has surely affected our stature overseas. The strings of distinctions have become meaningless, and worse, it has given a false sense of achievement as these As could just be Cs, or even Ds in Singapore or UK, if the playing field was made level.

Older Malaysians like me will recall a maximum of five As for the Lower Certificate of Education (LCE) for Form Three students. If you fail the LCE, you are kicked out of school. Never mind if you were just 15 years old and Mathematics was compulsory to pass. Then at Form 5 level, the maximum is probably nine As at the Malaysia Certificate of Education (MCE), branded Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia for a good few decades now. That was the time when Malaysians regularly got accepted into Ivy League schools including Harvard.

The disappointment for CLS is not just because of the loss of quality of education it has offered to many generations of Malaysians, but its history, which no other school can match. The education institution, founded by French Catholic nuns in 1852, is the oldest girls’ school in Southeast Asia and is one of the most highly regarded missionary schools in the country.

“Five young sisters, on their maiden mission outside France, set sail for Penang but only three arrived on the island in April 1852.

“Their leader Mother St Pauline lost her life at sea and the only member competent to teach in English deserted the team.

“Mother St Mathilde and three others arrived later, and in the next two decades, they progressively strengthened their base in Penang. By the first half of the 20th century, their unique brand of convent schools had spread across many parts of the Malay peninsula,” wrote Chen Yen Ling in her book, Lessons From My School – The Journey of The French Nuns and Their Convent Schools.That’s not all. The founder of Penang, Captain Francis Light, occupied the Government House as his residence, and the building remains in CLS, while the founder of Singapore, Sir Stanford Raffles, spent time working in the building. In fact, it’s said that he spent more time in Penang than in Singapore.

During the Second World War, the Japanese Navy took over CLS, and used the Government House as a base and interrogation centre.

“The walls inside the House bear the signatures of some imprisoned American sailors who etched their names with their belt buckles,” goes the story, according to the Penang Wiki site.

The owners of the buildings, Sisters of Infant Jesus Malaysia, will surely not allow these buildings to close down, and we believe that they would want their education missions to continue, in different forms, perhaps, and in a more competitive way in meeting the demands of modern education.

We pray that the Sisters will succeed, and we believe they will.

Unlike many mission schools and their Latin mottos, the CLS has theirs in French – Simple Dans Ma Vertu, Forte Dans Mon Devoir, which means Simple in My Virtues, Strong in My Duties.

I believe the CLS and the convent schools will invariably come out stronger from these trying times.

A destiny tied to China

Impractical move: China is generally aware that the Hong Kong people cannot sustain any form of protest because rent and bills need to be paid and protests don’t gain a voice, neither by yellow shirts nor umbrellas. — AFP

The future of the Hong Kong people lies with China but the challenge for Beijing is to make Hong Kongers feel that they are a fundamental part of the Middle Kingdom.

YOU’VE got to hand it to the British because they are really the masters at the game. Anyone who has studied basic Malayan history would know that officials during colonial times merely identified themselves as advisers.

They were British civil servants, but they called the shots.

Adding insult to injury, the Malay Rulers – as the Sultans were called then – were “led” to believe they still ran the states.

Under British Malaya – a set of states on the Malay peninsula and Singapore under British rule between the 18th and 20th centuries – British colonial officials had the last say on almost everything except religion and customary matters, which they cleverly left to the palaces.

So, in theory, the Rulers held their positions, kept their perks and all royal protocols befitting royalty, but their wings were clipped.

These were the federated states, but in the case of Straits Settlement states, British governors were appointed.

So, the famous Malacca Sultanate, with its rich lineage of Sultans, found itself having a governor, a Caucasian, as did Penang and Singapore.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad put it aptly when he said last week in his speech in Britain that “Malaysia is a member of the Commonwealth, but there is nothing much in common with the wealth dominated by certain countries”.

“The British acknowledged the Malay Sultans as Rulers, but the Sultans never ruled. Therefore, when they criticised us as dictators, I don’t think they really meant it,” he said.

There was more. Under British rule in the 20th century, the British introduced repressive laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), used against communist insurgents.

Under the ISA, a person could be held for 60 days in solitary confinement and up to two years’ extension without trial.

Despite this, the British told the world, with a straight face, that they taught us, the natives, principles of justice, democracy and fairness, and that we all cried when they abandoned us when the Japanese invaded Malaya in 1941, and when we gained independence in 1957.

Our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, kept the law when the Union Jack was lowered in 1957, which marked our independence.

Not many Malaysians are aware that the British imposed the ISA. Of course, during that era, only the radical left-wingers, with communist tendencies, were detained.

One ISA detainee, who was imprisoned under the British and then under the Malaysian government, said: “With the British guards, they would cheerily come every morning and wished the detainees a good day.” That was the difference.

Fast forward to 2019 and the massive turnout in Hong Kong against the controversial extradition Bill, with proposed amendments allowing for criminal suspects to be sent to China, has made international news.

It has prompted concern in Hong Kong and elsewhere that anyone from the city’s residents to foreign and Chinese nationals living or travelling through the international financial hub could be at risk if they were wanted by Beijing.

Basically, Hong Kong residents would rather face HK courts than be deported to mainland China.

Many have no faith in China’s judicial system compared to the British-style HK courts, which inherited the British legal system, and where most of the judges and lawyers are also British-trained.

The HK people can’t be blamed for their anger and suspicion since the international community has read of Chinese nationals being short-changed, or even neglected by the courts in the pursuit of justice.

And we can even read of income tax defaulters, under investigation, being hauled off to undisclosed locations, while dissidents have been taken away, and disappeared without a trace.

This bad press, verified or otherwise, would have scared many people, even though one wonders how many of these HK protesters believe, in their hearts of hearts, that they would ever get arrested and sent to China.

But the irony is that under British rule in HK, like many governments, the British widely used the law as a tool to consolidate control of Hong Kong in the hands of a privileged minority.

Legal expert Richard Daniel Klien wrote that “the British enacted legislation which in some respects instituted two sets of laws – one for the Europeans and another for the Chinese. Laws were passed to ensure no Chinese would live in the most desirable parts of Hong Kong, which the British wished to preserve as their exclusive enclaves.

“In a land in which ninety-eight per cent of the population were Chinese, English was the official language.

“The Chinese language was not permitted to be used in government offices.

“Laws regulating conduct were written exclusively in English, a language which the vast majority of the population could not understand.

“The astonishing truth of the failure of the Hong Kong Chinese to develop a significant pro-democracy or pro-independence movement, while other British colonies obtained independence long ago, testifies to the success of the British laws in accomplishing the goal of continued colonial rule over this land of six million inhabitants.”

MK Chan wrote in a law review report that “to most people in Hong Kong, the preservation of the existing legal system is of crucial importance to the high degree of autonomy the post-colonial Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is supposed to enjoy under Chinese sovereignty according to the “One Country, Two Systems” formula.

“However, this widely shared perception is flawed for one simple reason: the legal system in Hong Kong today has its own serious defects. It is not only alien in origin,” and “markedly different from the legal system in the People’s Republic of China but also defective and inadequate”.

No protest has gained voice, neither through yellow shirts nor umbrellas. And no protests were staged because the British didn’t allow elections during the colonial rule from over a century and a half.

The 1995 Hong Kong Legislative Council election for members of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong was only finally held that year – it was the first and last fully elected legislative election in the colonial period before the nation was returned to China two years later. So much for democracy and freedom.

No HK resident protested that only the white men could hold top posts in government bodies, places where there were many qualified HK civil servants who could speak and write in English better than their superiors.

To put it bluntly, there was not even a squeak – and we know how corrupt the HK police were in the 1970s – about the force being headed by Britons.

To be fair, the British transformed HK from a barren island to an international hub, with a working administration system that has won the confidence of the international community.

However, the responsibility of the British ended in 1997 when HK was handed over to the Chinese. It has lost its right to tell the Chinese what to do.

But what has brought this resentment towards China, from HK Chinese people, and perhaps, even a yearning, for British rule?

Not long ago, it was reported that some localists had taken to thumbing their nose at “China’s heavy-handed meddling” by waving the British flag at football matches, booing the Chinese anthem and chanting “We are Hong Kong! Hong Kong is not China!” in English.

Reports have also surfaced about a small Hong Kong-United Kingdom Reunification Campaign, which angled for a return to British rule but ultimately dismissed as quirky.

Then there are HK people who talk about the “good times” under British rule.

If there is a history lesson which the Chinese can learn from British Malaya, it’s that the Brits administered their colonies well and without the need for any heavy-handed approaches, even as they robbed these colonies of their rich minerals.

Reports of Beijing’s transgressions in the territory, such as the kidnapping by mainland agents of local booksellers, or the National People’s Congress purportedly stepping into local judicial cases, won’t win the hearts of the HK people.

Beijing must put on a softer face and display plenty of patience in dealing with HK. There is really no rush for China, especially with risking an international black eye at a time when it can ill afford to do so.

Yes, China is concerned about how its billion people will react if they see these hot-headed HK protesters abusing policemen.

The lessons from the breakup of the Soviet Union – and the wounded pride and dignity that follows – are always etched in the minds of Chinese leaders.

When CNN and BBC reporters talk about individual rights, they have no idea what Beijing or even the Chinese diaspora think.

But the people of HK must also accept the harsh reality – HK is now China’s sovereignty, and more and more of its independence, or even importance, will slowly fade away.

China doesn’t need HK as much as it used to as a strategic financial hub, because Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have even eclipsed the former island nation. No matter how big or how long these protests run for, China knows the HK people don’t have the stamina, because rent and bills need to be paid, and protest sittings on streets don’t last anyway.

And the other blow is the British government’s refusal to grant citizenship to the 3.5 million Hongkongers born there under the British flag.

China needs to work harder on winning hearts and minds, and to make the HK people feel they are a fundamental part of China, and Chinese culture and pride.

HK people have always been independent because they were brought up differently and under different sets of political and legal systems, and that must be understood. There is no need to ramp through any laws, indicating that the HK people are unhappy.

The destiny of the HK people lies with China, and not Britain, but the challenge for Beijing is to make the people of HK feel those sentiments and be proud of it.

And speaking of extradition, let’s not forget that the US is also seeking to get WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange extradited from the UK for alleged crimes under the Espionage Act 1917, of which remains unclear.

He is the first journalist to have the book thrown at him for whistleblowing.

That’s not all. The US wants Huawei chief financial office Sabrina Meng Wanzhou to be extradited from Canada over charges which smell suspiciously like trumped up accusations.

They will never be forgotten

IT’S been more than two years since Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted.

The police said they have been investigating and we all know nothing has come out of it despite the huge publicity surrounding the case.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) carried out a lengthy inquiry and produced a voluminous report of more than 2,000 pages, where it bravely pointed fingers at the Special Branch as being responsible for the abduction.

Then Suhakam chairman Datuk Mah Weng Kwai described the two missing persons – social activist Amri Che Mat and Koh – as “victims of an enforced disappearance”.

The panel, he said, disclosed that individuals or groups operating with the support of state agents has been involved in the abductions (Koh in February 2017 and Amri in November 2016).

“The panel is of the considered view that the enforced disappearance of Amri was carried out by agents of the state namely Special Branch, Bukit Aman.

“The disappearance of Koh was neither a case of voluntary disappearance nor a case of involuntary disappearance in breach of the ordinary criminal law.

“The directive and circumstantial evidence in Koh’s case also proves that he was abducted by the Special Branch,” he bluntly stated at the announcement of the final findings of the Suhakam’s public inquiry on the disappearance of the two, in April.

Two Inspectors-General of Police – Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun – have since retired.

In fact, Fuzi was head of the Special Branch at the time of these disappearances.

And now, we have a new IGP, Datuk Seri Abdul Hamid Bador, who will have to continue what Fuzi started and where he left off.

The police have said that Bukit Aman gave its full cooperation to the Suhakam inquiry, adding that Fuzi, in fact, set up an investigation committee to track down the location of both men, prior to the results of the inquiry.

But in the absence of new leads or even progress, we can conclude that nothing concrete has been revealed after two long years.

There has been no closure.

The police owe Malaysians – not just the families of Koh and Amri – an answer.

This is Malaysia, not some lawless South American country where people are grabbed and taken off the streets, either by criminals or law enforcement agents.

This is not allowed over here.

We are not interested in the political or religious approaches or tactics of the two, if there were any, as we view them as ordinary human beings.

Our fellow Malaysians. Tragically, no word has been forthcoming from the authorities.

But Koh and Amri should not be allowed to be forgotten.

The two will remain in our memory and in our cry for the truth to be told, although there are powerful, dark forces bent on stopping or ending it.

A 182-page book, simply titled Where Is Pastor Raymond Koh, written by Stephen Ng and Lee Hwa Beng, will be launched on July 3, although the publication, the first comprehensive one of the abduction, is already in major book shops.

The book is essential and timely as we want to embrace the values of a New Malaysia, and surely, the new government is expected to pursue justice for the long-suffering families.

The time is also right for us, as a maturing democracy with greater space, to openly discuss issues of this nature.

Yesterday, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that a six-man special task force to probe the alleged enforced disappearances will be headed by former High Court judge Datuk Abd Rahim Uda and expected to report its findings in six months.

For the writers of Where Is Pastor Raymond Koh, they have made an obvious effort to be neutral and produced an objective book with no political undertones and rhetoric.

Indeed, as responsible citizens, we want the police to successfully conclude their investigation and even as aspersions are cast, we believe the police force under the leadership of Abdul Hamid must be given every opportunity to provide justice for the families and to uncover the truth.

In the words of the authors, we have “to work together to bring our Royal Malaysia Police to greater heights of excellence”.

The Suhakam inquiry report has put a big blot on the police’s image but moving forward, the force must be resolute in purging rogue members, or in plain language, crooks in uniforms, and deliver the trust and confidence back to the force.

The book, which chronicles the events leading to and after the abduction, is a compelling read for ordinary but right-thinking Malaysians who feel a sense of restlessness in our hearts following the episodes.

Surely, we must have a conscience, a sense of sympathy, for the family members of Koh and Amri, who walked out of their homes one day and have since not returned.

Surely, they deserve better answers than to be told regularly that “kes ini masih dalam siasatan” (the case is still being investigated).

The point here is this – it should not have happened to Koh and Amri, and it should not be allowed to happen again, to any Malaysian, no matter how much we disagree with, or even despise strongly, what they advocated.

No one should attempt to play God, and to pass judgement on anyone because there is only the one God, who we will all be answerable to.

And as the faithful, regardless of our faith, we know the answers will surface eventually.

It has taken Ng, a media consultant and writer, who studied chemistry, and Lee, a former state assemblyman and an accountant, to put together this book, an effort almost journalistic in nature.

The book will be launched at the Council of Churches of Malaysia by Rev Julian Leow Beng Kim on July 3.

A change is in the air?

Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad with DPM Datuk Seri Wan Azizah and their cabinet ministers at the 1st annivesary of the Pakatan Harapan Government at Putrajaya International Convention Centre.- Filepic

Loosening wheels and appearing cracks are endemic of a Government swiftly put together, but these wrongs may be righted soon – at the expense of some.

TALK is rife in Putrajaya of an impending Cabinet reshuffle. Although the Prime Minister has attempted to allay fears, this one is steadily snowballing.

It was reported that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had agreed that there was no need to revamp the Cabinet. But it has not stopped calls for changes or a reshuffle.

This isn’t the first round of speculations either – there’s a growing perception that some ministers have not cut the mustard.

Malaysians expected changes in May when the Pakatan Harapan government marked its first year in power, but nothing has happened. However, there have been rumblings since last week. And the chatter is warranted because some ministers are simply not performing.

It has been a year since they were appointed in these positions, and frankly, a year is enough to suss out their fit for their portfolios.

Ordinary Malaysian employees who fail to live up to the expectations of their employers would be shown the door after the three-month probation period. In slightly more hopeful cases, these wage earners may secure a further three months from their kind bosses, but that would be the end of it.

For some inexplicable reason though, ministers seem to be a privileged breed of people. Elected representatives need neither experience nor qualifications to fill their federal or state posts. Some are well-educated, but unfortunately lack the relevant skills and interest for their jobs.

Then there are those who make us cringe when listening to them speak at international conferences.

Why can’t they stick to Bahasa Malaysia if they can’t string a sentence in English?

“A” for effort for trying to speak in English, but we don’t need the sound bites “of mother and father”, which is incomprehensible to the audience.

A few ministries have even deputised deputies, likely because their bosses are incapable. No surprise then that they have fared much better and have surely outperformed and overshadowed their ministers.

Thank God for these right-hand people because if they weren’t holding the fort or facing the stakeholders, who knows if these ministries would have come to a grinding halt. I can think of at least three ministries in this category.

Even these minister’s aides have privately queried about their boss’ fates, should there, indeed, be a Cabinet revamp.

It doesn’t make sense not to have one, although Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assured in May that he saw no reason to restructure the Cabinet, reiterating that there would be no such plan. But when asked to evaluate the present Cabinet, he gave it a “five out of 10”.

“I am very conservative. I have been in the government for 22 years and I know how a government functions, but these people (ministers) are new, they do not know how a government functions.

“They are so afraid of being accused of wrongdoing and all this makes their decision-making more difficult.

“But they are learning very fast. Sometimes they come to me because I have the experience. I have to teach and guide them so that they can perform,” said Dr Mahathir.

Let’s be honest – to be graded five out of 10 isn’t good enough, especially when the grading standards would have likely been lowered, seeing as they are inexperienced and still learning the ropes.

A year later, and many in the private sector – those who generate great revenue for the country – have been left wondering why the relevant ministers have not sought their expertise in improving these sectors, especially with Malaysia navigating through choppy economic waters.

No meetings with key players were ever scheduled, and with a year gone down the drain, these top captains of their industries are no closer to knowing why there have been no pro-active decisions from these ministers.

Documents submitted to select ministers remain unanswered, the queries drawing a blank. Many of the parties concerned are unsure of the status of projects. After all, delays cause revenue loss, and not just for the companies, but the country, too.

Members of the media have incessantly complained about certain ministers keeping their distance from the press by describing their lack of interaction, and in more extreme cases, where messages sent to them were unceremoniously ignored. These are the ones who are in total incommunicado.

This is all utterly unfortunate because this isn’t down to snobbery, but a lack of confidence, or perhaps a case of the common malaise – incompetence.

Media adviser Datuk Kadir Jasin has also been outspoken about several under-performing ministers, calling for either their heads or resignations.

As much as the media would want to support these ministers in the interest of Malaysia, their plans have hardly been forthcoming.

If they can’t communicate with the press at open conferences, they could surely appoint a spokesperson, or at least, issue regular press statements.

A Federal Minister I met at an open house gave me his private phone number and told me I could call him anytime. So, I called and texted him many times, but to no avail. I’ve concluded that he has given me an inactive phone number.

Home Minister Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin, even when he was a Deputy Prime Minister, would always dutifully reply his text messages despite his hectic schedule, and continues to do so even with his current health condition.

Some from the new crop have shined though, and two names stand out – Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh and Transport Minister Anthony Loke. They have been professional in their approaches and reception to views, even criticism. They also don’t seem saddled by political baggage despite being former opposition leaders.

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has also stood out in my simple straw poll with my colleagues, although his early struggles drew criticism.

The crux of the issue is how much of the promise has been delivered. Yes, the new government has four years to fulfil its pledges, but this will all remain a pipe dream with inadequate ministers grappling with their jobs.

A couple of ministers seem to have allowed the perks and privileges of power to seep into their heads, displaying prima donna attitudes by expecting event organisers to line up to greet them. They may have spent their entire political career criticising as opposition leaders, but a taste of their own medicine seems nothing but a bitter pill.

These ministers are a burden to the Prime Minister and a waste of tax-payers’ money. An overhaul is long overdue, because the events from May last year clearly suggest that the Cabinet was hastily and haphazardly cobbled together.

Calling the kettle black

TALK about hypocrisy. When Huawei’s global cybersecurity and privacy officer, John Suffolk, appeared before a hearing at the House of Commons on Monday, he was bombarded with a barrage of tough questions.

He was there to convince lawmakers – who were deliberating the safety of Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure – that Huawei had conducted security compliance exercises.

But the Chinese technology giant is up against an American-led effort to place a blanket global ban on it.

It’s clear that the United States is pressuring its allies, including the United Kingdom, to put the squeeze on Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment. What has ignited a controversy, however, although it was perhaps a tiny fraction of the hearing, was a question by Norman Lamb, chairman of Britain’s Science and Technology Committee.

The hearing became a tense affair when Members of Parliament asked Suffolk if Huawei made moral considerations before selling equipment to oppressive governments with a history of human rights abuse.

He cited an Australian research report that said Huawei provided equipment that Chinese authorities use to monitor the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group in China’s north-western region.

“I don’t think it’s for us to make such judgments,” Suffolk said. “The question is whether it’s legal in the country where we operate.”

“You’re a moral vacuum,” a Member of Parliament then retorted.

Treading the moral high ground like this reeks of hypocrisy, especially since both the US and UK are trading with many countries with shambolic human rights records. They have even aided and ensured the survival of these regimes, for strategic and economic reasons.

Take Saudi Arabia for instance. No country would want to mess with this oil-rich nation. American president Donald Trump, and any British Prime Minister of the hour, wouldn’t let out a squeak if there were any form of human rights oppression there, and it’s common knowledge that the law is perversely flouted.

So, will the UK do business with the Saudi Arabians? Of course! Total goods exports from the UK to Saudi Arabia in 2017 were reportedly worth about £4.2bil (RM22bil), an increase of 120% compared with 10 years earlier. Goods imports from Saudi Arabia were worth £2.4bil (RM12.7bil) (also more than double the figure 10 years earlier). So, the UK had a surplus of £1.8bil (RM9.5bil) in goods trade.

The top UK export categories encompass various types of machinery, aircraft, arms and vehicles, including £280mil (RM1.48bil) worth in cars.

Oil accounted for more than half of the imports from Saudi Arabia, including crude and refined products. Other goods comprised machinery and electrical supplies, and photographic, cinematographic and medical equipment, reads a report.

It said although the UK produces crude oil from the North Sea, and to a limited extent on land as well, it has been more than a decade since the island nation was self-sufficient. Saudi Arabia accounted for about 3% of British oil imports last year.

And with so much money at stake, it will be insane to condemn the high-profile disappearance (or is that mutilation?) of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump threatened “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia was found responsible, but of course, evidence is insufficient. How convenient.

Speculation is rife about what happened to Khashoggi. Turkish officials believe he may have been murdered when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia denies the allegation and says it would respond to sanctions.

Research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank which monitors the global weapons industry, reportedly puts Britain in second place as a supplier of “major arms” to Saudi Arabia, behind the United States and ahead of France.

And then there’s Israel. It has a long history of oppressing the Palestinians, and its record of human rights violations is atrocious, but trade between the two countries is progressively increasing.

According to the “Jerusalem Post”, bilateral trade in 2014 amounted to US$6.3bil (RM26bil) and the following year, it shot up to US$7.5bil (RM31bil) and by 2017, it hit US$9.1bil (RM37bil), and the figures have been steadily growing.

The Middle East Eye reported that Britain has approved the sale of arms to Israel in a deal worth US$445mil (RM1.8bil) since the 2014 Gaza war, a transaction including components for drones, combat aircraft and helicopters, along with spare parts for sniper rifles.

“The government data will raise fresh concerns that British-made weapons are being used by the Israeli military in the Occupied Territories, amid fears that components in sniper rifles used to kill scores of Palestinian civilians in recent weeks could have been made in the UK.”

The US also supports authoritarian regimes in at least 45 “less than democratic nations and territories that today host scores of US military bases,” the ones the size of not-so-small American towns to tiny outposts. Together, these bases are home to tens of thousands of US troops.

“To ensure basing access from Central America to Africa, Asia to the Middle East, US officials have repeatedly collaborated with fiercely anti-democratic regimes and militaries implicated in torture, murder, the suppression of democratic rights, the systematic oppression of women and minorities, and numerous other human rights abuses.

“Forget the recent White House invitations and Trump’s public compliments. For nearly three-quarters of a century, the United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in maintaining bases and troops in such repressive states.

“From Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have, since World War II, regularly shown preference for maintaining bases in undemocratic and often despotic states,” wrote Associate Professor David Vine of the American University in HuffPost.

As the US pushes for a global ban on Huawei, the line of argument has become more blurred and bizarre.

The battle is essentially over technological leadership, and clearly, the US is worried that China will control the 5G universe.

It’s true that China is no angel when it concerns human rights.

After all, it is a communist country with no free elections, but few of us would buy into the rationale that Huawei needs to be banned because of China’s poor treatment of the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, China.

This isn’t a moral vacuum, but a serious vacuum in the head.