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‘The Heat’ Hits Home

Posted: 29 Oct 2013 09:10 PM PDT


It's a news weekly that deals with Malaysian issues pertaining to politics, economics, culture, community, etc, the way a news organ should, by providing information and – as important – analysis. 

Kee Thuan Chye

"Don't pick a fight with the Culture and Tourism Minister – he may just kill you. … Seems like we now have a gangster in our Cabinet."

"Scholar Reza Aslan … said that Malaysia had become a laughing stock over the ['Allah'] decision he termed as 'stupid'. … 'The idea that Christians are not able to use the word but using the word is somehow a threat to Islam that if they hear a Christian use the word 'Allah' they will accidentally become Christian. The idiocy of that statement speaks for itself.'"

"… The Heat … found that of (Najib Razak's) 1.79 million followers (on Twitter), 63% or 1.13 million are fake and only 11% or 196,900 are genuine. … That gives Najib the dubious honour of being one of the world leaders with the highest proportion of fake Twitter followers."

Strong words. Unflattering statements about the Government. These are not what you would expect in the mainstream print media, but they are right there in The Heat.

Have you heard of The Heat? If not, do check it out.


It's a newsweekly that deals with Malaysian issues pertaining to politics, economics, culture, community, etc, the way a news organ should, by providing information and – as important – analysis. The Heat exhibits intelligent thinking on the state of the country and its governance, trends in society and technology, and it provides a platform for further conversation.

If you are a reader of English and want to know what the Government is thinking, you could read propaganda rags like New Straits Times and The Star. But if you want to know what discerning, sensible Malaysians are thinking, you should read The Heat.

Produced by HCK Media, it was launched just about two months ago, on September 7. In the short time since, it has won plaudits from readers. A friend of mine who lives in Penang told me he stumbled on it a few weeks ago and found it refreshing for its handling of topical issues and their wider implications. He has since been a regular buyer.

The Heat – ably helmed by Editor-in-Chief David Lee Boon Siew, a newsman and journalist of at least three decades' experience, supported by deputies Eddie Hoo Choon Huat and Yeoh Guan Jin – has a simple concept.

Its main body consists of newsfeatures that focus exclusively on social, political and economic developments in Malaysia. As it cannot be as current as a daily paper, it opts for the right editorial combination of reporting, analysing and commenting on the developments, so as to give readers a deeper insight into what's been happening and the issues involved. For people who have been too busy during the week to catch up on the latest, this is a welcome digest, with substantial material for them to mull over.

Apart from this, there is 'Heat+', a supplementary pullout that contains lifestyle stories encompassing health, food, the arts, human interest, etc. These are also entirely Malaysia-centric. And at the back of the paper are regular columns and opinion pieces giving voice to environment, business and other issues. None of the material in the entire publication is from syndicated sources; it is all generated by staff writers and contributors.

Looking at its current October 26-November 1 issue, I was particularly struck by the fair amount of boldness in the writing despite the also apparent attempt at exercising restraint and maintaining equanimity. The temperance between boldness and restraint reflects the voice of the middle ground, which The Heat manages to approximate. This is clearly a virtue, because it helps the newsweekly appeal more easily to its target readership while at the same time retaining a professional detachment.

Even so, it can still be critically piercing when it wants to be, as in the pages dedicated to 'Newsmakers'. Here, I marvelled at the craftiness – and the craft – of highlighting things said or done by politicians in order to show up their foibles. I've mentioned the bit about Nazri Aziz in my opening paragraph above. Here's one about Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan, who had received death threats and got the police to act, resulting in the arrest of three men and the conclusion that the threats could be related to the upcoming MIC party elections in November:

Despite the fact that the police have solved the case, he probably will not feel safe anyway, at least for a while. Imagine having to look over your shoulder all the time. On the other hand, how much can one gain by removing Kamalanathan from the scene? Is he such a political heavyweight that someone sees it fit to take him out of the picture first? He has not indicated yet if he will take on any of the top leaders in the MIC elections. Even if he does, how far can he go?

That's a nice, snide smack on Kamalanathan's face, whether he realises it or not!

Most admirably, The Heat shows that it's not bothered about being reverent – and being reverent is unnecessary anyway, in my view – when it deals with political bigwigs. Well, truth is truth, after all, and the truth needs to be told, regardless of whom it is about. But the real test will be how irreverently critical it will be of Najib if he needs to be whacked. Perhaps in next week's issue, we can see how the newsweekly handles his stupid justification of the sugar subsidy cut by claiming it would be good for the libido.

For now, The Heat is gentle with him. Instead of saying that his administration sucks (which is true) and that he is weak for having said or done nothing to rein in the right-wingers (also true), it respectfully proposes four key areas for him to focus on in order to make Malaysia "a moderate and progressive nation".

Three other articles in the issue stood out for me. One reminds us of the right-wing 'sins' previously committed by the Umno reactionaries who won in the recent party elections, including Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin Hussein, Bung Mokhtar Radin, Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Mohd Puad Zarkashi, Abdul Aziz Kaprawi and Jamil Khir Baharom. Written by Pauline Wong – who moved fromtheSun to add fire to The Heat – it concludes in no uncertain terms that the party does not want to change.

Another focuses on the phenomenal comeback of Ahmad Ismail, the Penang Umno leader who achieved notoriety in 2008 by calling Chinese Malaysians pendatang (immigrants) and squatters. Contesting the recent party elections after taking a hiatus, he won the leadership of the Bukit Bendera Umno division by sweeping all the 135 votes, leaving none for his opponent. Clearly not a good sign for moderation and progressiveness.

The third is a two-page spread on DAP leader Lim Kit Siang headlined 'The man who never gave up'. This is something you will not get to see in mainstream print media although Lim deserves the coverage for all that he has sacrificed for Malaysian politics and democracy. So The Heat is to be commended for letting the man speak his mind, even if his thoughts on current issues are what we may well expect. More revealing is what he says about why he came back to Malaysia from Singapore, giving up journalism for politics, "in the midst of uncertainty", and why, after the 1969 elections and May 13, he did not stay away despite his family's urging to do so because if he were to return, he would be detained.

He decided to come back. "I was only just elected, I couldn't run away," he says. So, of course, he was detained.

This is the kind of resolve and integrity we need to see more of in our politicians. It is also what The Heat will have to maintain in the many weeks to come in order to accomplish what it sets out to do. I sense it wants to expose bullshit whenever it surfaces, and that is something close to my heart. So for that, it deserves unstinting support.

Meanwhile, what seems to be missing is just a page or two of letters from readers. Letting them have their say would help extend the conversations.


Malaysia: Nation of Strangers

Posted: 29 Oct 2013 12:02 PM PDT


(Asia Sentinel) - Where have all the non-Malays gone?

This is the excerpted text of an address given by Malaysia's former finance minister recently to a breakfast meeting at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center organized by Paddy Schubert Sdn Bhd

As you are aware, our nation became free from the fetters of colonial domination about five and a half decades ago. Sadly and strangely, after 55 years of independence, I think we are now farther apart than we have ever been before. On Aug. 31, 1957, our freedom from the shackles of a colonial past was greeted with euphoria by the different races who came together on the basis of a common vision for a shared future.

We then had a prime minister who believed that the purpose of independence was the pursuit of happiness for the different races in the country, and our success in that pursuit was to him the ultimate test of our success as a nation.

Tunku Abdul Rahman's vision for the newly independent nation was based on the "greatest happiness principle," a subject of intense political discourse in 18th and 19th Century Europe. Like the enlightened political philosophers in the western world, our father of independence believed that governments existed to provide for the happiness of the people, and nothing more.

Tunkuʼs policies were tied up with the golden rule that we must have respect for one another and treat others just as we wish others to treat us. This golden rule was an important principle in an interdependent, multi-ethnic society such as ours.

Tunkuʼs basic concept of happiness is best expressed in his favorite maxim, "live and let live."

It is a maxim that calls for acceptance of people as they are, although they may have a different way of life. Tunku applied the maxim in the public domain.

If Tunku had boasted that he was the happiest prime minister in the world, it was only because the people were happy. In Tunkuʼs words at that time, "I pray and hope that this happy state of affairs will continue for all times."

Unfortunately, however, Tunkuʼs dreams were dashed to dust by the events of May 13, 1969.

This once happiest prime minister expressed the pain he felt as Father of Merdeka (independence) as he relived those traumatic moments:

"I have often wondered why God made me live long enough to have witnessed my beloved Malays and Chinese citizens killing each other."

Such was the man that Tunku was. He was the moving spirit of the nation. He has long gone, and today his premiership is a distant memory. Since the time he left, inter-ethnic relations have taken a turn for the worse on all fronts.

Today we have a regime that promotes the concept of 1 Malaysia with all its contradictions.

Read more at: http://www.asiasentinel.com/society/malaysia-nation-strangers/ 

The new Budget and Perkasa

Posted: 27 Oct 2013 08:34 PM PDT


The Government cannot maintain a cavalier attitude towards Perkasa, hoping that its toxic ideas will disappear and have no effect. Europe made the same mistake in the Nazi era and it took a World War to correct it.

Zaid Ibrahim 

The 2014 Budget has been tabled and Malaysians will hear vigorous debates in Parliament on a wide range of economic issues over the next few weeks.

The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to replace the Sale and Service Tax (SST) in 2015 will be the chief topic of these discussions. The Opposition has set itself firmly against the new tax, citing the hardships that will ensue for the poorer sections of our community.

Reading the newspapers, it appears that many people believe that the Government has delivered a good Budget, with the right emphases on infrastructure and the continuation of spending on development. These initiatives are coupled with fiscally-prudent measures to reduce the deficit by cutting subsidies and raising revenue.

Proponents of the GST maintain that, at a rate of six per cent, the new tax will not cause as great a shock as anticipated, particularly if the SST is removed. Also cited is the fact that no income tax is payable by low-income earners, which will go a long way towards cushioning the impact of the GST particularly if, as the Government says, inflation is low. Cash handouts in the form of BR1M payments will also be paid to households earning RM 4,000 or less.

Almost all of this is in dispute. When the Government says that the GST "widens the tax base", it simply means that more people will be taxed—i.e., those who weren't taxed previously will be taxed now. There is no escaping this fact.

Sweeping statements about how the GST will be good or bad are of no use to us without proper arguments. So far, impact analyses have focused on price changes affecting the supply chains of single products and services. This tells only half the story. No one to my knowledge has attempted any comprehensive analysis of the impact of GST on monthly household income, with proper accounting for income levels and urban and rural differences.

Also, the actual rate of inflation has been in dispute for some time. The Government maintains that it remains at a low two to three per cent but anecdotal evidence suggests a much higher rate year-on-year, particularly in urban centres. Likewise, few have called for an examination of the macroeconomic effect of BR1M handouts, especially their effect on inflation and the devaluation of the ringgit.

On Oct 21 Pemandu CEO and Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala said that the GST will gain extra revenue because "we expect more and more people to become affluent as measures to increase income bite and become reality."

BR1M does not make you affluent. According to the Economic Planning Unit, 55.5 per cent of households earned RM 4,000 or less in 2012. Assuming that this number hasn't changed much this year, the Government therefore deems the majority of the population to be eligible for public financial assistance—and we haven't even introduced GST yet. Will we end up giving people handouts so they can pay it all back to us in the form of tax?

That said, the idea that the Government can continue to sustain itself only on corporate and personal income tax—and with only 1.7 million out of 29 million Malaysians paying the latter—is completely unrealistic.

Many countries that have introduced GST have also set up special bodies to deal with issues surrounding its introduction. Price escalation is not caused by taxes alone, and the Government must reduce inefficiencies in the delivery system. The price of sugar, for example, might be higher because of subsidy removal but it can also be the result of production and logistical costs, as well as monopolistic practices. Telling the people that they will be healthier by consuming less sugar should be left to the doctors. Policymakers should find other ways to make their arguments.

It is also true that the civil service is bloated and the Government must do more to increase its own productivity and efficiency, and reduce its monumental wastage. Slashing the number of civil servants is easier said than done—the civil services of some Opposition states also have high headcounts, so trimming staff can be politically dangerous—but efforts must be made to contain the increasing costs of public expenditure.

The debate in Parliament should also focus on other factors that undermine our economy. There is hardly any separation between economic and social issues today, and GDP growth is closely tied to continued peace and stability. Groups such as Perkasa are a threat to this security. They must not be given more leeway to peddle their lunatic ideas.



Of ulamaks and professionals

Posted: 27 Oct 2013 01:19 PM PDT


As PAS party election goes, analysts, observers, the media, "love" to view it as a "ulamak versus professionals" battle. Despite the "complex situation".

Mohsin Abdullah, fz.com 

WHEN Nasharuddin Mat Isa first contested the PAS deputy presidency in 2005 he was seen as a "modernist", a "liberal intellect ". In other words a "professional" who went on to beat Ustaz Hassan Shukri – an ulamak.

But when he defended the deputy president post in 2009 his victory was hailed as a triumph for the ulamaks. Nasharuddin then had beaten Datuk Husam Musa and Mohamad Sabu, both "moderates" aka "professionals". Nasharuddin "had become" or seen as an ulamak by then. Was he transformed within that short period from professional to ulamak? Or could it be just "people's perception"?  

Anyway, in 2011 the "ulamak" Nasharuddin was defeated by the "moderate" Mohamad Sabu (popularly known as Mat Sabu). Interestingly, the contest had also featured Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, a well known ulamak. Meaning an ulamak had mounted a challenge against the incumbent ulamak.

As PAS party election goes, analysts, observers, the media, "love" to view it as a "ulamak versus professionals" battle. Despite the "complex situation".

However in a way they are not wrong in making such a call. Although PAS has always been Islamist, the party has its share of ustaz and Islamic scholars as well as lawyers, doctors, engineers so on and so forth – the professionals.

But then there are Western trained English speaking professionals "who are inclined to the ulamaks of  "old" and "new" i.e. the graduates of Islamic studies from universities in Jordan and Egypt .

Likewise there are also ulamaks leaning towards the professionals. Tuan Ibrahim is a classic example. So too is Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, famously known as the PAS ulamak who "went to church" in reference to his effort in fostering multi-faith relations.  

Both groups are well versed in religion. Hence it is more the question of approach and "style". It's not a surprise that terms like "hardline" and "moderate" surfaced in PAS. Even for among ulamaks themselves.

A former PAS activist pointed this out: "During the days of Ustaz Fadhil it was mengulamakkan professional, memprofesionalkan ulamak ("ulamatisation" of the professionals and the professionalisation of the ulamaks). Both complement each other. No fireworks.

"But now it has become exclusive groups bent on beating each other with regards to power struggle, approach, ideology etc."

The "Ustaz Fadhil" he was referring to was none other Datuk Fadhil Noor, the former PAS president who passed away in 2002.

The ulamaks' main contention is that PAS' slogan is "kepimpinan ulamak" or ulamak leadership. That to them is crystal clear as to who should lead PAS. In accordance to the slogan.

But a party insider opined: "It's like the Executive and the Judiciary. We have the Dewan Ulamak. They are the Judiciary who can make sure the Executive, that is the leadership, toes the party line in carrying out the PAS struggle. There's nothing that say you must be ulamak to lead the party."

PAS is now bracing itself for party polls in November and, said a source closely linked to party headquarters, there are concerns if campaigning is carried out along factional lines – ulamak versus professionals.

"This will weaken the party and have an effect on the support of the rakyat of all communities for PAS," said the source, while admitting that "obviously there's a clash between the two groups".

So what do the ulamaks want? To push their agenda, PAS' GE13 results are being used. Needless to say, PAS' performance was not good as compared to the results they got in 2008. To the ulamaks, the loss of many a Malay vote was the result of PAS "not being Islamic enough".

PAS' stand on the "Allah" issue for example was not to their liking. They see PAS, helmed by the professionals, too liberal and "straying from the Islamic principle of PAS ". To the ulamaks, that made Malays turn away from PAS in GE13.

Incidently, in the current campaign for the Sungai Limau by-election, Umno is "questioning PAS' Islamic credentials".  

Anyway, not too long ago, when the ulamaks made the call for PAS to "review its position in Pakatan Rakyat", observers saw that as the ulamaks wanting PAS to leave Pakatan.

Of course the professionals have a totally different view. In a nutshell, to them, PAS has more to gain in Pakatan than fighting the political war on its own. In fact, to them, PAS has gained a lot by working with its Pakatan partners. Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad is among the strongest advocators of such a stand.

And in Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, a highly respected ulamak, the professionals have a very strong supporter. Nik Aziz, as we know, has made it clear PAS will not and must not leave Pakatan. Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang, who is set to be returned as PAS president, shares that stand. Need we be reminded that Abdul Hadi himself is an ulamak.

Still there are members in the party who are pro-ulamaks, who want to see the 'unity government' dream become a reality. At least wanting to see efforts towards that be pursued if not anything else.

Again Nik Aziz is in the way. Putting his feet down with a firm NO.

So in the event of the ulamak team gaining control via the November polls, will PAS leave Pakatan? Or pave the way for a unity government, or UG as it is called, with Umno?

PAS sources have this to say: "Even if they win, the UG thing is not easy to do." That is being conservative about the matter. Tuan Ibrahim is all for Pakatan. So too is Ustaz Idris Ahmad. Both are ulamaks with a big following.

That leaves Datuk Harun Din and Datuk Harun Taib who are in favour of UG "in the name of Muslim unity ". The duo are also the ones who had called for PAS to review its role in Pakatan ".

The two Haruns however have not been nominated for any post in the central leadership. Chances are both will again feature only in the Dewan ulamak. If at all.

"PAS members will definitely reject any call for the party to leave Pakatan. The grassroots just do not want PAS to be pushovers in the pact. That's all," said the sources.

Today, those nominated are required to state if they are accepting the nominations. They have until Nov 8 to do so.

According to the "senarai calon" released a few days ago, incumbent deputy president Mat Sabu has been nominated again. Also nominated for the post are Tuan Ibrahim, Datuk Husam Musa , Datuk Nik Mohamad Amar Abdullah and Salahuddin Ayub.

Observers expect Nik Amar, an ulamak, to pull out and make a bid for the vice presidency. Husam is also expected to "beri peluang " to Mat Sabu. And Tuan Ibrahim's challenge can never been taken lightly.

Mat Sabu lost in GE13 but not having a seat in the parliament or state assembly wasn't much of a hindrance to him in previous party elections. Put simply Mat Sabu had lost the general election but won party election before.

For the vice president posts, the incumbents – Husam, Salahudin and Datuk Mahfuz Omar – have been nominated. So too Mat Sabu. Husam and Salahuddin lost in GE13 but using the Mat Sabu experience GE defeats cannot be a yardstick for PAS elections.

Others nominated for VP are Datuk Abu Bakar Chik, Idris Ahmad, Nasruddn Hassan – all ulamaks. And of course there's Tuan Ibrahim, Nik Amar and Mujahid.    

Something worth pondering is that Husam and Tuan Ibrahim, and even Mat Sabu, have been nominated for the deputy presidency as well as vice president posts. That could be taken to mean PAS members want all of them to continue with the party struggle. Regardless of positions in party. Regardless whether ulamaks or professionals.

Can this be labelled "inclusive" and "accommodative"?


How low can you go?

Posted: 27 Oct 2013 01:10 PM PDT


It is common knowledge among teachers that a student who keeps flunking the school test can actually get a decent grade in the SPM exam.

Leanne Goh, The Star 

What is the passing mark for an SPM subject? Many teachers estimate it to be seriously low for some papers, way lower than the school's benchmark.

WHEN I last wrote that more than 100,000 students, or close to a quarter of those sitting for the SPM English, were at risk of leaving school without an SPM certificate, the response was unexpected.

"Ms Goh," I was told, "don't worry, the marks may be lowered even further to allow many to pass."

And that view, I was surprised to learn, was shared by many.

Teachers who have been teaching upper secondary students as well as examiners who have been grading the exam scripts for many years let on that the passing marks are not all they seem to be.

We were discussing the passing grade in view of the new ruling that effective 2016, a pass in SPM English is compulsory for students to graduate from school with an SPM certificate. This is in addition to the long-standing compulsory pass in Bahasa Melayu, and a pass in History that comes into effect for this year's SPM candidates.

The passing mark for school tests is 40% but it is deemed significantly lower for public exams.

It is common knowledge among teachers that a student who keeps flunking the school test can actually get a decent grade in the SPM exam.

In an anecdote shared by a teacher, he said his colleague once told a school prefect: "If you pass your Add Maths, I'll chop off my head!" And the prefect did better than just scrape through; he got a credit.

An examiner of 20 years for one of the SPM Maths papers, who has since retired, shares that the mode was always 10 to 20 class marks, that is, the majority scored between 10 and 20 marks, creating a skewed graph instead of a bell curve.

This has not been reflective in the actual results simply because it is possible for the grading system to be "adjusted" to show higher passes.

Examiners, who are usually teachers with many years of experience, are able to estimate or extrapolate based on the number of passes announced by the ministry against the students' marks.

One SPM Add Maths examiner believes that the passing rate for the subject could be as low as the mid-teens based on how his students perform in school. And teachers are always sharing notes among themselves after the exam results are out.

Though public exam grading is kept under wraps and examiners are sworn to secrecy, teachers say that they have come to the conclusion that the passing grade for certain subjects could be as low as 20 marks, or possibly lower, especially for Maths.

"Although it's shrouded in secrecy, we believe there is some manipulation of marks because we hear the same thing so many times from so many sources," shares a teacher who is close to retirement.

This perception is widespread and an examiner describes it as a "trust deficit in the marking system", despite the involvement of external moderators.

Those who have been examiners for many years see a pattern: the overall quality of the answer scripts has consistently been declining; the questions have been less challenging; and the structure easier to score. In some cases, the more difficult topics have also been removed from the syllabus.

The conclusion: It gets easier to score and harder to fail.

Is it any wonder then that we keep reading of more and more students scoring a string of As and yet the global benchmarking of our students is at the bottom third among 74 countries?

If we're aiming to achieve top one-third in the benchmarking in 15 years, we cannot afford to deceive ourselves by dumbing down our own exams and the grading of public exams.

"We have Form Four students with an 'A' for PMR Maths who can't even do basic operations. If an 'A' is nothing, imagine what a 'D' is!'' says a teacher friend.

A pertinent question is whether our grades are comparable to that of other countries offering qualifications equivalent to O-levels. Is a pass or an "A" in Malaysia the same as that in the UK or Singapore?

A retired education officer from Examinations Syndicate says "yes" to the many doubting Thomases out there and stands by the integrity of the marking and grading of the papers.

He says that examiners' perception is based on quantitative measures (marks, graphs, etc) while the ministry also takes into consideration qualitative measures (more subjective elements).

"Sample scripts of excellent, average and weak answers are put on a table and examined thoroughly by examiners from Cambridge and examination bodies from other countries," he shares.

Besides, he adds, it is in the interest of all parties to ensure that a student who applies to study in a British university, for example, has grades that are acceptable regardless of his country of origin.

But there seems to be more ways than one to a decent grade.

Take the instance of the SPM History. Now that it has to be a compulsory pass, an additional Paper 3 has been created as an "open book test".

Students can bring in their textbooks or any other references; teachers can guide students on themes that will be tested; and students will be informed one month before the exam on the themes to be tested.

One of the objectives of this paper is to prevent a zero score. It'll now be harder for a student to fail with this potential "bonus" of 20% for paper 3!

Why set ambitious goals if we're going to create crutches along the way?

Without Paper 3, the failure rate among last year's candidates was 19.7%.

So what's in store for a pass in SPM English?

Teachers are already speculating on ways to shore up the scores, considering that a pass has to be achieved in three short years when 70% of our 60,000 English teachers who sat for the English Language Cambridge Placement Test performed poorly.

Teachers are asking whether the oral test would be one avenue to help students meet the passing grade.

Teachers generally feel that three years may be too short a time to effectively bring about the change sought.

While on one hand, students need that push and motivation to work on that compulsory pass, the reality is that their environment remains static over the next three years.

If the family, community and school offer little exposure to the use of the language, how will that effect change?

It is a shame that the progress made with the teaching of Science and Maths in English (PPSMI) was halted with the reversal of the policy.

"PPSMI should have stayed. I could see a real difference in my students," says an English teacher in a school in Perak.

A new complication to SPM English pass in 2016 is the "school-based assessment".

With the PMR abolished from next year, students currently in Forms One and Two are being assessed at school. Next year's Form Three students will sit for centrally set exam but the papers will be graded by their respective schools.

When they reach Form Five in 2016, they will have to pass their SPM English.

The problem is, no one knows yet what percentage of their grade will come from the school-based results, benchmarked at 40% for a pass.

"It's like asking you to get into the car and drive but only telling you the destination later. Maybe they'll even tell you to turn back halfway as in the case of PPSMI," says the teacher-in-the-dark.

With things still unclear, there are concerns that the first batch to face the compulsory pass may be the casualties, especially among rural kids.

Let's hope the path to be taken will be clearer soon and kinks in the system ironed out. And grades are not lowered to meet cosmetic achievements.

The integrity of the exam and grades awarded must hold us in good stead against international benchmarking, otherwise it will be a mockery of what we set out to achieve.


Note: A few months back, a DAP MP asked the Education Minister to state the passing marks for English, Math and Science subjects. He received a written reply in Parliament that it is under the OSA and cannot be revealed. 

A matter of law, not policy

Posted: 26 Oct 2013 10:43 AM PDT


Stripped of political implications, the case is one that is easily determined. It was made controversial by certain quarters for their own purposes. Regrettably, in failing to recognise the controversy for what it was, the Court of Appeal may have inadvertently laid the ground for the further machinations of those who would divide this nation.

Malik Imtiaz Shawar 

IT LOOKS fairly certain that the decision of the Court of Appeal on the use of the word Allah in the Malay version of the newsletter of the Catholic Church, The Herald, will be appealed to the Federal Court. It is improbable that the apex court will deny permission to appeal, considering the obvious constitutional implications of the matter.

It is obvious that the Federal Court will have much to consider. Among the criticism levelled against the Court of Appeal is the suggestion that the Court had made a policy decision, as opposed to a legal one. Considering the reasons advanced by the judges concerned for their decision, there is substance to this complaint.

The Court of Appeal was required merely to determine whether the High Court judge had arrived at a decision that was consistent with the relevant legal principles. That decision related to only one question — whether the home affairs minister had exercised his powers in a manner that was justified in law in imposing the condition that the word Allah was not to be used in the publication. And while the Court of Appeal would have been right to interpret such law as it was required to for the purpose of deciding whether the High Court judge had erred, it ought not have gone so far as to effectively develop a legal framework for the protection of Islam.

Settled principles of law dictate that the courts are not to substitute the decisions of administrators with those of the courts. All that the courts can do in affording judicial review is to consider whether the administrator concerned, in this instance the minister, had adopted the correct decision-making process, and whether the administrative decision challenged was reasonable having regard to the circumstances as they stood at the time the administrative decision was made. These legal constraints were in fact recognised by the judges of the Court of Appeal who discussed them in their respective judgments.

In this context, all that the Court of Appeal ought to have done was to enquire into the reasons advanced by the High Court to quash the decision of the minister. These reasons ultimately centred on one primary conclusion — that the minister had no reasonable basis on which he could objectively conclude that the use of the word Allah in The Herald would be a threat to public order.

A review of this conclusion by the Court of Appeal would have entailed an objective consideration of the basis of the minister's decision, that is the factual considerations that the minister took into account at the time he made the decision, with a view to determining whether his decision was one that any reasonable person in the minister's shoes would have made.

For this purpose, negative reactions on the part of the public to the decision of the High Court were not relevant, it being a matter of established principle that the popularity of a decision of the courts is not the yardstick by which the correctness of that decision is to be measured. Were it otherwise, many a litigant would arrange for public controversy in order to gain a foothold in the appellate courts.

It must be appreciated that at the most fundamental level, the complaint of the Catholic Church was that the condition impacted on the right of the Church and the members of its congregation to express themselves fully. And while it is tempting to characterise disputes of such a nature as concerning the freedom of religion, this was really a case about the freedom of expression.

From a constitutional standpoint, it is an established principle that all Malaysians have the right to say what it is they want, save where their right to do so has been limited by law on grounds of national security and public order. Such law must, however, be reasonable and the restraint on expression limited to only what is essential to achieve the aim of the law. These constraints apply equally to any administrative action sanctioned by law.

No free lunch

Posted: 26 Oct 2013 10:28 AM PDT


Even though the GST is seen as a more equitable form of taxation--as the more a person spends, the more taxes he or she will have to pay--and that many essential items and services are in the exclusion list, poor people still have to pay the taxes as they need to buy clothes and shoes for themselves of their children. 

Lim Sue Goen, Sin Chew Daily 

There could be possibly some brief sessions of free lunches in politics, but they won't last forever. The national Budget that comes after so many years of generous handouts, it's now time for Malaysians to pay foot the bill.

From Mahathir, Abdullah to Najib, they have all tabled "painless" budgets during their tenures as finance ministers.The size of handouts could vary, it is nevertheless invariable truth that some form of goodies could be expected from them year after year. For example, bonuses for the country's civil servants.

To please the public, the budgets have remained in the red for the past 17 years, culminating in sky-high public debts. We can no longer be this generous any more. If the government fails to stay prudent in managing its expenses in a bid to lower public debts, our sovereign ratings will be slashed. As a consequence, we have trimmed deficits, zero sugar subsidies and imposition of 6% GST, among others.

Najib has attempted to cut down on expenses ever after he assumed office. For instance, the total allocation for 2010 Budget was 11.2% lower than the previous year at RM191.5 billion. Unfortunately because of overdraft, the government still needs to seek parliamentary consent for supplementary bills every year.

To improve its chances of re-election, the BN government has been offering generous aids, resulting in uncurbed expenses. Administrative expenses have reached the level of 80% of total government allocations.

From the themes of budgets tabled over the past five years, we could see that Najib has strived to pursue economic prosperity.In 2010 we had "1Malaysia, shared prosperity," in 2011 "Transformation into a high-income nation," 2012 "National transformation program to preserve economic prosperity," 2013 " and for 2014 "Strengthening economic resilience, accelerating transformation and fulfilling promises."

But, from the developed status advocated by Mahathir to Najib's high-income country, despite the fact that the government has been handing out so much of subsidies and assistance over the years, many Malaysians remain financially strapped. Why?

If we can achieve the goal of developed nation status two years ahead of our deadline in 2018, i.e. with a per capita income of US$15,000, why do our household debts remain at a staggering RM784 billion?

Judging from the ratio of household debts to disposable income of 194% in 2012, we are at a more alarming level than that of the United States during the 2008 subprime crisis (130%). Although we have accumulated more and more wealth at the same time, our credit growth has expanded faster than our GDP at about 83% of GDP, anticipated to expand further to 97% by 2018.

Which means, if we are not going to cut down on household dents, even if we make it to the ranks of high-income nations, we will be hard pressed under mounting debts.

The minimum salary scale and generous distribution of money by the government will only increase the superficial income of the people, as their disposable income has been largely eroded by skyrocketing living costs, debts and property prices. Subsidies and handouts can no longer fix our problems.

According to the survey conducted by Kelly Services, the salaries of Malaysians only grew by a meager 2%-6% over the last ten years, with 34% of employed Malaysians living under the RM720 national poverty line. The Statistics Department pointed out that the average monthly expenses of Malaysian families rose from RM1,953 in 2004/05 to RM2,190 in 2009/10, up 12.1% at a rate apparently much faster than income growth.

Unless we are able to drastically enhance our productivity, or there is no way for us to see bigger growth in income. Depressingly, the government has allowed unchecked entry of foreign workers into the country, suppressing further the magnitude of upward income adjustments.


Noh! Ops Lalang was Orchestrated

Posted: 25 Oct 2013 10:46 AM PDT


We know that 1987 was a time during Dr Mahathir's term when he was faced with the biggest threat to his rule, with Team B under Tengku Razaleigh challenging the results of the UMNO elections. A court decision in Team B's favour would have meant the end of Mahathir's grasp on power. 

Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

BN's Tanjung Karang MP Noh Omar has been quoted as saying that Malaysia would not be a country at peace if Operation Lalang had not been carried out in 1987. He was speaking in the debate on the amendments to the Security Offences [Special Measures] (Sosma) in the Dewan Rakyat on 22 Oct. The amendment seeks to place organised crimes as an offence punishable under Sosma. He said that there was a threat of racial riots in 1987 before the dragnet which saw more than a hundred innocent Malaysians arrested and detained without trial under the ISA.

I was one of those detained and I happen to be one of the few Malaysians who have been documenting and monitoring UMNO and the way they orchestrate "sensitive issues" whenever there is a crisis facing the party. Yes, like the May 13 pogrom, Operation Lalang was also orchestrated by UMNO. Unlike May 13, we have the benefit of more media coverage and more witnesses among the present generation regarding Operation Lalang.

UMNO facing a break-up

We know that 1987 was a time during Dr Mahathir's term when he was faced with the biggest threat to his rule, with Team B under Tengku Razaleigh challenging the results of the UMNO elections. A court decision in Team B's favour would have meant the end of Mahathir's grasp on power.

Thus, in the run up to Operation Lalang and before the assault on the judiciary resulting in the sacking of the Lord President and several other Supreme Court judges, the ruling party orchestrated a tense situation in the country by creating various "sensitive" issues involving the sending of non-Mandarin qualified administrators to the Chinese schools, conversion of Muslims to Christianity and even threatened to organize a 500,000-people UMNO rally in the capital. All this was to justify unleashing 'Operation Lalang' to deal with the so-called "threat to national security".

The Tunku, at the time in his twilight years had more perception and integrity than Mahathir in his prime and certainly more political nous than the Tanjung Karang MP. He, like many other perceptive democrats at the time could see how Operation Lalang was orchestrated. This is how he described the situation:

"UMNO was facing a break-up. The Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad's hold on the party appeared critical when election rigging was alleged to have given him a very narrow victory over Tengku Razaleigh. The case alleging irregularities brought by UMNO members was pending in court. If the judgement went against him he would have no choice but to step down. So he had to find a way out of his predicament. A national crisis had to be created to bring UMNO together as a united force to fight a common enemy – and the imaginary enemy in this case was the Chinese community."

Gangsters now the new "threat to national security"?

The Internal Security Act was at the convenient disposal of the government-of-the-day ever since its introduction in 1960. When it was first introduced in Parliament, Tun Razak tried to justify it by saying it would only be used against "communist terrorists". Through its grisly career, the ISA has been used most blatantly by the ruling coalition to cripple its political opponents, most notably the arrest and detention of practically the entire leadership of the Socialist Front, the main threat to the Alliance during the sixties. This sham democracy was the main reason for the Socialist Front's boycott of the 1969 general elections.

Since then, "threats to national security" have included Members of Parliament, trade unionists, environmentalists, educationists, Christian evangelists, Islamic practitioners, document forgers, the list goes on…

Since the repeal of the ISA, detention without trial now comes in the guise of the Security Offences [Special Measures] Act, SOSMA. With the latest amendments to SOSMA, we are told that gangsters are the new "threat to national security".

All this points not to any threat to the nation but to the machinations of a very insecure regime which orchestrates "sensitive issues" whenever any crisis to the ruling party necessitates it.


Budget 2014 – Making it work

Posted: 25 Oct 2013 09:54 AM PDT


Mohsin Abdullah, Fz.com 

ONE thing's for sure, the 2014 Budget cannot be called an election budget. If not for anything else, then it's because of the timing of the announcement itself i.e. it came after the country had held the general election. Obviously. 

That made it an "after election" budget. So the government need not have to worry about the possibility of losing votes due to painful measures to be taken. Very unlike election Budgets, where goodies and sweeteners rule.
In fact a day before tabling the Budget, Finance minister cum PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak had warned that the government would "avoid populist measures that undermine economic stability."
And he went on to say: "Some measures may not be popular now but over the medium term what is good for the economy is also good for the people".
So we braced ourselves for the "unpopular measures". And it came, the main one being the introduction of the GST. This is not much of a surprise as it was expected, to say the very least. In fact, PAS Youth held an anti-GST demo in front of parliament before Najib delivered his Budget speech. 
Still, despite being an after-election Budget, Najib deemed it right to  "sugar coat" a little bit. By saying it will be implemented "only" in 2015 and will  not  involve  goods and services used extensively by the rakyat
Come to think of it, the PM somehow sounded like he was still in election campaign mode saying things like "Putrajaya will be always be defended" and Malaysia was  hailed "even by the US secretary of state and Chinese president" who came a-calling recently. And there were "goodies" as well. For civil servants mostly. 
Anyway, as for the GST, detractors said  the effects will be felt "very soon" with ordinary  folks feeling the burden.  
True, there will be a GST monitoring committee to be chaired by the second finance minister. And in the words of the PM: "Goods will be constantly monitored". Ok, enough of GST and inflation. 
But then Najib also said: "Consumers should make rational choices, spend prudently and report unethical traders to the authorities."
I for one wished he had not said that. With the current economic climate, consumers (read rakyat) are feeling the heat enough. To urge us to make rational choices and spend prudently is like rubbing salt into the wound. People are doing just that but are struggling to cope with spiralling prices, high costs and low wages. Yes we have reported unethical traders too. But they continue to be, well, unethical.
And we also learn, courtesy of the 2013/2014 Economic  Report released on Budget Day  that  federal government debt is expected to increase to RM541.3 billion which is 54.8% of the GDP.
"Total government debt is expected to increase mainly due to borrowings to meet  financing requirements", said the finance ministry in the report.
Now, what the government is doing somehow does not gel with what the government wants the rakyat to do. 
Making things hotter under the collar, is the endless leakages, wastages as revealed annually by the Auditor-General's reports. 
To DAP's Tony Pua the Budget "proves the Najib administration is only interested in cutting subsidies and raising tax without any intent to tighten government's purse strings."
BN's Khairy Jamluddin however described  the Budget as "responsible, responsive, sustainable and resilient."
To be fair, there are good measures and the government is trying to do things good and right for the rakyat. As in previous Budgets. 
But we have seen in previous Budgets when the government  had to come back to parliament seeking approval for extra allocations.

Read more at: http://www.fz.com/content/mohsin-abdullah-budget-2014-%E2%80%93-making-it-work#ixzz2imjrNCis


Kredit: www.malaysia-today.net

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