Who has the guts to call for Rashid to be sacked?

“Maruah” is a Malay word which bursts with meaning. Perhaps in English its meaning is best captured by the words “honour” and “self-respect.”

“Do you have no honour or self-respect” is the stinging rebuke Syed Saddiq hurled at those who long to get contracts and other rewards for being leaders in PPBM (Pribumi). Siddiq is the youth leader in Pribumi. He is also Minister for Sports.

Siddiq was responding to many, but probably mostly to Tan Sri Abdul Rashid, the man whom Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appointed to lead the Electoral Reform Committee which is supposed to ensure that GE15 is free and fair.

Rashid was Chairman of the notoriously biased Election Commission which made Malaysia top the world rankings for malapportionment and gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. Rashid is also the Chairman who, on the eve of the 2008 general election, failed to implement indelible ink.

When Mahathir announced the appointment of Rashid, a chorus of protest erupted from civil society. Pakatan Harapan groupies responded to the protest with “work with him; It takes a thief to catch a thief.” Those supporters have yet to respond to what Rashid said last week.

Last week, Rashid, a Vice President of Pribumi, spoke from the podium at Pribumi’s Annual General Meeting. In his speech, he said the government would be “stupid” if it does not enrich the leaders of its branches by giving them government contracts. Rashid, also said that the government must win in elections “by hook or by crook.”

Mahathir, the chairman of Pribumi, commented that Rashid had highlighted an important feature of the past. In the past, while the BN government was in office, the leaders of Pribumi were deprived of contracts. Therefore a “correction” may be warranted. The “correction” is to give contracts to those who are leaders in the current coalition. He said what Rashid said had to be weighed carefully.

Well, the Prime Minister added to the pile of poo emitted by Rashid.

Maruah is a powerful idea.

The lack of maruah in BN is what led Malaysians to vote out the Barisan Nasional government.

The lack of maruah in BN is what causes Malaysians to laugh at BN’s criticisms of the current regime.

The lack of maruah in BN members is what causes Malaysians to cringe at reports of PH parties welcoming defectors from Umno.

It is heartening that the youth of Malaysia, both in Pribumi and in DAP, have spoken against the avarice which gleams in the eyes of many Pribumi leaders. Indeed, the standing ovation Rashid received at the AGM indicates that a large majority of Pribumi leaders approved of Rashid’s shameless public display of lack of maruah. (The silence of Amanah, is striking and shameful.)

In the run-up to GE14, many PH leaders who are now Cabinet Ministers said “Mahathir listens to us and he acts on our feedback.”

Well, I’ll be watching to see whether the Cabinet members have steel in their spines. I’ll be watching to see whether they call for Rashid to be sacked as Chairman of the Electoral Reform Committee. I’ll be watching to see whether Rashid is sacked.

As for the PH groupies who said “work with Rashid; it takes a thief to catch a thief,” I say “you lack maruah; keep your poo to yourself.”

As for the members of the Electoral Reform Committee, I ask “how can you work under such a shameless crook?”

First published in Rest Stop Thoughts

The Reason Christians Sing at Funerals

The following are words I spoke last week (16 October) at a Wake Service for K P Waran, the legendary Malaysian Journalist and Executive Editor at The New Straits Times, Malaysia. (I am related to him by marriage.)

I recall these words today, my 59th birthday, against the background of this verse from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 7:2):

”It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.”

What is Christian worship and why are we doing it now?

The American author Annie Dillard once compared worship to a play we have been rehearsing for 2,000 years, but haven’t worked out the kinks. We rehearse this play called Christian worship because we want to refresh our memory of our part in the Christian story. And that is what the services around a funeral are all about.

Someone we love has died. So, once again we get out our old scripts, assemble on stage and act out one more time the great and hopeful drama of how the Christian life moves from death to life. None of us is an expert at this. Some of us limp, all of us have trouble remembering our lines and many weep as they move across the stage, singing songs with titles such as these – which we will sing this evening:

Hosanna in the highest
Amazing grace
Jesus lover of my soul
Abide with me

We are who we are. Every one of us is flawed. We will never work out the kinks. But that’s not the goal. The goal is to know this story in this play so well that we know it by heart.

The Christian view of death

At death we have to move a body here and there. It is the gospel story which tells us the truth about where the “here” and the “there” are.

The good news of the Christian story says the “here” is the life we have shared in faith and the “there” is the place in the arms of God to which our brother or sister has gone.

According to those who are tutored by Christ, all of life is a journey, a pilgrimage toward “a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

The Christian life, whether it is that of someone who was baptised weeks ago or decades ago, is shaped in the pattern of Christ’s own life and Death. The apostle Paul summed it up in his letter to Christians in Rome:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

We believe our brother has not passed away. We believe he has passed on, to what a Christian song writer called “that beautiful shore.” That is so especially powerful an expression for a sailor like Waran.

Christians believe in the resurrection of the body

Christians do not believe a dead body can “pollute” them. We will not wash ourselves before we re-enter our homes tonight or after the funeral.

Though we will cremate the body of Waran, to return him to the dust from which he, like us, is made, we believe he, together with us, will be resurrected. Our confidence lies in our belief in the resurrection of Christ.

The brilliant and much celebrated Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, for a very long time did not believe Christ was resurrected. About twenty years after he rejected belief in the resurrection of Christ, he changed his mind. He wrote:

The closing words of the Apostolic Creed in which the Christian hope of the fulfilment of life is expressed, were, as I remember it, an offence and a stumbling block to young theologians at the time my generation graduated from theological seminaries. … We were not certain we could honestly express our faith in such a formula …

The twenty years that divide that time from this have brought great changes in theological thought. … Yet some of us have been persuaded to take the stone which was then rejected and make it the head of the corner. In other words, there is no part of the Apostles’ Creed which, in our present opinion, expresses the whole genius of the Christian faith more nearly than just the despised phrase: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”

Friends, I have spoken tonight about why Christians conduct services of worship and why we have done so tonight: I said we re-enact a play about the gospel story to remind ourselves of the part we have in it. I have spoken about what Christians believe about death: I said we think it is not a passing away but a passing on, a passing to, to a better place. And I have spoken about the resurrection of Christ, something we once rejected, but has now become the centre of our faith.


I end with this brinjal, called in Tamil, kathrika. I have chosen kathrika to remind you of Waran, the son, brother, friend, boss, father, husband par excellence.

One of those who wrote tributes to Waran on Facebook said Waran would yell kathrika! when he came across something which he believed to be wrong and must be changed. As editor, he asked his writers to make changes, to make corrections.

One of the striking things about the glowing messages which have poured out about Waran is that no one said Waran is a Christian. That is so, my friends, because it was only in the last years of his life, in the last weeks of his life, that he said kathrika! to his prior beliefs about the resurrection. Waran believed Christ was raised from the dead, and he began to centre and to align his life around Christ.

Like Niebuhr and many others before him, Waran changed his mind. He asked to be baptised, to declare that he was a Christian. When you recall him, remember this too: Waran, the great story teller, chose to be part of a greater story, the Christian story.

I am indebted to Thomas Long’s book “Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral” for much of the material I have included here. I warmly commend it to you.

This article was first published in Rest Stop Thoughts

My day in court with Azmi Sharom

Yesterday, for the first time in about twenty years I was in a courtroom. The last time, I was a defendant. This time the defendant was Professor Azmi Sharom of Universiti Malaya and I was in the gallery.

Azmi teaches law. He also writes witty commentaries on local events and English football. I’ve read many of his commentaries. On several occasions I’ve listened to Azmi during public forums. I don’t think there’s anything disagreeable in the way he writes or speaks.

My impression of Azmi is that he takes his scholarship and his citizenship seriously. He doesn’t shirk from telling it like it is. He does it in a self-deprecating, non-confrontational and incisive way.

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know Azmi personally. I’m not complicit in the offence Azmi is charged with committing. So why did I attend today’s court appearance and why do I plan to continue attending?

Let me say first that I do not think my attendance helps Azmi in any way. Also, he may recognize me as a familiar face, but I am sure he has no clue what my name is, what I do or why I bother with him.

I attend because I feel a need to express my outrage over what our nation has become. Our nation has deteriorated to the extent that a solid citizen – he’s no gangsta – like Azmi is harassed by the Malaysian police and the legal system while favoured racists disturb the peace with impunity.

Azmi a teacher of the law, appears to have been charged with sedition, “inciting people to rebel against authority,” for the offence of offering an opinion in public.

I wrote “appears to have been” because although I was in the courtroom this morning, I walked away without a clear sense of what Azmi has been charged with saying. I wasn’t the only one.

When we left the courtroom, some random strangers and I chatted in an elevator. We asked each other what the charge was, based upon what we heard in court.

We concluded Azmi has been charged for what he said during interrogation in a police station. This probably means he admitted to saying or writing something, but in court today it was not clear what that something is: the “seditious content” was in an attachment to the document which was read out in court; the attachment was not read out.

The time I spent in the courtroom was instructive. I saw for myself how abysmally inefficient the process is. Azmi was ordered to appear at 9.30 am. He, his legal team and many of his friends and concerned citizens came early. Those who came were Azmi’s fellow academics, students, lawyers, leaders of NGO’s, Datuks, professionals, journalists, photographers, politicians.

I counted about ninety persons in the courtroom. There were more outside. None of them wished to treat the judicial process with contempt by appearing after the prescribed time.

But the court session only began at 11.23 am when all present were instructed to either turn off or silence our phones. I was led to believe the primary cause of the delay was the late arrival of the Investigating Officer (IO) from the Attorney General’s Office. He showed up around eleven am.

The hearing took less than ten minutes. Azmi was asked to confirm his identity; the charge was read; Azmi was asked how he pleaded; he said ‘not guilty;’ counsel checked their schedules and the court fixed the date of the next mention in court; bail was set; the court was adjourned.

I am flabbergasted that the presiding judge did not chastise the Investigating Officer for being late. I am flabbergasted that the Investigating Officer did not offer any apology. I am flabbergasted that the lawyers present just took it in their stride, for “it’s often like this.” One lawyer speculated “the IO may have been in another court, maybe in the Tian Chua case which is being heard next door.”

There appears to be consensus that the process of prosecuting someone in Kuala Lumpur is inefficient. The process does not treat people with dignity by insisting everyone must be on time.

This is doubly damning because the defendant may be found innocent of the charge, or the prosecution may drop the charge – in which case the defendant and many others would have incurred a huge loss for which they cannot be meaningfully compensated.

The inefficiency and arrogance (no explanation, no apology) I observed today has not weakened my resolve to attend the hearings. Instead, it has strengthened my resolve.

If today’s example is typical, the very act of prosecution is extra-judicial punishment – not only of the accused, but of anyone connected with the accused or sympathetic to the accused. It is an unjust and demeaning process. It is doubly despicable when applied to suppress the basic human right to express an opinion.

Rama Ramanathan maintains the blog Rest Stop Thoughts

Negara-ku: May 13, Masjid Jamek and ministerial multiplication

Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan is the person we most associate with Bersih, the Malaysian movement for free and fair elections. On July 10, while introducing Negara-ku (My Nation), she said “Now every time someone says May 13, you can respond with July 10.”

Negara-ku’s Chairman is Zaid Kamaruddin, Secretary General of IKRAM, a Muslim NGO. Negara-ku’s patrons include national laureate Pak Samad and Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, the retired state secretary of Sabah who continues to serve us in many royal and civil society appointments.

More and more Malaysian Civil Society Organizations are endorsing Negara-ku, a non-governmental movement for moderation. As I see it, Negara-ku serves two purposes.

First, it creates a platform for moderate citizens to exhibit our views in solidarity with others.

Second, it promotes an alternative agenda for our nation.

An agenda is being set for our nation by extremists urged by persons with vested interests. This is crystallized in a Negara-ku video shown at the launch yesterday.

The video includes a clip of Penang State Assemblyman RSN Rayer’s alleged “Damn Umno” remark in the Penang State Assembly in Penang in May this year.

The public spaces are filled with reports of expressions of outrage by Umno members over Rayer’s words; scant attention is given to the context of Rayer’s words.

Rayer spewed “damn” at 3 Umno leaders over their role in a rally which included a banner which read, in Malay, “May 13 was caused by DAP leaders, want more?”

(The 3 Umno men are Kepala Batas MP Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina, Tasek Gelugor MP Shahbudin Yahya and Penang Umno deputy chief Datuk Musa Sheikh Fadzir.)

Talk of May 13 has been relentless. The usual belligerents include Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who just days ago said “another May 13 is not impossible.”

The spectre of May 13 is constantly raised by Umno, the dominant member in the coalition which governs Malaysia. May 13 is raised in order to incite submission.

What the Bersih protests have shown us is that despite relentless ethnic-baiting by the race-based parties which form the ruling coalition, a sane middle-Malaysia has emerged.

Nowadays, when I have foreign visitors, I take them to the point of origin of Kuala Lumpur, “the muddy confluence” next to Masjid Jamek. I point out with pride the mosque which reinforced my view of “Malays.” Holding back my tears, I recount stories I have read of how non-Malays and Malays were urged to shelter there from the chemical laced water and tear gas shot at them by order of the government.

But the government ignores the evidence of Bersih. This evidence includes magnificent race-blind acts of helping of each other against the police. This evidence includes the impartiality with which members of the Malaysian Islamic Party’s Unit Amal dispersed tension and maintained order during the Bersih protests.

The government ignores the evidence and continues with an agenda to invoke fear of uprisings and insecurity. The government defends, promotes and encourages those who sow hatred and fear – Perkasa, Isma, Umno Youth and many others.

The national agenda is set by the government, because we have delegated agenda-setting to our elected representatives. But they are setting the wrong agenda.

What does good citizenship require us to do if the agenda they set is geared towards entrenching themselves instead of defining and meeting the people’s aspirations?

More evidence of the wrong agenda is found in the “Cabinet reshuffle” announced by our Prime Minister on 25 June, when our Cabinet was bloated to 35 Ministers.

The “reshuffle” (no roles were rotated) was the subject of a public discussion in KL yesterday.

The panellists were Dr Wong Chin Huat (Fellow, Penang Institute), Professor Dominic Lau Hoe Chai (Gerakan VP) and Mr Liew Chin Tong (MP for Kluang and Johor DAP Chairman).

Prof. Lau made a valiant attempt to defend the changes. I am grateful for his attempt; however, since I am not convinced by it, I shall not repeat it.

In recent decades much research has been done into organizational effectiveness (OE). Based on the research, OE gurus recommend organizations to have no more than fifteen persons reporting to anyone. Fifteen is generally considered the most effective span of control, though eighteen is often accepted.

So, it’s quite shocking that thirty five Ministers now report to the Prime Minister, in addition to all the other administrative people who report to him. And that’s before including those who report to him in his role as Finance Minister.

Debates over the optimal number of direct reports have raged in boardrooms and the business press in recent decades. The consensus is that effective leaders are relentless in their quest for ways to reduce the number of people who report to them.

Stock holders routinely ask whether both a President and a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) are needed. Whether a COO (Chief Operating Officer) and a CEO are needed. Whether more people shouldn’t be “double hatting,” i.e. leading more than one department. Whether enough young people are being groomed for top positions.

One question which is never asked is “When will you do away with the CFO (Chief Financial Officer)?”

The CEO and the CFO have different roles. As Mr Liew pointed out, the CEO’s role is to spend. The CFO’s role is to vet spending.

To cause a riot amongst stockholders, all a board has to do is combine the role of CEO and CFO. Yet, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib not only has too many people reporting to him, he is both CEO and CFO. He both spends and vets spending! Can he be effective?

According to Dr Wong, Australia with a population only slightly less than Malaysia’s has only 13 Ministers; India, with a population forty times larger than ours, has only 23 Ministers.

In Australia and India many Ministers have more than one portfolio. Conversely, in Malaysia, several Ministries have more than one Minister.

Our government’s agenda is clearly to treat Ministerial posts as political rewards, not nodes of accountability and action. Consequently the Cabinet is made so large that it can do no more than rubber stamp the Prime Minister’s edicts.

My Negara-ku agenda includes replacing talk of May 13 with July 10 and with Masjid Jamek. My Negara-ku agenda also includes reducing the number of Ministers. What does yours include?

Rama Ramanathan maintains the blog Rest Stop Thoughts

Trinity Sunday: mysterium Christi and harmony

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday in the church calendar, a menu of teachings for every day, including many “feast days.”

Calendared feasts serve to nourish our beings. On feast days the task of the worship leader and preacher is to spread out a feast of what God has revealed. In a book first published in 1959, Ernest Koenker summarized the preacher’s task in relation to the church calendar:

“As the seasons of the church year make their annual circuit, the preacher has no other task than to unfold the mysterium Christi, the mystery of Christ. He makes it known in all its splendour, with a sense of awe and wonder and with all its meaning for the faltering lives of Christ’s little ones.”

In Christian usage the meaning of the word “mystery” is different from normal usage. In normal usage a mystery is something which is yet to be explained, e.g. the disappearance of flight MH370. In Christian usage a mystery is often something which is being exposed. A Bible dictionary says:

“In the New Testament (NT) mysterion signifies a secret which is being, or even has been, revealed, which is also divine in scope, and needs to be made known by God to men through his Spirit. In this way the term comes very close to the NT word apokalypsis, ‘revelation.’ Mysterionis a temporary secret, which once revealed is known and understood – a secret no longer.”

Christians use the word Trinity to signify the great mystery there is in the Godhead – a mystery which it is beyond us to explain, but a mystery which we need to understand as individuals and in groups in order to establish right relationship with one another.

In every Lutheran service the leader pronounces “This service is conducted in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The pronouncement reminds us all: we approach with words the unapproachable God whose mysteries we cannot fully explain; we desire to approach in unity the greatest unity of all; we strive to be united as the Triune God is united.

Thomas Watson (1620-1686) wrote of the Trinity: “This is a divine riddle, where one makes three, and three makes one. Our narrow thoughts can no more comprehend the Trinity in Unity, than a nut-shell will hold all the water in the sea.”

Martin Luther (1483-1546) produced a Catechism, a set of Questions and Answers, which set out the Christian faith according to his understanding. He designed it to be used by all families. The Catechism has this to say about the Holy Trinity:

Question 19: Who is the only true God?

Answer: The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being (the Holy Trinity).

Scriptures cited:

Numbers 6:24-26. The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Matthew 28:19. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 8: 4. There is no God but one.

2 Corinthians 13:14. The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Those who attend church services regularly will immediately recognize that the first and last of the scriptures in the above list are used in every service. The sentences are repeated as “the benediction,” the blessing.

A benediction is almost inevitably spoken at the end of each service. A Chinese pastor once told me that the older generation of Chinese will leave a service only after they hear the pronouncement of the benediction by the pastor (priest).

The first blessing makes it clear that there is only One God, the LORD, YHWH, whose name is so awesome that in the writing of it the Jews would not use vowels.

The last blessing is post-revelation of the mysterion of the Holy Trinity in numerous ways. These include the coming of the Holy Spirit “as a dove” upon the Son, accompanied by a voice from Heaven (the Father) when the Son was baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17); the Messiah’s promise to send the Spirit (John 14) – fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2); the admonition in Matthew’s gospel to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19, cited above).

Why has God revealed Himself as the Triune God?

The Trinitarian understanding of God should keep us humble when we explain and recommend our faith: there is a limit to what we can explain; we can only lead people to the threshold of God; God alone can lead them in.

The Trinitarian understanding of God is not esoteric, i.e. to be understood only by a few; rather, it is public, i.e. meant for all; it is practical: the Father’s love sent the Son on a mission to save the world; the Son’s obedience completed the mission; the Spirit leads us into the Kingdom, and guides and empowers us as we live in the world as disciples of Christ.

The Matthew passage, one of the set readings for yesterday, reminds us of the Messiah’s last words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

A disciple is “one who embraces and assists in the teachings of another.”

On Trinity Sunday, I receive the Trinitarian blessing and leave pondering “Am I a disciple?” Do I know what it means to have a mystery entrusted to me, to live according to that mystery and to proclaim that mystery by my actions and my words? Do I strive for harmony and oppose disharmony because I have been apprehended by the Triune God?

The GE13 People’s Tribunal

There was intense disquiet after the 13th General Election in May 2013.

There were mass gatherings. There were allegations of unequal access to media; of erasable ink; of wrongful use of government machinery; of vote-buying; of ‘directed’ postal votes and advance votes; of phantom voters; of unauthorized changes to voters’ constituencies; of mischief during vote-counting; and much more.

Politicians from all sides petitioned the Elections Court to nullify results.

Was the disquiet lit by moral arsonists or was it lit by moral outrage?

GE13 was remarkable because many members of civil society participated as monitors. They weren’t unemployed youths; they were from all walks of life, across all ages. NGOs (e.g. Tindak Malaysia) had trained Polling and Counting Agents. NGOs (e.g. Pemantau) had organized to collect feedback from across the nation about the conduct of the elections. NGOs (Bersih) had demonstrated en masse to express the disgust and horror they felt about the Electoral Register.

I wish I could write that the government’s response to the voice of the people was nothing more than to shower them with odium. Sadly I have to write that the government showered them with arrests, threats, tear gas and acid-laced water.

The Election Commission (EC) has not satisfactorily explained the erasable ink. No one has taken responsibility. Despite voluminous police reports, no one has been charged.

The Malaysian judiciary has placed technicality above morality. The majority of election petitions – from all sides – have been thrown out on technicalities. Worse, the courts have ordered unsuccessful petitioners to pay massive sums for petitioning the courts.

The police and the Attorney General are disinterested. No one has been prosecuted.

The EC lacks credibility and moral authority. The police look the other way. Judges (unlike their activist brethren in India) don’t want to be troubled by morality.

Citizens have only individual means to lodge protests and seek redress; there are thousands of reports, letters and comments directed to officialdom. All by individuals.

Until the People’s Tribunal, there was no mechanism to look objectively at the big picture and deliver a verdict on whether the disquiet is truth-based moral outrage. The final report of the Tribunal explicates the reason-for-being of the Tribunal:

“BERSIH 2.0 conceived the Tribunal as “essentially a citizen’s effort and a people’s platform to investigate the conduct of the last general election,” and as “a Tribunal of conscience, mandated with a moral force by the people to arrive at the truth.” It set up the Tribunal to investigate the truth and to give the people the opportunity “to make their voices heard” and to provide “a platform for evidence to be presented and scrutinized, while inaccuracies are exposed and facts sifted from a sea of allegations. The People’s Tribunal ensures that truth will not be a casualty.”” (Page 6)

A helpful analogy for the reason-for-being of the Tribunal has been suggested by Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, lead counsel at the Tribunal. He says the Tribunal does what no other institution does: the Tribunal, comprised of eminent, credible, unbiased persons, looks at all the facets of the disquiet which arose in GE13. Looking from many angles, taking everything together, the Tribunal draws a conclusion.

The Tribunal convened a hearing over 5 days in September 2013. It was provided with much evidence.

The word “evidence” is appropriate, as it includes the personal testimony of witnesses, with cross-examination; it includes sworn affidavits, Statutory Declarations; it includes petitions filed by all sides in each disputed election outcome; it includes nation-wide reports and assessments by independent observers (as opposed to isolated cases).

The evidence was gathered, sifted and presented by Professor Gurdial and a team of about forty lawyers.

Note: Professor Gurdial who teaches law in University Malaya, was also the Chief Prosecutor for the Kuala Lumpur International War Crimes Tribunal (IWCT). The IWCT was sponsored by Tun Mahathir, architect and builder of guilt-ridden Malaysia.

The members of the Tribunal were not push-overs. At the close of the Tribunal’s hearings, the government-aligned The Star Online observed with glee:

“A heated argument erupted between the final witness, Ambiga and penal [sic] member Datuk Azzat Kamaludin, when the latter suggested that the duty to keep the elections fair and clean did not just fall on EC.

He insinuated that Malaysians, especially elected representatives, should do their pars [sic] to ensure that the whole process is credible, to which Ambiga strongly disagreed.”

The Tribunal took six months to draw a conclusion.

Tribunal members, lawyers, witnesses, and assistants all worked without emoluments; all they received was reimbursements for logistics expenses. They were not paid for their time before, during or after their service to the nation. They were beholden to no one.

The Tribunal was handicapped by the refusal of the EC and members of Barisan Nasional to participate in the hearings.

Prof. Gurdial explained that the rules of procedure and evidence applied during the proceedings conform to international standards, including those applied in the inquiries into the Sabra and Shatila massacre (on 16 September 1982 in Lebanon).

It is instructive to recall that the Israelis were outraged that the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had instigated or at least stood by and watched, even smirked, as thousands of Palestinians were brutalized, murdered, buried and carted away.

Israelis turned out en masse to express their moral outrage over what had been done. On 25 September 1982, the Peace Now movement organized “the march of 400,000” (link to The Jerusalem Post article on 23 September 2012).

The voice of the Israelis was heard. Three days later Menahem Begin, the Prime Minister, responded to their moral outrage. He announced the Kahan commission. The Kahan report found the IDF, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Shamir, Rafael Eitan and others culpable.

The Kahan commission could call witnesses, including those to whom blame was eventually assigned. The GE13 Tribunal’s inability to call witnesses was lamented at yesterday’s public meeting at which the Tribunal handed over its report to Bersih 2.0.

The mood at the meeting was akin to that in a courtroom in which a mother accuses an absent father of abusing the children. It was akin to proceeding with the hearing despite the father’s refusal to attend or even make representations via counsel.

The multiple facets of the people’s disquiet have been reviewed by a panel of eminent persons including 2 persons trained in the law (Prof. Yash Pal Ghai from Kenya and Datuk Azzat), one former Deputy Chairman of the Election Commission of Indonesia (Prof. Ramlan Surbakti), one retired academic (Dr. Mavis Puthucheary) and one religious leader (Rev. Hermen Shastri).

A 92 page report and a Compact Disc with supporting evidence has been compiled. It will be sent to the Election Commission, parliamentarians and others.

The Tribunal concluded that the people’s disquiet was lit by moral outrage, not immoral arsonists; that the EC has been derelict in its duties, allowing itself to be used as an instrument for the ruling party to entrench itself. The report closes with these words:

“The… EC needs to be re-designed, and conceived as a truly independent body. Other countries have done it. It is from the EC that true change will come; without them no serious improvement will take place.

At present the system fails to meet international standards in many respects. Most important (and in violation of what those international standards are designed to achieve) it fails the people of Malaysia.”

After careful consideration the Tribunal has concluded that the disquiet was lit by the people’s moral outrage. How will the EC and the government respond? How will they measure up against the 1982 government of Israel?

Rama Ramanathan blogs at write2rest.blogspot.com

Children’s rights: unsung, shackled servants

Last week, at a consultation on children’s rights in Malaysia, a Professor from a local university said our government is implementing plans to ensure that about ten years from now all persons who do social work will be formally qualified.

One participant expressed alarm over the Professors comment. Her alarm sprang from her knowledge that much good is being done by “unqualified” persons. If such persons are stopped from doing what they do, many will stop receiving help.

The Professor’s response made a big impression on me.

The Professor said the authorities will make provision to recognize the experience of most who are currently engaged in social work. Here’s the nub: they will do this because “they know the welfare system in Malaysia will collapse without NGO’s.”

The Professor elaborated that social work, especially when it involves children, is the type of work which must be performed with special care. Therefore society must insist that those who do such work are well trained and qualified professionals. Everyone, including the person who raised the alarm, agreed. NGO’s in this field recognize the need for training – they expend much effort on training.

We often forget that we live off the generosity of 2 groups of people.

First is the generosity of those who choose to work in government. Perhaps because my father was a life-long, low-ranking civil servant, I am generally sympathetic to civil servants. They not only have political masters, they are frequently at the receiving end of unhappy citizens. Also, they can usually earn more in the private sector.

Second is the generosity of those who work in NGO’s. This includes both those who are paid and those who are not paid. Those who do get paid earn a lot less than they could get elsewhere. Also, they often have undergraduate degrees. They do what they do because they are motivated more by compassion than by money.

Many children in Malaysia are victims.

Children who need care and protection. According to the Social Welfare Department, in 2012 there were about 5,000 new cases of children who needed care and protection (some of them are violators). About two thirds of them are girls. About 2,000 of the cases were in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (1,133 cases and 811 cases respectively). The third highest incidence was Kedah, with 413 cases.

Children who are raped. According to the Royal Malaysian Police, in 2012 there were 2,299 rape victims who were below 18 years of age.

As I sensed the passion and experience around the table, I was thankful for NGO’s, for local researchers and for civil servants who are working to address the plight of children.

CRC. I was also thankful that Malaysia has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We acceded to the CRC in February 1995, i.e. 19 years ago.

As a party to the CRC, Malaysia must submit regular reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. These reports should be in the public domain. Yet, according to the Child Rights Coalition Malaysia (CRCM) 2013 Status Report on Children’s Rights in Malaysia:

“Since signing the convention in 1995, only one state report has been submitted. CRCM encourages the Government to make up for this shortcoming by releasing a combined 2nd, 3rd and 4th report soon.” (Page 1)

Malaysia’s failure to fulfil the obligation to the UN – which is really an obligation to all Malaysians – was not discussed at the consultation. However, some things said while discussing other subjects cause me to believe that the primary reason for our failure is the fact that there is no agency dedicated to working on children’s rights. Currently the agency which handles children’s rights also handles other matters.

Government resources. It is striking that NGO’s who work on the ground think civil servants who work on children’s rights are over stretched. This is especially so in an era when we often hear shrill pronouncements that the civil service is bloated. Here is an opportunity for the civil service to redeploy resources and make gains in productivity. Redeployment will also result in greater job-fulfilment for many civil servants, for what could be more satisfying than improving the lot of children?

Official Secrets Act (OSA). Another subject which caught my attention was the Official Secrets Act. Everyone at the table believed the government is revising the Child Act 2001. A couple of participants had some sense of what might be in the revised Child Act. However, they would not speak about the revisions because they had been shown the revisions under a vow of secrecy. They – in my view rightly – did not wish to betray the confidence which had been placed in them. The OSA was mentioned.

I have great sympathy for the civil servants who have been charged with making the revisions. I am sure they want to make the best possible improvements to the Act. Therefore I am outraged that they feel they are shackled by the OSA and thus prevented from consulting a wider audience prior to making the revisions.

When the welfare system depends so much upon NGO’s – and when they are so eager to participate – why exclude these passionate, committed individuals from policy making?

We should send the OSA to the shredder and replace it with a Consultation Act.

Reading Mandela in an atmosphere of demonisation

Helder Camara, a Catholic Archbishop of Brazil, said: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor they call me a communist.”

In his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” Mandela speaks of what attracted him to study communism.

He saw the personal sacrifices of Moses Kotane, Ismail Meer and Ruth First. He observed the devotion and hard work of several other members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). He admired Dr Yusuf Dadoo “whose role as a fighter for human rights had made him a hero to all groups” (page 137). 6 SACP members were his co-accused in the Rivonia Trial which resulted in his 27 year imprisonment (see my previous article).

Insights from Marxist analysis helped him make an actionable diagnosis of the problems in South Africa. He was especially attracted to this idea: “history progresses through struggle… change occurs in revolutionary jumps” (page 138).

In 1950 he read much about communism. Six years later he was arrested. 155 others who were active in opposition parties were also arrested.

Their number included 105 Africans, 23 Whites, 21 Indians and 7 Coloureds. They were priests, professors, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, middle-aged and older persons. 10 of them were women. They were treated abysmally; 40 years later, Mandela wrote:

“A nation should… be judged by how it treats… its lowest [citizens] and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals” (page 233).

They were charged with high treason, of conspiring to overthrow the government and to replace it with a communist state. They were alleged to have done so over a period of 50 months. The charges carried the death penalty.

After their arrest they were detained for 2 weeks. During this time they held the “largest and longest unbanned meeting of the Congress Alliance in years” (page 234). They got to know one another better.

They gave, heard and discussed talks about history and culture. Once M. B. Yengwa recited a praise song in honour of Shaka, a legendary Zulu warrior and King. This so moved Chief Luthuli, President of the African National Congress (Mandela’s party), that he began to dance and chant. The other detainees did likewise.

Mandela describes this as a revealing and formative moment:

“Suddenly there were no Xhosas or Zulus, no Indians or Africans, no rightists or leftists, no religious or political leaders; we were all nationalists and patriots bound together by a love of our common history, our culture, our country and our people. In that moment, something stirred deep inside all of us, something strong and intimate that bound us to one another. In that moment we felt the hand of the great past that made us what we were and the power of the great cause that linked us all together” (page 235).

While the detainees met, set goals and strategized, the people outside protested and demonstrated. They proclaimed: “We stand by our leaders.” No one would negotiate with the government on behalf of the parties whose leaders had been detained.

When the detainees were taken to a court to be charged, the crowds converged and chanted. The convoy which took them from prison to court seemed like a victory procession. The atmosphere in the courtroom was “more celebratory than punitive.”

The evidence against Mandela and the 155 others was related to the Defiance Campaign, the Sophiatown removal and the Congress of the People. It is not difficult to see how they were inspired by a “communist” (class) analysis of the prevalent conditions.

The Defiance Campaign was in 1952. Thousands participated. Over 5 months, about 8,500 people were arrested for wilfully defied laws. Blacks got arrested for using “Whites only” entrances. Blacks and coloureds got arrested for entering towns without permits. One group of protesters was led by old, arthritic Nana Sita, president of the Transvaal Indian Congress. They drew domestic and international attention to unjust laws.

The story of Sophiatown has been powerfully told by the Anglican Priest and educator Trevor Huddleston in his book Naught for their Comfort. The Sophiatown removal is a story of poor blacks and coloureds being evicted from their miserable slums in to make way for relatively rich working class whites. Mandela says “By the middle of [1953], the local branches of the ANC and the TIC and the local Ratepayers association were mobilizing people to resist” (page 180).

I have previously written about Trevor Huddleston here.

The Congress of the People (CoP) in 1955 was an assembly of over 3,000 delegates, of whom over 300 were Indians, over 200 were Coloureds and over 100 were Whites; the remainder were Africans. Mandela says: “Our dream for the Congress of the People was that it would be a landmark event in the history of the freedom struggle – a convention uniting all the oppressed and all the progressive forces of South Africa to create a clarion call for change. Our hope was that it would one day be looked upon with the same reverence as the founding convention of the ANC in 1912” (page 199).

The output of the CoP was the Freedom Charter, which included these expectations:

  • “The rights of the people shall be the same regardless of race, colour or sex.
  • All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride.
  • The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.
  • “Restriction on land ownership on racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it, to banish famine and end hunger.”

After 13 months of what came to be known as The Treason Trial, the magistrate’s Court ruled there was enough evidence to try the accused in the Supreme Court for high treason. By this time the state had dropped charges against 61 of the accused.

To cut a long story short, in 1961 the Supreme Court – to their credit – passed a “not guilty” verdict on the accused. During the 5 years of trials, due to widespread public action and unrest, the government had declared an Emergency in the nation.

During the emergency, the police were allowed to detain people without trial. Mandela and many of his co-accused were amongst those who were detained. They and their families suffered immensely. Mandela says: “The wife of a freedom fighter is often like a widow, even when her husband is not in prison” (page 253). To support them, Bishop Reeves and a couple of others started a Treason Trial Defence Fund.

While I’ve been pondering all of the above, some Malaysians have been demonizing Father Andrew Lawrence and Marina Mahathir over the Allah controversy; they’ve been demonizing Hasmy Agam, Saifuddin Abdullah and Comango over the UPR-LGBT controversy.

I’ve been warmed by the passion of many Malaysian individuals and groups who’ve spoken out against the “demonisers”. I’ve been insulted by Umno and state religious leaders who collaborate with the demonisers, whether by their words or by their silence.

I’ve been comforted by the words of Gandhi who inspired both Camara and Mandela: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Rama Ramanathan maintains the blog Rest Stop Thoughts

Who are the “poor” in Malaysia

We live in an age which excels in broadcasting slogans and catchy phrases. Often we, the hearers, unconsciously ‘choose’ the meaning. A good example is “People first.” What does it mean? Who are “the people”?

We most easily think of “the people” as ourselves, our “class” of people. We forget that “the people” includes politicians, civil servants, police, soldiers, bankers, businessmen, garbage collectors, drivers, investors, farmers, etc., all with their dreams and goals.

Who’s poor?

All of us fear being poor. That’s why we worry about increases in the price of electricity, fuel, assessments and hikes in tolls. We recognize there will always be rich and poor. We hope the poor won’t suffer too much. We hope they will grasp opportunities and lift themselves up. We “do charity” now and then, and shed tears of joy whenever we hear of someone doing good for the poor.

Yet, the question “who are the poor?” is not easy to answer. One economist famously said “Poverty, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder.”

When, in our conversations, we try to define poverty, the first thought that arises is lack of income or resources.

Eventually we end up with a list of poverty indicators which are not much different from what we find in academic discussions of poverty: “vulnerability to risks, powerlessness, lack of personal freedom, social exclusion, etc.”

Such conversations often end with someone asking whether there is an official definition of poverty. And, as soon as we hear it, we critique it.

Yet those who work for government, e.g. in the Social Welfare Department, in the Housing Department and in the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), have to work with definitions.

They need clear definitions in order to make decisions.

The statistically poor.

So, according to officialdom, who are the poor?

I’ll start with official data from the statistics department, published by the EPU.

Poverty Line Income (PLI).

Malaysia began measuring the incidence of poverty in 1970. In 1977, we introduced the PLI approach: any household which earns equal to or less than the PLI =96 and the PLI varies according to where the household is located =96 is classified as poor.


The PLI is based on "household” income.

In 2005, when the current definition was finalized, the “reference household” was made up of 1 male and 1 female aged 18-29, 2 boys aged 3 and 9 and a girl aged 5.

For the reference household, statisticians and dieticians estimated the expenditure for a healthy and balanced diet. This is called “Food PLI.”

To this was added “Non-food PLI,” comprised of the expenditure for clothing, housing, durables, transport and =91others.’ The Non-food PLI is based upon many inputs, including Household Expenditure Surveys, mathematical models, tests, checks and reviews.

This is a summary of the PLI’s for 2005 (source, Table 2.8 on page 47):


Urban (2005), RM


Rural (2005), RM







Maximum (WP Kuala Lumpur)




Maximum (Sabah)




Minimum (Kelantan)




Minimum (Kelantan)




The PLI is adjusted annually for changes in the Cost of Living Index. The latest year for which I was able to locate figures is 2010, only with this level of granularity (source):


Sabah & Labuan



Incidence of poverty

2.0 %

19.2 %

5.3 %

3.8 %

No. of poor households





Mean PLI

RM 763

RM 1,048

RM 912

RM 800

Mean Per Capita PLI

RM 194

RM 225

RM 208

RM 198

According to officialdom in Malaysia, the incidence of poverty in 2012 is 1.7 %, an improvement on the 3.8 % reported for 2010 (the figure reported for 1970 was 49.3 %).

Although Household PLI is the “official” way of reporting poverty, it does not appear to be used by civil servants to make decisions.

Welfare department.

I’ve not been able to determine what welfare payments are “for the poor,” and how “the poor” are defined and assessed. I’ve been told Welfare departments around the country do not use the PLI.

Low-cost housing.

According to some REHDA materials on an EPU website, those who earn less than RM 1,500 per month ("low income households") qualify for low cost housing.


A ceiling of RM 3,000 per month is used for deciding which households qualify for BR1M cash hand-outs “to alleviate the burden of low income earners.”

In his 2014 Budget speech, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced another round of BR1M hand-outs.

According to a report in the Star Newspaper, people can now register online to receive the hand-outs, which are expected to flow to “5.9 million households” and “2 million unmarried individuals” in the country.

The hand-outs are for 3 groups of people:

First, households with a total monthly income of RM 3,000 and less. It's claimed that 5.9 million households are eligible. The head of each household will receive RM 600 (up from RM 500 previously).

Second, unmarried individuals. It's claimed that 2 million persons are eligible. Each will receive RM 300 (up from RM 250 previously).

Third, people living alone who are aged 60 years and above. Each will receive RM 600 (up from RM 500 previously).

Leaving aside the question of sensibility of hand-outs as a means to alleviate hardships caused by increases in the cost of electricity, tolls, fuel, etc., I wonder how the figures 5.9 million, 2 million, etc. were computed.

Although a Barisan Nasional website says “80 % of the (sic) total Malaysian households” will benefit,38.8 % seems a better estimate, since according to the EPU, that’s the percentage of households which earn RM 2,999 or less per month.

So, how do we recognize “the poor”? What’s the PLI? What do you think it should be? How many people are poor? Where are they? How do civil servants decide who’s poor for purposes of welfare, housing and BR1M? What does “People first” really mean?

Rama Ramanathan blogs at http://write2rest.blogspot.com/