Waking up to another new day in Malaysia!

These days it’s nice to wake up and not read anything about government misdemeanour! That characterized the previous administration when we were often shocked by scandals in government and high-handed authoritarian practices. Hopefully, that’s behind us.

The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, of course, hasn’t proven itself yet. That will take some time, but, for the moment, the government is unobtrusive! The ordinary citizen can get on with life and not be bothered whether we are properly being governed!

That is good government. When the government does its job and doesn’t put stress on the people.

That’s the new Malaysian day! Free from government stress! So much so, there really isn’t much to write about! I don’t get fodder on poor leadership to write on! That’s good news!

The only “bad” news about our leaders so far has been the deaths of two (Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) Sg Kandis assemblyman Mat Shuhaimi Shafie and DAP’s Balakong assemblyman Eddie Ng) and the medical ailments of another two (Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on one-month medical leave and deputy minister in the prime minister’s department Hanipa Maidin who collapsed during a department staff assembly).

Deaths and illnesses are part and parcel of life and inevitable. I wonder though how many other leaders are having health issues after their new appointments. It’s very likely that some may have what one of my doctors calls the “promotion neurosis”! When you get promoted to a higher responsibility you get the jitters and anxiety levels hit high levels.

It’s an effort to focus on your work, you get fainting spells, you can’t sleep, you are easily agitated. These are some of the symptoms, and, yes, you guessed right, I went through it. It was so bad in my case that I had to resign — only because I didn’t know I could get help.

If I had known what I know now, I would have got help and continued with my job because promotion neurosis can be addressed with proper medical treatment. I know because it happened again and I got help and could carry on with my work until I adjusted to the new demands and didn’t need medical help anymore.

So, if the new leaders are coping with promotion neurosis and, maybe, don’t know it, be assured; help is available. Get the needful help to tide over the adjustment period and get on with work.


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Same old, same old Umno, hopefully not!

To say the least, Umno’s walkout at the opening of the 14th Parliament was a major disappointment. The point of the exercise totally misses me!

The reason they gave was to protest the appointment of the Speaker, former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof. Umno MPs claim that the appointment letter was backdated to July 2 when his appointment was confirmed after that day, thus breaking the 14-day rule before a speaker could be appointed.

Umno may have a case, which they could have brought up in a debate, providing proof to their claim. If their arguments were solid, surely they might have got at least sympathy for their case? Who knows, they might even have succeeded in upturning the decision to appoint Ariff.

But, none of this happened because they chose to walk out even before the debate began. By doing so, they continued in the same vein they always have: When they can’t call the shots, they bully or throw a tantrum!

This is the “old style” of Umno which no longer has any place in the new Malaysia. What did they achieve by the walkout? Absolutely zero. Zilch! If they had debated their point and, if not making any headway, they walked out, that would have made sense. Instead, they chose to walk out without debate and merely created a ruckus in Parliament.

The only person in Umno who, perhaps, was ready for debate in Parliament was the Rembau Member of Parliament (MP) Khairy Jamaluddin. He was the only Umno MP who didn’t follow his president out for which he was criticised for not showing he is a team player.

I find this reasoning extremely outdated ! If you dissent you are not a team player? So, everyone must follow the leader in a show of unity whether or not they actually believe him or her? If it were an issue that demanded total support, there should have been a discussion for a final vote of unanimous agreement. It requires skill to talk with people of varied opinions to get them around to present a show of unity. On some issues that might be necessary.

In Parliament, however, MPs are there to push the cause of their constituents, not their party or their bosses! They are free to dissent and go against the party line as Khairy did. He was ready for his new role in the opposition and to engage in debate and he made it very clear he was not going along with the “old Umno”. Good for him!

He stood up (in this case, sat still!) for what he believed was necessary reforms in his party. His party members may not agree and he may have to face the consequences, but holding on to a different point of view doesn’t make him less of an Umno member. He has said he is still an Umno member.

An enlightened modern leadership would nurture a culture of diverse exchanges as it reflects what people think and they would be accommodating of such diversity.

That is what I’m looking forward to seeing in Parliament. MPs speaking their mind even when it goes against the grain because they put their constituents first.

I suppose we need to give Umno a little more time to get used to their role as the new opposition. They did perform better in the following days!

It will be good to see if the quality of parliamentary debate improves by leaps and bounds!

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Thai cave rescue — the impossible can happen

After GE14, the best news I have heard so far is the rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The rescue, undertaken by an international team of British and Australian divers and medical personnel and Thai navy seal divers, was a phenomenal success! It’s a testament to the fact that no matter how impossible the situation, there is a way out — if we’ll put our minds to finding a solution.

I hope the international team, especially the British divers who discovered the boys holed up in a cave 1km below the ground two weeks after they went missing and who later joined the effort to take the boys out, where adequately paid. They put their lives out on a limb and developed a well-calculated mission to get the boys and their coach out.

There are several lessons we can learn from this rescue effort. Firstly, there is nothing that happens to human beings that can not be solved. No matter how impossible the situation, it is within human reality to find the resources to deal with it — to escape, overcome, resolve or let go. When in such a situation, we need to learn to get help.

The Thais did not have the specialised expertise needed to save the 13 but they asked for help from those who have the experience and skills to deal with it. Working together, they solved the problem.

Secondly, they worked together. Everyone in the team played his part. If one person missed a step it would have been difficult for the next person to carry on.

Thirdly, we need to be part of a community so that when one is lost the others will come together to find the lost one. Clearly, the 13 were. The Thai community and the world community were not willing to abandon the search. They were 12 kids whose lives were at stake and the adults in the world acted swiftly to rescue them. The community didn’t give up. Instead, they sought every help they could to save the 13.

Fourthly, we need to be highly motivated to solve the problem. Yes, the world was watching and the motivation was high not to fail. But, I think, the over-riding motivation was to save the 13. The motivation was that those boys and their young coach must be saved. The rescue team was singularly motivated by that one concern to save them.

Without the motivation, you may be intimidated by the daunting task before you and give up even before you begin!

The skeptics will say, “See. You don’t need God! We (human beings) can sort things out all by ourselves!”

I hope the skeptics are aware that the water pump broke shortly after the last person — the coach — was stretchered out. The timing was perfect! It broke after the rescue operation ended.

Can anyone honestly say that, maybe, God was not in this?

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The value of advisers

It’s really sad that the previous regime in Malaysia ended with the arrest of its last prime minister, Najib Razak. It’s a lesson for all, and, especially for the members of the new Cabinet, that what happened to Najib can happen to any of us.

No one is incorruptible. Every human being, by virtue of being human, is corruptible. The wise among us realise our limitations and act meekly, checking to be constrained by the rule of law and ethics.

If you are thrust into public office that responsibility is even greater because you have access to power to use for the good of the people who placed you in that seat of power or to misuse and abuse.

That’s the reason for checks and balances. They are set up on the premise that human nature is corruptible and needs laws and conventions to keep us in line.

Sometimes, though, leaders ignore the checks and balances. That’s another reason why we must develop the culture of holding leaders to the rule of law and speaking out swiftly when any transgresses.

Such public debate must be encouraged so that leaders are exposed to dissenting voices because the latter might be an aspect of truth that they can’t afford to ignore. Yes, there is much scurrilous politicking in our public debates. There’s a great deal of mud-slinging and name calling. Yet, these shouldn’t be dismissed because they reveal the depth of sentiments people feel.

Good leaders will recognize those sentiments while ignoring the language, and take note. Good leaders are also able to identify the dissenters who speak honestly and argue logically. They take note of the latter, too.

When leaders take note of dissenting views and factor them into their decision-making processes, they protect themselves from being insulated by their own perspective. It is that insulation that stops them from seeing the truth right before them and adjusting their thinking to act honestly.

When leaders reach that state of insularity, they won’t be able to see no matter what people say and advise. That’s a sure sign that it’s time for them to go.

There is, however, one group of people who can break the insularity — the advisers. Leaders should nurture a group of advisers who will speak the truth — no matter what the consequences.

These are the advisers who correctly read the pulse on the ground and present the alternative points of view with facts, statistics and logical argument to their leader. They will fight for what is right at personal cost because they know their allegiance is to a higher authority rather than their bosses.

These advisers are not the types who feel they must show their loyalty to their bosses by conforming to his or her perspective and insisting and imposing on others to do the same. The latter are the yes-men and they are as dangerous as insular leaders because they put a burden on the people to conform, even when they know it isn’t right or necessary.

Notice that none of Najib’s so-called advisers have spoken up to his defence? If, from the start, his advisers had advised him to change to a better course of action, I wonder if he and they would be where they are now.

On the other hand, if an adviser is willing to break ranks to show his boss the “error of his ways”, he or she may just save him. Take US president Donald Trump, for instance. Isolated in his own world, he really believes it is for the good of the nation to build a wall between the US and Mexico and separate children from their parents caught crossing the border. Until his wife tweeted it was wrong and other First Ladies did the same! Then, he backed off.

It took one person — the First Lady — who broke convention and spoke up against her husband to get him to change his mind.

I’m not implying here that advisers should go against their bosses. Nothing of that sort. But when advisers are caught up conforming to their bosses’ expectations, they will be unable to make a stand for what is clearly right. Such advisers usually give excuses such as “We have no choice”, “I need the job” or “They are paying us to do the job. Let’s just do it and keep quiet”!

Operating in such a culture where conformity is equated to loyalty to your boss, they’ll not expose a wrong-doing for fear of losing their jobs.

When something is not quite right, whether as an adviser or an ordinary citizen, speak up. Our silence means tacit approval. Our dissent means an opportunity to rethink an issue, confront the wrong and correct ourselves.

To the new leaders, I hope they will get good, fearless counsel!



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It’s human nature to do unto others what we don’t want them to do to us

A report on polygamy in the papers recently gives a quick glimpse of how people, no matter what their political, social, economic or religious hues, will ultimately act according to their nature.

The story was on two Canadian polygamists who were sentenced to house arrest in Ottawa. I’m totally against polygamy — for myself. For me I’m either Number 1 and the only Number 1 or nothing at all! But, I digress.

What I don’t understand is why Canada — a supposedly modern, progressive nation that has sanctioned same sex marriages and where minorities have the right to live according to their cultural contexts — has NOT thrown out the 130-year-old law to ban polygamy.

To me, it smacks of hypocrisy. On the one hand, the country accommodates minority concerns like that of the gay community, but makes another minority community’s choices illegal. Its argument is that polygamy has “inherent harms”. Harms? Their wives are not complaining. So, where’s the harm?

Some people would also argue that same sex marriages have “inherent harms” but that would make lawmakers in Canada and other modern Western democracies extremely unpopular and they may lose their votes. Worst still, they would be silenced as being out of step with the current realities of freedom of sex and multi-culturalism.

It’s quite clear that in modern-day Western democracies, the current fashionable whipping dogs are the conservatives, who are seen as aligned with all the ways that threaten the liberties modern Westerners currently enjoy — free sex and multi-culturalism.

It is similar to the case of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, USA by the owner who said the reason was because Sanders worked for the President of the United States (POTUS). The owner further explained that the restaurant had gays and other minorities working there and they were uncomfortable with Sanders’ presence and called her about it. As a result she asked Sanders to leave.

Doesn’t this also smack of hypocrisy? Liberals accuse conservatives of discrimination against blacks and minority groups but they do the same to others?

This is just human nature. When you are fighting for your rights you can stand on the high moral ground of what is right and what is just in terms of public policy. You can argue that everyone deserves to be treated equally under the law. Definitely. That involves everyone, including conservatives, and those you don’t agree with!

If you own a place, you have the right to ask someone to leave — only if they misbehave or commit a crime. You don’t ask a customer to leave just because you don’t like him or her. In Sanders’ case, she was asked to leave because some of the workers there felt insecure because she represents a president who is supported by the conservative agenda.

The root cause is insecurity, not the fear of discrimination. She represented a threat to who they are and their lifestyles. Commendably, she left without a fuss.

It is human nature, when we are insecure, to assert ourselves to make ourselves feel more secure. That’s when we do all sorts of things to make ourselves more secure. Usually, we will do it to other people; we ourselves won’t change or stop ourselves from acting in the same way we accuse others of.

That’s human nature, I suppose.

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Reform the process of the handover of power

In the new Malaysia, one thing should be made crystal clear to every Malaysian: It was the people who chose Pakatan Harapan (PH), specifically under the leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the prime minister, to form the government. And, this must be respected by all. Whatever the politicking, the overriding factor on which a decision is finally made, must be respect for the choice of the people.

So, why was there a delay in the swearing in of the Prime Minister after the May 9 elections? Why was there an issue over the choice of a mentri besar for Selangor? Why were two candidates sworn in as the chief minister of Sabah and why is that issue still unresolved?

The peoples’ choice was Tun as PM. That was part of the package in voting in PH. In doing so, the people gave him the right to choose his Cabinet ministers, deputies and government heads, chief ministers and mentri besar. So, there should not have been any delay in swearing in his choices. His choices are the choices of the people

Why, then, were there delays? Because of politicking. Interlopers wanted to seize the fluidity of the transition period to place themselves and their people in advantageous positions. That’s politics but it isn’t respecting the will of the people.

The surest way to cut down on the politicking to ensure a smooth transition of power to the parties/coalitions fairly elected is to simply spell out the procedures for transition in the Federal Constitution.

Perhaps, currently, there is some ambiguity in the Federal Constitution that allows for significant players to seize the opportunity to push for their candidates. That can be easily stopped if the Federal Constitution clearly spells out the procedures for the transfer of power.

Amendments can be made to the constitution to add the procedures that must be taken to install a new government. These steps should include a time frame within which the new leader must be sworn in and the time by which the Election Commission should officially announce the results. The procedures must include whether it is the PM or the party or coalition who must submit the names for the mentri besar or chief minister of the state and the number of names to be submitted. The protocol must also state that the swearing in of the mentri besar and chief ministers must come after and not at the same time or before the swearing in of the PM.

These details can be discussed and finalized during the debate in Parliament. Parliament should also settle, once and for all, the oaths that the leaders take. There must be a standard oath for the PM and another or the same for Cabinet ministers, the mentri besar or chief minister.

This will ensure that no one can insert any clause into the oath to secure their position with regard to the candidate. The procedures must be listed so clearly that it will be the standard practice with any government, federal or state, after every general or state elections.

Once the procedures are transparently set out, it would be clear to all concerned just what they should do when there is a change of government. All the delays and politicking we witnessed after May 9 will be greatly reduced or entirely eliminated.

I believe this must be the first reform that the current government must introduce in the first sitting of the seventh Parliament. PH and its allies form nearly a two-thirds majority in Parliament. This issue, however, will appeal to all Members of Parliament, including those from the Opposition as they, too, may want a smooth transition of power should they take over the government sometime in the future.

PH would need to lobby for the support of the Opposition to pass this amendment in Parliament if a two-thirds majority is needed.

When that amendment is made to the Federal Constitution, the people’s will is firmly established and protected and everyone is expected to conform without debate or politicking. Most importantly, the opportunity to change leaders at the last minute will be greatly curtailed and a stable changeover can be expected in accordance with the will of the people.

That will be the first real evidence the people will see of a commitment to the rule of law in this country.



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Selamat Hari Raya!

This Hari Raya Aidilfitri must be a really special one because it is celebrated under a new government. The economic situation might not have improved. That might take some time before we see evidences of it. But, surely, an oppressive yoke has been lifted off our shoulders with the ousting of the previous government!

That should make this festive season even more celebratory! Not much difference in the amount of money to spend, but, we may be happier! A couple of people have told me how happy they are that the BN government has been booted out! And, they add: “Many people are happy!”

Indeed, we are. So, while Malaysian Muslims celebrate Aidilfitri in this new atmosphere of hope for a better Malaysia, the rest of us can also celebrate with them, visiting open houses or just taking a break! And, if you are a Klang Valley resident, enjoy driving around breezily on the city’s traffic-free roads!

Selamat Hari Raya!

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