Of Accountability, Transparency and Vigilance

I have learned from scholars that in order for someone to be held accountable, the person must first be given authority and responsibility for which he/she will be held accountable. This article intends to look into our government’s accountability, transparency and vigilance and what we could learn from it.

In March 2008, more than half of the Malaysian people granted Pakatan Rakyat the authority and the responsibility to govern five states, including two highly industrialized states. The remainder granted Barisan Nasional the authority and responsibility to govern the Federal Government as well as other states. Therefore, both these coalition of parties are answerable to the people of Malaysia.

On the 28th of April 2008, Malaysiakini reported that CEO of UEM, Tan Sri Tajudin Ali, requested all the members of the ruling party, UMNO, to support the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. The CEO is the Chairman of UMNO Veteran’s Club.

UEM was established from the tax coffers of the people to induce growth for the nation as a whole. In terms of accountability, the loyalty of this CEO is clearly compromised. The goal of economic progress and development becomes secondary, loyalty to the ruling party and government becomes the primary goal. We gave the government the authority to establish UEM and the responsibility to ensure this GLC acts in the best interests of the people, to help the country’s economy to grow and prosper. Instead, the lines are blurred such that public property is naturally assumed to be a property of UMNO and therefore, conflicts of interest such as these are common.

Pakatan Rakyat must learn from this and clearly establish the line between maximization of profit for the benefit of the people and the interference of government to gain political mileage. If this line is clear, the public will be able to clearly gauge the performance of government linked companies and their effect on the economy of the country. Most importantly, it is expected that a company that has a free and independent management would be able to compete more effectively. Therefore, Pakatan Rakyat was given authority and responsibility to act on behalf of the people of Malaysia and for the people of Malaysia, not the party or coalition.

Let’s revert to older news. On November 3rd, 2000, Asiaweek had this to report:

“The outcome will resonate throughout Malaysia’s economy. Halim does not have the estimated $1.3 billion for the purchase. Three bank consortiums are reportedly finalizing offers to arrange new loans — despite the fact that this will raise the banking system’s exposure to Renong and Halim to 7%. Because Renong’s interests reach the spectrum of Malaysia’s industries, it is considered a proxy for the economy. But it is also a poster company for the murky corporate-governance practices that foreign investors complain about. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has asked one of his special advisers, Nor Mohamad Yacob, to brief analysts and foreigners on what the country is doing to improve corporate transparency and accountability. All that effort may well go to naught if Halim is seen as enjoying special treatment at the expense of minority shareholders. “This is an important test for Malaysia,” says Yeoh Keat Seng of the online stock advisory Malaysiastreet.com.

Why would the banks be willing to make the loan? Halim, 47, is a protégé of Mahathir confidant Daim Zainuddin, who has worked closely with the country’s top leaders for years. Since his company was formed in part from the assets of the United Malays National Organization, Malaysia’s dominant party, Halim once described himself as the business proxy for the organization. And it may be in the banks’ interest to save Renong: Its debts are so big that if the company failed, the whole financial system would suffer.”

In terms of transparency, despite the ‘murky corporate governance’ reported of Renong, the government supported the idea of the bail out and did not require the company to publish its corporate governance details. Due to the fact that the CEO reports only to the President of UMNO who is also the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the government never requested the information to be revealed. This not only misleads the investors but reduces investor confidence in the company and the country.

Another case of a murky deal is revealed in CNN:

“Terms of the deal weren’t revealed, but the government agreed to pay Malaysia Airlines $236 million to compensate it for giving up domestic routes. Air Asia also got a number of unspecified incentives; including what some say is a $5 million subsidy to service some rural routes.” – CNN

Similarly, in the case of the Bus Station in Klang, YB Teng Chang Khim could easily divulge the contract and its processes; without worrying about neither compromising the security of the nation nor causing a racial tension.

When public money is used to offer a solution to a problem, the government must be prepared to divulge all information if the process falls short of the people’s expectation. It is a democratic right of information. Politicians have advisors and civil servants to advise them on a project and are very well informed. However, the public can only ascertain whether proper attention has been paid to the relevant costs and benefits of the project if this information is disclosed. Else, the public cannot gauge the government’s response, knowledge or efficiency.

Vested interests by political parties in public properties breed corruption. The goal of maximizing profit such that investors are satisfied as well as the economy is induced to develop, is ignored in cases where the decisions are politically motivated and preserves the elite. The Asiaweek report below shows how our government’s vigilant nature in Malaysia is undermined:

“As Renong’s finances deteriorated, Halim persuaded subsidiary UEM to buy 32.6% of Renong for 3.24 ringgit a share — 35% higher than Renong’s then stock market price of 2.40 ringgit. Naturally, UEM’s minority shareholders felt their company was being used to bail out Renong — at an inflated price too. To appease them, Halim promised to personally buy back the Renong shares at the original price by Feb. 15, 2001 if the stock was trading below 3.24 ringgit then. That pledge is coming back to haunt him. Renong closed at 1.73 ringgit a share on Oct. 25 and is unlikely to improve given its debt and negative investor sentiment toward Halim.”

In good governance, the Government must act bona fide and in the interest of the people, to use powers for their intended purposes, to avoid conflict of interest and to exercise care diligence and skill. Therefore, the government must be vigilant in utilizing public’s properties and exercising the authority and responsibility granted to it. Looking at the case above, we notice that Halim has violated every duty and responsibility of a director and the Barisan Nasional Government followed suit by deciding to rescue him. To add salt to the wound, Halim is neither punished nor reprimanded and this sent a distressing signal to investors.

The concerns that have been raised are primarily related to the fact that our representatives’ actions in and outside the government have immense effect on every facet of the people’s lives. Therefore, it is imperative that each and every one of us demand that our representatives are accountable, transparent and vigilant – whether they are from Pakatan Rakyat or Barisan Nasional. Therefore, we must know how to judge the performance of our representatives.

The March 2008 political tsunami is not just a victory but it is also very much a reminder to the Pakatan Rakyat representatives. Since the representatives took over, and the dust has settled, we find meager performance and much complaining. We have elected the representatives to offer solutions to the problems that Malaysia faces, not inform the public of the problems that they face.

It is imperative that we hold our Pakatan Rakyat representatives accountable for their actions and words. We expect every promise to be followed through to completion. It was every easy for the representatives and the political parties to promise the mountain during and immediately after the election. The people, I think, should not accept and expect anything but a mountain.

The representatives should be judged based on the issues they raise and fight for. The representatives should address issues that are vital to us such as democratic freedom and rights, education, health care, private members’ bill, and quality of life. If hudud is indeed a necessary and important matter to discuss urgently, then discuss it. Else, the representatives should clearly focus on more relevant matters.

Their performance should also be directly proportional to the number of issues and voices raised in Parliament and State Assemblies. We definitely do not want to send representatives to the parliament and state assemblies to simply warm the cushion.

Therefore, it is also imperative that we should hold ourselves accountable, transparent (by being informed and keeping others informed) and vigilant in judging the performance of our representatives. I came across Lord Denning’s quote some time ago, which holds true, if we, the people, are not heedful:

“The House of Commons starts its proceedings with a prayer. The chaplain looks at the assembled members with their varied intelligence and then prays for the country.”
— Lord Denning

Mohd Prasad Hanif,

June 25th, 2009

Malaysian Education: Where to?

Lately, there has been much to comment on the social contract in Malaysia that exists between the different races in Malaysia. The social contract has become a major issue of content, contest as well as discontentment among politicians and leaders of Malaysia. However, there is one social contract that has been largely ignored by the Malaysian leadership as well as the population.

The education curriculum in our schools is, in fact, a social contract between the population and the government (or those in power) on how our future generation is educated. Therefore, we, the people, have the right to question and take to task the development and progress of our education system in the country. So, the questions boil down to “what we want?” and “what we have?”

education-for-sale

In the 50 years since we obtained independence, we are still not able to say that our education system has evolved accordingly with the development and progress of the world. We have yet to realize a comprehensive curriculum that is aligned to the needs of the society as well as the development of the country and the world.

In essence, I expect the curriculum to provide for the children the mastery of facts, principles and concepts of a discipline, emphasize the development of critical and creative thinking as well as providing the context for developing the character of the students. According to Al-Farabi, the whole activity of education is the acquisition of values, knowledge and practical skills leading to perfection and the attainment of happiness. Therefore, I come to realize that curriculum on our schools is a reflection of our values, choices and perspectives in differing contexts.

The only significant piece of news to crawl out of the Education Ministry’s bottomless pit of foolishness on education is the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English. The fickleness on the issue itself is a disgrace to policy-making as well as leadership consistency.

The teaching of Mathematics and Science in Malay, English, Mandarin or Tamil is not very important or significant. It has to be understood that both these subjects are fact, principle and concept based subjects. Therefore, it is imperative that the emphasis is put on the delivery and understanding of the concepts. By coupling the subject with English, importance is put on the proficiency in the language and this creates a distorted perception that knowing and understanding the language is much more important than learning the subject itself.

Most primary school students are not well versed in the English language and this language barrier inhibits the mastery of subjects’ core principles and concepts. This lack of understanding further translates into the reduction of critical and analytical thinking of the children. Furthermore, the inability to speak up and voice their opinions in a language that is unfamiliar simply stunts the student’s emotional growth. The students will tend to become shy and lack the confidence to speak in public.

The most disturbing component of this fiasco is the manner with which this policy was implemented. Half thought out, at best. The proper context and environment must be provided before such a drastic policy is implemented. The current teachers need to be fluent in the language and the current teaching students must be trained to not only speak and converse in English fluently, but also trained to communicate the facts, principles, and concepts of Mathematics and Science effectively.

The graduating teachers must also be trained to handle dual language usage in the classroom to effectively allow the transfer of information. This should include training on the process of motivating the children to speak confidently in the language and yet feel at ease. Apart from that, the needs for psychological training for the teachers become imperative to counter the possible resistance and lack of interest from the students due to the language.

The inability of the present government to take heed to these requirements doomed the program from its infancy. As the old cliché goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

So, where do we go from here? I remember a call by Mukhriz Mahathir to abolish the vernacular schools was met with harsh criticisms and comments from all quarters including the government and opposition. I agree with Mukhriz Mahathir, to a certain extent. Mukhriz wants to abolish the vernacular schools, full stop. I am proposing we establish a single schooling system that combines the best of both worlds.

Schools do more than simply transmit knowledge from one generation to another. Students learn things that are not actually taught in the formal curriculum. It is an entire range of educational experiences promoted by schools and teachers through practices that are not necessarily written down. This unplanned, informal curriculum deals with socio-psychological interaction between students, teachers, administrators, especially in relation to their feelings, attitudes and behaviours.

Utilizing the presence of this informal curriculum, I am proposing the establishment of a school system that teaches 11 years of Bahasa Melayu, English, Mandarin and Tamil to all students, irrespective of race, religion or nationality. The teaching of all the languages to all the races would create an environment of integration in the school since all races are required to attend these national schools.

It is hoped that through this “forced integration”, a new generation will arise with a unique culture. This culture might not be the same malay, Indian or Chinese culture that we know of today. Instead, we would expect a truly “Bangsa Malaysia” culture. Through this, we hope that the children will create their own destiny, future and culture. The children will not only learn, but redefine the “rules of the game” in the canteen, in the playground, and specific relationships between races.

To achieve this, we need to let go of our own cultural attitudes toward education (however minute it might be). We have to come to terms that a new culture is needed and our next generation will determine what form and function this new culture will have. The current situation of vernacular schools will continue to propagate racial polarization and thus never, allowing true integration.

To achieve this, the government will need to plan effectively the growth of students and the number of language teachers. The university course will need to adapt to include the teaching of Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil as a second language and as a primary language. The constant supply of language teachers must also be projected and planned. A detailed compensation plan needs to in effect to attract more graduates to become language teachers. The writer would love to see a Malay teacher teaching Tamil.

The new school system, apart from teaching all the three major languages, should also be a single session school. The school system is expected to start early in the morning and end in the evening. With this single session school system, we expect all children between ages 7 to 17 to be in school between the hours of 7am and 5pm. This will allow the government to monitor the movement and truancy of school children. Most importantly, the government will be able to identify the students that are not able to attend school for various reasons. For parents, the single session school will ensure that the children’s time is spent fruitfully at school. This is mutually beneficial for the government and the people.

Implementation of single session schools will need to be planned meticulously. The contextual environment such as class rooms, amenities and manpower need to be addressed. A significant amount of the country’s budget needs to be allocated to increase the size of existing schools so that they could accommodate all the students in one session. Amenities such as locker rooms, gymnasiums, and shower rooms also need to be considered and factored into the equation.

Apart from providing subjects of facts and concepts such as Mathematics and Science, subjects that encourage creativity and critical thinking such as music, art and outdoor studies should also be included. Literature, Logic (Mantiq), Geography and History needs to be taught at younger age. Classrooms should also fully utilize the information technology available. Information Technology should also be considered as a subject.

Apart from that, the government needs to develop curriculum to suit this new environment. The development of the curriculum does not only include the development of subjects and processes but also the development of character and behavior. Al-Farabi suggests in Talkhis, that virtue is a state of mind in which the human being carries out good and kind deeds such as wisdom, common sense, inventiveness, cleverness, temperance, courage, generosity and justice. Therefore, the curriculum must include such qualities to be effective. Al-Farabi adds that “virtue can only be attained within society, for it is society that nurtures the individual and prepares him/her to be free!”

To encourage critical thinking, subjects such as Logic (Mantiq), Philosophy as well as political science must be included in the curriculum. As Confucius aptly put it, “Study without thought, is labor lost; thought without study is dangerous.” Subjects like these will encourage the young mind to think critically and question at a very young age. This will, in turn, prepare the young students to face the uncertain future.

The government will need to plan and forecast the number of teachers it needs to teach the subjects. It needs to decide on the curriculum to provide and how to provide it effectively. Apart from that, the development and improvement of schools should also tie in and be consistent with the supply of teaching manpower.

The political will and people’s will must converge today to ensure that our current education system is revamped to make certain that our future generations are nurtured and prepared for their destiny. Our complacency to uphold this social contract will not harm or affect us, but it will destroy our future generation’s ability to survive. This is my humble two cents.

Mohd Prasad bin Hanif

December 8th, 2008