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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Form over substance in higher education and university rankings

Death knell for higher education

There is a growing obsession with form over substance and nowhere is this more evident than in the unhealthy interest taken with university rankings.

THIS month marks the 22nd year I have worked as an academic.

In that time, I have seen many changes in the university. There have been, of course, some improvements since those early days.

For one thing, technology has transformed things for the better.  Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The very first publication I wrote went through this rather painful process.

First, I had to go to the library and find the relevant cases and journal articles. Then having taken copious notes, I went back to my office where I proceeded to write out my thoughts with an ancient device known as a pen.

Having completed this task, I would send my scratching to a lovely lady in the general office downstairs whose job title was “steno”.

She would type out what I wrote, give it back to me to check and then I would return it to her with any corrections. Finally, it would be placed into a pocket made of paper known as a stamped envelope and posted to the publisher.

Now, all cases and statutes including many journals are online. I type my work myself (with the computer checking my spelling and grammar) and when I am done I e-mail the stuff to the publisher.

All in the comfort of my office where I can play Flight of the Hamsters in between constructing sentences filled with gems of wisdom.

I will be the first to admit that I am quite old-fashioned in many ways, but I can categorically say that I don’t miss the days before the Internet and Word.

Progress, unfortunately, is not always positive. And it saddens me to say that over these last two decades I have seen changes that in my opinion ring the death knell for higher education.

In my opinion, the key problem is that those who decide the direction of our universities have lost track of the values that have to underpin these institutions in order for them to play a meaningful role in society.

There is a growing obsession with form over substance and nowhere is this more evident than in the unhealthy interest taken with university rankings.

Politicians harp on about it, so the Government makes it a priority. Because the Government wants higher rankings, the vice-chancellors start ranting about it too.

Rankings have become the raison d’etre for universities.

The quick fix then becomes the holy grail, hence universities look to the ranking criteria and they focus their efforts on doing all they can to meet those criteria.

This blinkered modus operandi then leads to some seriously contorted developments which ignore the principles that are necessary for the proper foundations of truly good universities.

Academic autonomy is one of those principles.

A university is a complex organisation. It is unlike a factory where there is by and large one goal and usually one method with which to achieve the said goal with the best quality and efficiency.

Even in one faculty, there are many variations. Take, for example, the Faculty of Arts – you have departments as diverse as English and Geography; Urban Planning and Gender Studies; International Studies and Indian Studies; the list goes on.

You can’t possibly be laying down a single criterion for quality for such a diverse group. But that is what happened.

Nowadays, if you want to prove your quality, the only way you can do it, which is embraced by universities, is if you publish in the journals recognised by the ranking organisations.

It doesn’t matter if you are an English professor who publishes well-received novels, or if you are a Gender Studies lecturer who uses your knowledge for women’s activism.

What about the fine arts? Shouldn’t the creation of new ideas in dance and theatre take precedence over an article in some obscure (but acknowledged by the rankers) journal which only a handful of people will read?

Increasingly, the thinking of universities is it is our way or the highway.

Such a top down approach cannot work because each academic unit in a university has its own expertise and its own value system.

This has to be respected because they themselves should know how to advance their discipline both in an academically and socially meaningful manner.

Autonomy brings with it the necessary flexibility for each department and each academic to chart the necessary course which will improve themselves and their own disciplines.

And who should know better what that course should be than those who have trained in that discipline.

I am not against the publishing of works in reputable journals. I acknowledge that they are important to the advancement of academic thought.

What I am saying is that the diversity of academia means that there are numerous methods to determine quality. And the best way to achieve quality is by having true academic autonomy so that those who know best are the ones who determine the way to achieve the best.


Related posts:
Malaysian education is too Western-centric, ignorance of Asian values, etc!...
Malaysian Universities need decolonization, relook the ratings and rankings
Top 10 universities in South East Asia, Malaysia not in!
Malaysian education heavily politicised, Quality and English not up to par!.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hillary Clinton is the real dominator of U.S. foreign policy

Hillary Clinton(Photo/Xinhua)

Hillary Clinton has not been frequently mentioned during the third and final debate of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, but her influence cannot be easily ignored.

The final presidential debate focuses on foreign policy, which is closely related to Clinton's position as U.S. Secretary of State. More importantly, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney proposed a new global strategy. Both of them seemed to approve Clinton's "smart power" with the minute difference lying in how to be "smart." Romney said that the U.S. Navy has owned the smallest number of warships since 1917, and Obama refuted that the United States also has fewer horses and bayonets but it has such powerful equipment such as aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. The dialogue is one of the few highlights in the third debate, and can be considered as typical example of different yet convergent political views. 

Clinton proposed the strategy of "smart power" during the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination race and has implemented it under the Obama administration. Obama has always been absorbing Clinton's ideas on foreign affairs since he took office. For example, on the issue of Middle East, approval rate of the United States in Muslim countries was as low as 15 percent while Obama reduces vulnerability of foreign policy, with the help of Clinton, during the presidential debate this year.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor under former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, has rated Clinton's diplomatic performance in the past four years as A- or B+. Romney has found it hard to pick on Obama's foreign policy since he is unseasoned on foreign affairs. During the first two rounds of presidential debate, he tried to play tougher but achieved less. Therefore, in the finale on Oct. 22, Romney did not indulge in issues of foreign affairs, including attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya which worries Obama most. His consultant explained that the third presidential debate matters less since the topic is far away from people's daily life. The Republic Party cares more about the 12 swing states and female voters' support. Romney just needs to act like a commander in chief.

Indeed, American voters are now more concerned about domestic affairs such as employment, personal income, medical insurance, and even abortion than about foreign affairs. No matter who wins the presidential election, the United States is most likely to continue the foreign policy formulated by Clinton.

Read the Chinese version: 美大选三辩不只是俩男人的战斗, source: Jinghua Times, author: Huang Heng

China critics 'doomed to failure'

BEIJING (AFP) - China on Monday warned its critics they were "doomed to failure" as Beijing confirmed that Premier Wen Jiabao's family had employed lawyers to help fight The New York Times.

 "There are always some voices in the world who do not want to see China develop and become stronger and they will try any means to smear China and Chinese leaders and try to sow instability in China," said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

"Your scheme is doomed to failure," he added. The official was responding to questions about Wen's decision to hire lawyers to fight claims published by The New York Times last week that his family had owned assets worth $2.7 billion.

"Premier Wen Jiabao's family has entrusted lawyers to release a statement and will continue to clarify the report," the spokesman said.

The South China Morning Post on Sunday printed a statement from Wen's lawyers, saying it was the first time a top Chinese leader had issued a rebuttal to a foreign media report.

Friday's New York Times article came at an especially sensitive time for China, as the Communist Party strives to clean house before a pivotal once-in-a-decade handover of power next month.

Detailing a string of deals, the Times said many relatives of the government's number two - a self-styled man of the people - had become "extraordinarily wealthy" during his years in office. Investments by Wen's son, wife and others spanning the banking, jewellery and telecom sectors were worth at least $2.7 billion according to an analysis of company and regulatory filings from 1992-2012, it said. - AFP

Related posts:
When China Rules The World: The End Of The Western World And The Birth Of A New Global Order 
China is the main show

Monday, October 29, 2012

The demise of BJCC, a memorable day for Penang Golf Club (PGC)?

THE new Penang Golf Club (PGC) entity has been launched with much aplomb.

Taiyo Resort (Pg) Bhd chairman Datuk Eiro Sakamoto said it was a historical day that the 18-hole Bukit Jambul Country Club (BJCC) had been renamed PGC.

“I’m overwhelmed and happy with the huge turnout.

“The name Penang Golf Club is also easier to remember,” he said during a press conference at the club in Bukit Jambul on Saturday.

In conjunction with the launch, the PGC also hosted the 2nd Penang Chief Minister’s Golf Tournament which saw a participation of 180 participants.

“This is a very positive sign. Many members are happy to see our efforts in renovating our courses, purchasing 100 new golf buggies as well as building a new coffee house and the Sakurajima Japanese Chinese Restaurant at the club.

“And the renovation was completed 14 months ahead of schedule,” said Sakamoto.

“We will continue to make PGC and Penang known to golfers and tourists, both local and overseas,” he said.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the renaming was a testimony of the confidence the state government had on Sakamoto to help realise the aim to turn PGC into an international golf course.

“Hopefully, this will also allow us to have more international golf tournaments in the future,” he said.

- The Star Metro

Related posts:
BJCC renamed Penang Golf Club, welcome to the newly upgraded Penang Golf course   

China is the main show

Martin Jacques shares his views on the growing clout of the world’s second largest economy.

AUTHOR and academic Dr Martin Jacques released an updated and expanded second edition of his widely acclaimed book, When China Rules The World: The End Of The Western World And The Birth Of A New Global Order, earlier this year.

During a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur when he attended an Asian Centre for Media Studies event, Jacques (pic) spoke to The Star about his book and its approach to the subject. Some excerpts:

How is the second edition different from the first?

Time. Because China is growing so quickly, China time is fast. There’s been a lot of updating throughout the second edition.

When I wrote the first edition, the 2008 (US-centred) financial crisis had just happened. The last chapter is about the crisis, which was little commented on before.

The second edition looks at the beginnings of a Chinese economic world order.

How far is the second edition a response to critics of the first?

I don’t think what I’ve done is a response to the critics. The inaccuracies in the first edition were very few, and I’ve certainly responded to those.

There was a bit of a jump in the argument between the rise of China and its relations with other countries.

Here I look at not just China-US relations, but the rise of developing countries generally, of which China is a part.

I use the phrase “rule the world” as a metaphor. I’ve learned a lot from meetings and discussions.

There was never much in the first edition I wanted to change. The structure of the book is basically the same.

Do you see China’s rise as continuing into the future?

Yes, definitely. Along the lines of the book, without any doubt whatsoever.

How might a new China-centred tributary system emerge in East Asia?

There are echoes of a tributary system. The most obvious return to that is the rise of China.

East Asian economies today are much more China-centric. There’s the fact we’re now moving to a new China-centric system.

China is probably the most important market for countries in the region, for trade and investment, with its high-speed rail links, and so on. Getting on with China will be absolutely crucial for countries in this region.

Can economic dominance translate into clout in other spheres?

If China is economically dominant, that gives it a great deal of influence over other countries.

The draw of China will be that much greater. China will be a huge cultural presence in the region.

Lots of people in this region will study in Chinese universities. Beijing will be a tremendous draw.

You can see that in the flight patterns of Malaysia Airlines, for example. Previously, Malaysians travelled to Britain, not so much to other East Asian countries; it would be interesting to see the changes.

The attraction of Shanghai will be that of a big city like New York. People are attracted to power.

We’ll be much more familiar with Chinese governance and institutions. From being a mystery, they’ll be familiar; we were used to the United States before, but much more with China (in future).

What of Greater China, the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan?

All the ties will get stronger.

Hong Kong will remain very much as now, I don’t expect it to change. It will become increasingly integrated (with the mainland) and Sinicised, and (still) in many senses not very Chinese.

I would expect Taiwan to move ever closer to China. Taipei feels it has nowhere to go except closer to China.

There are already a large number of Taiwanese working in China. There has been growing economic integration.

Over the next 20 years, Taiwan will probably accept Chinese sovereignty. It will come because it is absolutely the logical step.

What of the prospects of China’s collapse, as some predict?

There are gradations on the scale. China isn’t going to sail into the sunset without problems. But what I’m extremely sceptical about are predictions about the problems leading to economic meltdown and Armageddon.

Some day China may see a multi-party system, although unlikely. China may be more open, but it will still be very much Chinese.

A collapse is not impossible, but extremely unlikely.

Can China’s economic power translate into cultural influence?

It will take a long time. China is still a poor country.

Rich countries don’t aspire to be like a poor country; economic power is the basis (of cultural influence).

The Beijing Olympics is an example: China was unable to stage it 10 years before.

Since the rest of the world is not familiar with Chinese culture, the process of feeling comfortable with China culturally and politically will take a long time.

Because Chinese culture is so different from Western culture, it will take a century for the West to be familiar with it. I’m sceptical that it won’t happen.

How is China’s rise regarded by India?

India has a big problem with China, as it has a very strong view of China. India is a long, long way behind (in growth).

Indians are traumatised by China; their relationship with China is erratic, fickle and fearful. Because of the border wars, China looms very large in the Indian imagination.

The issue doesn’t disturb the Chinese, but for Indians it’s an issue. India is so far behind that the thought of overtaking China (economically) is the talk of fantasists in dreamland.

India needs to learn as much as possible from China and pursue a strong relationship with it. It needs a clear strategy in dealing with China.

India should stop this petty rivalry. At the moment there’s not much of that happening.

What of China’s relations with South-East Asia?

In historical terms for this region, 100 years (since the end of China’s dynastic rule in 1912) is not such a long time.

There is a familiarity with China in this region that is not found in other parts of the world.

This marks out relations with China as different here. Countries in this region relate with China in a multifarious process.

Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar are dealing (economically) with China mostly through Chinese provinces closest to them.

It’s a situation most nation states don’t allow in their regions. But Chinese provinces close to these countries will deal more with them in future.

As for relations with the United States?

It will take the US at least 10, maybe 20 years from now to treat China as an equal.

It will happen in a series of baby steps here and there, for example by treating China as a partner in the region, rather than as a problem like now.

But it won’t happen within 10 years. In certain circumstances it may happen quicker, such as a (Western) financial crisis, or it would take longer.

And Europe?

There’s been poor coverage of China in the rest of the world, mainly from ignorance. Coverage tends to be Eurocentric.

Soviet reforms under Gorbachev with glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) were well received in Western Europe. But the Soviet system could not be reformed.

China’s communist revolution had better historical roots than the Soviet’s.

What remains of the ‘Washington Consensus’ (ie, US-style economic doctrine)?

It’s dead. In the developing world, China is the main show. Why look at America?

China is actively doing (the alternative): there are general lessons in its emphasis on infrastructure, the importance of the state, of political stability, and so on.

Will there be a third edition?

I probably won’t do a third edition. It was hard work with the (second edition), being governed by the framework of the existing book.

I’d probably work on something fresh. More on the lines of “understanding China,” so that people can understand the conceptual thinking.

By BUNN NAGARA The Star/Asia News Network

 Related posts:
When China Rules The World: The End Of The Western World And The Birth Of A New Global Order   

Fearful of China's rise? Sep 28, 2012
Dawn of a new superpower Jul 08, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

When China Rules The World: The End Of The Western World And The Birth Of A New Global Order

Book review: China is still ascendant

Author: Marc Jacques
Publisher: Penguin, 848 pages

SKEWED as they may be, reactionary Orientalist perspectives of East Asian realities remain the norm in Western punditry and news reports. The problem has become prevalent in both conservative and liberal circles.

The problem for the West itself is that such a persistent misperception of modern China may undermine Western interests further. Martin Jacques’ When China Rules The World: The End Of The Western World And The Birth Of A New Global Order is intended largely as a corrective, looking at the historic phenomenon of China’s grand return to the global stage in China’s own terms.

My review of the first edition of Jacques’ book appeared earlier in China awakens (Star Bizweek, Oct 3, 2009). The present consideration is of the second edition published by Penguin earlier this year.

The first edition was subtitled The Rise Of The Middle Kingdom And The End Of The Western World. The second edition, suggesting an evolution, is subtitled The End Of The Western World And The Birth Of A New World Order.

Jacques and Penguin are just as grandiose now as before. The titling remains as presumptuous and alarmist, at least to Western conservatives, and no apologies are tendered in that regard.

The title itself can be a problem for those who judge a book by its cover. Jacques does not believe that China or any other country can “rule” the world today, only that China and things Chinese would predominate globally.

The second edition contains new data and a new section in the Afterword. For Jacques, international developments in the three years between the two editions only confirm and strengthen his central themes.

His chief arguments remain intact: that China will be dominant economically and culturally, it will not essentially be Westernised, and China will be ascendant despite multiple challenges.

This rise, mainly economic but also in other spheres later, is of epochal proportions. China’s ascendancy would result from both its own efforts and the decline of the West simultaneously.

The 2008 recession in the United States, followed by economic doldrums there and the European sovereign debt crisis underline the situation impeccably. In contrast, China’s GDP growth continues, affected only minimally.

Like many others, Jacques believes that China’s current growth model based on cheap labour and global raw materials is unsustainable. For example, China would need to stimulate more domestic demand to compensate for a slackening of overseas markets.

The latest data show that more and more countries have now made China their main trading partner. And as with trade, increasingly so with investment.

Thus, China’s economic gravitational “pull” is becoming unerring and compelling. Not only has China swiftly replaced Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, its relationship with the United States has replaced Japan’s as the most important bilateral relationship across the Pacific and in the world.

Analysts impressed with China’s economic growth once expected it to surpass the US economy in a couple of decades. But that timeframe has shrunk.

In 2009 Jacques cited the Goldman Sachs prediction that China’s economy would overtake the US’ by 2027. Sceptics scoffed.

In this second edition, he cites The Economist’s projection that the Chinese economy will become the world’s biggest by 2018. Now the International Monetary Fund predicts the year will be 2016.

But even when that happens, China will still be a developing country with vast human resources yet to reach peak productivity. That means when China’s standard of living approaches that of the US, with a comparable GDP per capita, its economy will be two to four times that of the US today.

Unlike many China pundits, particularly critics, Jacques believes China will not succumb to the weight of its own promise. He does not accept that China has to Westernise or democratise before it can fully develop and prosper.

Jacques also rejects the alarmist Western notion that today’s China is re-arming aggressively. He finds Chinese defence expenditure as a proportion of GDP falling between the 1970s and 1990s, and since then only keeping pace with GDP growth.

As expected, the very people he seeks to inform are often those who spurn his information. Jacques attributes this Western stubbornness to a mixture of unfamiliarity, ignorance, prejudice, denial, stereotyping, racism and Cold War ideology against a non-Western country that is communist, at least in name.

With such unwieldy baggage, the nuances and subtleties about China are naturally lost on the bigots. For Jacques, China is a continent-sized civilisational state whose history has seen upheavals and expansion on its Asiatic land mass, but not military adventurism in a littoral and archipelagic East Asia.

In response to critics of an increasingly powerful China, Jacques does not see China as a global superpower. He finds China historically absorbed in its own internal governance as it is a very difficult country to govern, its trajectory will continue to be tempestuous, but it is still a complex and sophisticated state and the home of statecraft, so it cannot simply be dismissed with an epithet like “authoritarian”.

For example, while critics fret over the People’s Liberation Army and the PLA Navy, it is China’s Coast Guard rather than the military that is a key player in the disputed island claims. Jacques finds no less than seven uncoordinated Chinese agencies involved over these claims.

A key question in the book is whether the United States will allow China the space to be a major player in Beijing’s own regional backyard. Jacques finds that unlikely, while also convinced that US efforts, such as its “pivot” to contain China, will ultimately fail.

This book still has major gaps that need filling. A central theme is that China’s coming predominance will be different from that of Western colonialism, but how different and in what ways?

Jacques also envisages an updated revival of the tributary system in East Asia, in which all the smaller countries acknowledge their junior status with regard to China. But what form will a revised tributary system take?

Another key point is China essentially being a civilisational state rather than just a nation state like other countries. But what can this mean in practical policy terms, particularly in China’s relations with other countries?

Such answers are essential to an intelligent understanding of a rising modern China. But we may have to wait for a new book by the author for further illumination, because any answers are unlikely to be accommodated by the structure of the present work, notwithstanding its already intriguing insights.

The first edition was already a vast interdisciplinary work of far-reaching implications, and the second version even more so. Few analysts as authors have achieved what Jacques has: combining the depth and rigour of academia with the readability and vigour of journalism in a single volume on a subject of great topicality.

The result is a serious and interesting textbook which, despite its 800+ pages, has sold a quarter of a million copies (and counting) in a dozen languages in its first edition alone. His critics have yet to match that kind of appeal in whatever they have to say.

> Bunn Nagara is an associate editor at The Star.

Related posts:

Fearful of China's rise?
Sep 28, 2012
Dawn of a new superpower
Jul 08, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Unlocking potential for penal tourism

Malaysia can attract white-collar criminals seeking to do community service

WHEN he sentenced Rajat Gupta, the former McKinsey & Co boss, on Wednesday to two years in prison for insider trading-related offences, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan spurned the chance to be the midwife at the birth of penal tourism.

We've heard of ecotourism, medical tourism, religious tourism, sports tourism, agritourism, education tourism and even sex tourism. So why not a type of tourism that caters for people convicted of crimes, offering these people a chance to atone for their wrongdoings through community service away from home?

Gupta's lawyers suggested precisely this in a sentencing memorandum submitted on Oct 17. In requesting that the court impose a sentence of probation with the condition that Gupta perform “a rigorous full-time programme of community service”, the lawyers proposed two options.

The first is that he's assigned full-time for a few years to Covenant House, which provides emergency shelter and other services for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth.

The idea is that he will be based in New York to work directly with the children at Covenant House's facility in Manhattan, and to help Covenant House come up with strategic initiatives for expansion and improvement. There's no tourism element here because New York is one of several places where Gupta maintains a residence.

The second option, in the words of the lawyers, is “less orthodox but innovative”.

No kidding. The plan is for Gupta to go to Rwanda to contribute towards improving the delivery of health care (focusing on HIV/AIDS and malaria) and agricultural development.

The Rwandan government has agreed that if the judge accepted the proposal, Gupta would be under its direction and supervision, along with Care USA, a humanitarian and development organisation. He would live and work with government officials in the African nation's rural districts.

In the sentencing memorandum, Gupta's lawyers explained: “We recognise this is an unusual community service proposal, but one that could potentially provide great benefits to large numbers of Rwandans desperately in need of help, and which Mr Gupta is uniquely situated to perform.

“Moreover, it would require Mr Gupta to confront significant hardships and would thus constitute punishment commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, as Gupta would be thousands of miles from his family and friends, and would be living in basic accommodations in rural areas of the country.”

However, Rakoff rejected both proposals, labelling them as “Peace Corps for insider traders”. He instead stuck to the conventional, sending Gupta to jail, slapping him with a US$5mil fine and ordering him to be placed under a year of supervised release after the prison term ends.

But the idea of penal tourism is now out there. There's rich potential in welcoming white-collar criminals who are made to do community service in faraway places.

Besides the direct impact of their work, these wealthy law-breakers will draw the international spotlight, thus raising the profile of the host countries. The criminals are likely to function as magnets that attract family members, friends and associates to come over. All this attention can translate into cash inflows for penal tourism destinations.

Malaysia should seize this opportunity to claim the first-mover advantage in penal tourism. As outlined by Gupta's lawyers, the key is to have plenty of community service projects that involve “significant hardships” so that the criminals (or penal tourists, to use the politically correct term) are indeed doing work that can be widely accepted as punishment that fits the crimes.

Here are some projects that can be used to promote Malaysia as a hotspot for penal tourism:

Stick no bills: The problem with the Ah Longs is not only their frighteningly high interest rates and intimidating debt collection tactics. Their annoying advertising strategy is to plaster signs, walls, lamp posts, phone booths and other surfaces with stickers bearing their contact numbers. Penal tourists can pay their debt to society by painstakingly removing these stickers and doing restoration work if there's damage.

Setting the record straight: When somebody attempts to break a trivial record or establish a new one for example, the longest popiah, largest group of people doing Gangnam Style moves, most Facebook “likes” in 24 hours penal tourists will be present to verify the feat.

Gaydar duty: Penal tourists will be tasked with compiling statistics on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. They will rely on a leaflet recently issued by the Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and Putrajaya Consultative Council of Parent-Teacher Associations to spot those with LGBT tendencies.

Pointing in the right direction: Armed with laser pointers, penal tourists will be stationed at concerts, plays and cinemas to shame the inconsiderate people who use mobile phones, or who talk too much and loudly.

The scoop on food: Penal tourists will be put in charge of crowd control and apportioning of food at government open houses during festivals, AGMs of listed companies and popular hotel buffets. Their job is to ensure there's queuing and that there's no wastage of food. Now that's true hardship.

Garbage or generosity?: There's often a lot of unusable stuff among items given away to welfare homes and charitable organisations. The penal tourists can be deployed to sift through the piles of things.

Smoking wardens: This is strictly for penal tourists who relish a tough challenge with a dash of danger. They will patrol smoke-free zones to tick off smokers who insist on having a puff. The tourists will be required to sign indemnity forms before starting work.

Compelling courtesy: Instead of air marshals, we have bus and train marshals. The penal tourists will ride buses and trains to zero in on passengers who refuse to give up seats for the elderly and the disabled, pregnant women, and mothers with young children. Boarding passengers who don't wait for others to disembark will be targeted as well.

To delete or not to delete: Online political forums can get wild and woolly if they aren't moderated vigilantly. Penal tourists will be entrusted with the gruelling job of monitoring forums to ensure there's no flaming and spamming, use of inappropriate language, and seditious or defamatory content. If that sounds punishing, Malaysia is on track to becoming a top penal tourism destination.

By The Star Executive editor Errol Oh is happy to be just a plain tourist.

Related articles:

Ex-Goldman director, Wall Street Titan Gupta gets 2-year jail sentence 

Ex-McKinsey CEO’s case highlights swapping of secrets in corporate world

Friday, October 26, 2012

Legal profession unattractive in Malaysia?

Malaysia is not a hub for legal services in the region. The best minds are more interested in practising in other jurisdictions where the work and pay is better.

IT’S a funny world we live in. Today’s unalterable truth may be tomorrow’s shibboleth.

For the legal profession in Malaysia, the seemingly unalterable truth is – do not join the profession unless you are prepared to face the harshness of the working conditions.

However, if you persevere, the returns can be very rewarding and fulfilling.

The National Young Lawyers Committee (NYLC) conducted a survey on the working conditions of young lawyers in late 2011, and the results which were recently released can be found at

It indicates that there is or will be a mass exodus of young lawyers from the legal profession because of the lack of work-life balance, low pay and bad working conditions.

The survey shows that the average starting pay is RM3,000-RM3,500 in the Klang Valley and RM2,000-RM2,500 outside of the Klang Valley – just enough to support the cost of living.

The average working hours are between 51 hours to more than 60 hours a week. Almost all young lawyers work weekends.

This means that, in the Klang Valley, based on the average monthly pay of RM3,250 (RM39,000 per annum, excluding bonuses) and average working hours of 55 hours a week (2,860 hours over 52 weeks), over a year, first-year lawyers are only paid RM13.64 per hour. It is much lower for pupils.

Outside of the Klang Valley, based on the average monthly pay of RM2,250 (RM27,000 per annum, excluding bonuses) and the same average working hours, over a year, first-year lawyers are only paid RM9.44 per hour.

Some recommendations were made by the NYLC to increase the starting pay and improve working conditions.

Some quarters cynically cried out that young lawyers are making demands despite being of low quality.

They say that young lawyers should not demand higher pay unless they have proven themselves.

Pause for a moment and consider what the survey results really mean. Firstly, it means that the profession, as a whole, is not attractive.

Students, when choosing a degree, will second-think pursuing law. Law students may choose not to practise upon completing their law degree.

Some will be driven by passion, but not everyone has enough passion to endure the initial hardship.

The best minds may instead be more interested in other professions. Why isn’t the profession able to retain these talents?

Generally, Malaysia is not a hub for legal services in the region. The best minds are more interested in practising in other jurisdictions where the work and pay is better.

The profession must improve and be the main legal services hub in the region. But the paradox is, to do so, higher salary and better working conditions are also required to attract and retain the best talents.

Secondly, not having an attractive entry point does not augur well for diversity in the legal profession.

The legal profession should be diverse because lawyers are guardians of rights and liberties of people of all gender, races, backgrounds or classes.

The current starting salary and working conditions, by chance or design, targets only a single demographic – fresh graduates, middle or upper middle class, living with their family, and having little family or financial commitments.

A prospective entrant who has dependants would find it hard to pursue a career in law given the low average starting pay, the long hours and the non-existing weekends.

To quote Lord Falconer: “If you don’t catch people when they’re 15 or 16, when it comes to choosing judges 30 or 40 years later, you won’t have the diversity you need to ensure that judges reflect society”.

Thirdly, with the starting salary and working conditions of the legal profession failing to attract and retain talents and not encouraging diversity, legal access would be significantly affected. Legal access also means having access to a lawyer of your choice.

The survey shows that 28.17% of the respondents in the Klang Valley and 15.29% of the respondents outside of Klang Valley are leaving the profession in the next five years and a further 38.73% of the respondents in the Klang Valley and 48.24% of the respondents outside of Klang Valley are uncertain of their future in the legal profession.

These staggering numbers show that lawyers do not want to be lawyers anymore.

Society will be affected because the choice of lawyers would be limited. There will not be a greater pool of talent to choose from for clients or when it comes to the appointment of judges.

The quality will have to be compromised with whatever the supply is. In the long run, it will be detrimental to the legal system in Malaysia.

The results and the recommendations by the NYLC are not unjustified.

It would be convenient to blame the law schools for failing to produce competent graduates. But employers must look at themselves and ask if they have been contributing to this problem.

The unalterable truth of today must be questioned. For employers who are truly concerned about attracting and retaining the best talents, the survey results and recommendations should be taken seriously.

For those who choose to ignore the survey results and recommendations, do so at your own peril.

 > The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit

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PAS spiritual advice to women who did not cover up deserve to be raped!

PETALING JAYA: A four-year-old video recording of PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat saying women who did not cover up deserve to be raped has gone viral.

Nik Aziz said in the 5.47-minute clip that those who did not cover their aurat were tempting men to rape them. (Aurat is part of the body that must not be exposed in public in accordance with Islamic belief.)

“She did not cover her aurat, and got raped. Serves her right for being raped (dah dia buka aurat, dirogol, padanlah muka dirogol).

“She is selling cheap... her calf, her face, her thigh...rape lah,” he said in his speech recorded four years ago.

The video recording resurfaced on various blogs after MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek recently reminded Nik Aziz of his speech about how the eyes were linked to sexual organs and temptations.

Various blogs started to carry links to Nik Aziz's video after Pakatan Rakyat leaders, including Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, labelled Dr Chua as being “anti-Islam”.

Dr Chua had said that he was merely quoting what Nik Aziz had said in his speech made in 2008.

Among the blogs that had uploaded Nik Aziz' infamous speech are,,, and

In the short speech, Nik Aziz who is also the Kelantan Mentri Besar, said the RM70,000 spent on their campaign to promote the covering of aurat was justified because it also helped check adultery.

“The eyes are inter-connected with sexual organs. Covering aurat automatically reduces adultery, reduces rape, reduces HIV, reduces AIDS, reduces incidents of marriage falling apart,” said Nik Aziz.

Nik Aziz also took a swipe at the media for making such a big fuss over rape cases and number of AIDS cases while at the same time encouraging people not to cover up their aurat.

“You (the media) are the one giving opportunity to the rakyat to expose aurat,” he said.

The malaysiapeoplevoice pointed out that the speech bear evidence to PAS' real ideology, as Nik Aziz had clearly stated that those who exposed their aurat deserved to be raped.

By SIRA HABIBU The Star/Asia News Network

World Bank: Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand still ‘easiest’, most business-friendly, Malaysia ranked 12th

Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand continue to be the easiest countries in the world to do business in, while local entrepreneurs in developing nations are finding it easier to do business than at any time in the last 10 years, according to the World Bank and IFC's latest Doing Business report. 
The improvement in the ease with which people are saying they are able to do business in the world’s developing countries highlights “the significant progress that has been made in improving business regulatory practices across the globe”, according to a summary of the 282-page report’s findings.

The study looks at 185 countries, and examines such indicators as how long it takes to start a business, and how difficult and time consuming it is to submit tax returns, export or import goods, obtain credit and register a property.

Year's 'most improved'

Topping the list of economies that registered the biggest improvements in the ease of doing business over the past year were Poland, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Burundi, Costa Rica, Mongolia, Greece, Serbia, and Kazakhstan.

Australia moved up to 10th place from 15th, Malaysia to 12th from 18th, and Taiwan to 16th from 25th. (See chart, below.)

Also moving up were the UAE (to 26th from 33rd), Italy (to 73rd from 87th), and the Russian Federation (112th from 120th).

Decliners incuded Saudi Arabia (22nd from 12th), Israel (38th from 34th), Argentina (124th from 113th) and Kenya (121st from 109th).

The report, Doing Business 2013: Smarter Regulations for Small and Medium-Size Enterprises, is the tenth in the World Bank/IFC’s Doing Business series.

Since the reports were first published, they have recorded “nearly 2,000 regulatory reforms implemented by 180 economies”, a summary of the findings notes, adding that such reforms have resulted in such improvements as a 20-day decline in the average time it takes to start a business since 2005 – to just 30 days, from 50.

And in low-income economies,  “the average [time required] has been reduced by half”.

All of the five countries at the bottom of this year's ranking are in Africa. In descending order, they are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Republic of the Congo, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Mauritius, in 19th place, emerges as Africa's most competitive economy, while South Africa, in 39th place, was down four places from last year's report.

Officials in such countries might take some comfort in some data included in the report that shows how countries compare in certain areas of business activity, for it reveals that even some of the countries considered the "easiest" to do business in have weaknesses. Although Hong Kong ranks second-easiest overall, for example, it is the 60th easiest country in which to register a property; while the United Kingdom, in seventh place, is the 62nd easiest in which to obtain electricity, behind such countries as Estonia, Chile, Bahrain, Thailand, Malaysia and Brazil.

To view the report, click here.

Ease of doing business
rankings 2013
2012 rank
Hong Kong
New Zealand
United States
United Kingdom
Korea, Rep.
                  World Bank/IFC
Sources: International Adviser

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Penang Road Bully

AN assistant sales manager who uploaded a recording of a driver of an MPV allegedly ‘damaging’ the former’s car, has received more than 60,000 hits after it went viral online.

The footage, which lasted one minute and 16 seconds, titled ‘Penang Road Bully’, has been widely circulated on the Facebook in the past week.

Ooi Tze Dong, 29, said he was in his car with his girlfriend Lim Ann Si, 26, and they were on their way back from lunch at 2.30pm on Oct 17 when the incident happened at Lengkok Sungai Dua in Sungai Nibong here.

“We were about to go back after lunch when an MPV blocked our way.

“I honked twice at the driver to move his vehicle but he refused. Then I reversed my car to the back alley.

“I was shocked to see the MPV in the middle of the back lane and the driver demanded that I come out of my car,” Ooi said, adding that there was also a woman carrying a baby in the MPV.

He added that when he refused, the driver of the MPV allegedly tapped his car window and repeatedly kicked the driver’s side door, causing a dent.

Ooi said the man continued the ‘attack’ on his car even after Ann Si had started recording his act.

Take a good look: Ooi (centre) and Ann Si showing Lim (left) the police report and video footage of the incident at the Penang MCA headquarters in Jalan Pahang

He added that he then called the police and blocked the MPV from leaving the scene.

“However, the driver came at our car again with an umbrella and started hitting the windshield until it cracked,” said Ooi, adding that he then reversed his car and drove to the Sungai Nibong police station where he lodged a police report.

Ooi said he had also lodged another report at the Jelutong police station on Oct 22.

Speaking during a press conference at the state MCA headquarters in Jalan Pahang yesterday, Ooi said he was disappointed that no action has been taken yet against the driver of the MPV despite both his police reports.

“The officer in charge of our case advised us to settle the matter by discussing with the driver of the MPV but I just want the driver to pay the cost of my damaged car which had come up to RM5,000,” he said.

State MCA Public Services and Complaints Bureau deputy chief Lim Thoon Deong said that the police should be more professional in handling the case instead of merely ‘advising’ the victim to settle the matter.

“This is considered as attempted assault and the police should be more serious in curbing these ‘road bullies’ by bringing them to justice,” he said.

When contacted, George Town OCPD Asst Comm Gan Kong Meng said the case was being investigated under Section 427 of the Penal Code for committing mischief and damage.

He also said the officer-in-charge of the case is expected to refer the matter to the deputy public prosecutor’s office by next Monday for further action.

By HAFIZ MARZUKH The Star/Asia News Network

Asian tour golf stars return to Malaysia CIMB Classic

PETALING JAYA: The talented trio of Kevin Na, Charlie Wi and Noh Seung-yul are taking trips down memory lane when they compete in the US$6.1mil CIMB Classic at the Mines Resort and Golf Club during 25-28 October, 2012
Malaysia has been a happy hunting ground for the trio, who have all won tournaments here when they featured on the Asian Tour previously before moving on to the PGA Tour.

The 40-year-old Wi claimed the first of his seven Asian Tour titles at the 1997 Kuala Lumpur Open before establishing himself as one of Asia’s top golfers with six more victories, including the 2006 Malaysian Open.

Na, a Korean-American, enjoyed his career breakthrough by winning his maiden professional title at the 2002 Volvo Masters of Asia in Malaysia while the gifted Seung-yul has since emerged as one of the Asian Tour’s greatest talents in recent times.

Seung-yul has been touted as a potential top-10 player in the world and is currently training under swing guru Sean Foley, who is also the coach of 14-time Major champion Tiger Woods.

Former world No. 1 Woods will headline the CIMB Classic along with title holder Bo Van Pelt and inaugural champion Ben Crane.

The slender Seung-yul produced an impressive rookie season on the PGA Tour this year, notching three top-10s and 13 top-25s. He has also made 17 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour dating back to April.

Seung-yul, who started hitting golf balls on the beach near his home when he was seven, said competing on the Asian Tour laid the foundation for his rapid rise in the game.

Sanctioned by the PGA Tour, Asian Tour and Professional Golf Association of Malaysia, the CIMB Classic will see a top class field of 48 players competing for the US$1.3mil winning purse.

The tournament will feature 30 players from the PGA Tour and the top 10 available players from the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit. Eight sponsors’ exemptions will make up the rest of the field, with two places reserved for Malaysian professionals. - The Star

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Taman Manggis land issue in Penang, a ‘Robin Hood story' or soap opera?

The twists and turns in the Taman Manggis land issue in Penang is starting to resemble a soap opera but it has also raised the question of whether the legal procedures are observed in the sale of state land.

THE showdown over a plot of land known as Taman Manggis or “mangosteen garden” in the heart of George Town is about to erupt in another slanging match on Nov 3.

Dubbed by some as the “Robin Hood story”, the Taman Manggis land has become one of the most controversial issues in Penang.

It has also become a rather entertaining saga of gamesmanship between Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and his political secretary Ng Wei Aik on one side and the state Barisan Nasional Youth on the other.

The 0.4ha of land had been designated for affordable housing but before the project could take place, Barisan was toppled.

Lim’s administration has since reportedly sold the land for RM11mil to a Kuala Lumpur company that is planning to build a health tourism facility that includes a private dental hospital and hotel on the site.

That was how the Robin Hood thing came about, but with a twist where Barisan is accusing the Pakatan Rakyat government of being a distorted version of Robin Hood by taking land meant for the poor to give to the rich.

When Barisan accused the state government of selling the land at below market rate, Lim challenged it to buy the land for RM22.4mil. Lim probably thought Barisan would not take up the dare. After all, RM22.4mil is not small change.

But Barisan agreed and announced that it had set up a special purpose company to buy and develop affordable homes on the land.

Caught on one foot, the state government was forced to respond and Ng issued an offer letter to Barisan. And that was when the soap opera began.

The Barisan side led by its State Barisan Youth chief Oh Tong Keong proceeded to pay 1% earnest money as is called for in such transactions.

The next step, as anyone would know, is for the lawyers from both sides to draw up a sales and purchase (S&P) agreement.

Once that is signed, the buyer would pay the balance of the requisite 10% and depending on the terms and condition, the full amount is usually paid within three months or more.

This is to enable the buyer to raise funds or secure a loan from the bank.

However, following the 1% payment, Lim demanded that the Barisan pay up the rest of the amount within a month.

The outlandish demand saw a few jaws drop on the Barisan side. First, it is not possible for Barisan to cough up that kind of money in so short a time.

Another was the audacity of the demand.

“There is no S&P agreement in sight and the seller is demanding the full amount. Do they understand the laws of transaction? Without an S&P agreement, no one would want to pay RM22.4mil,” said architect Khoo Boo Soon.

Khoo, who was the former building director of the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP), is quite appalled at the frivolous way that state property is being treated.

He is incredulous that state land is being sold based on an offer letter by a political secretary on the instruction of the Chief Minister.

“I have been a government servant for more than 17 years. As far as I know, land transactions have to be discussed and decided by the state exco, the state legal adviser has to be consulted, the state secretary has to be involved. It cannot be a one-man decision, both parties need to sign an S&P agreement,” said Khoo.

The Barisan side was more direct. “This is government land, it belongs to the people. The land does not belong to the Chief Minister’s grandfather. We are not buying a bicycle or a car, this is about public land costing millions of ringgit,” said Oh.

The Barisan side had on Oct 3 written to the state government requesting for an S&P agreement before they proceed to pay up the rest of the money.

On Oct 8, the state secretary wrote back asking them to refer to the offer letter and to pay up within a month.

To compound this half-past-six state of affairs, rumours abound that the land has actually been sold to the Kuala Lumpur company.

No one can tell for sure because the state government has been tight-lipped about the issue.

Requests for information on the actual status of the land has run up against a stone wall.

On top of all that, the house that Lim is renting in Penang reportedly belongs to the wife of the major stakeholder of the Kuala Lumpur company.

The lady is also the cousin of state exco member Phee Boon Poh. The implication of all this is unclear but it does add spice to the story.

Many people following this soap opera are quite confused but that is what makes soap operas so addictive – there are lots of twists and turns.

The more discerning think Lim has no intention of selling the land to Barisan, hence the conditions and obstacles put in the way.

Some suspect the delay tactics are aimed at making Barisan give up.

But it would be a blow to Lim’s administration if the Barisan people actually purchased it and proceeded to build low-cost housing.

Lim would lose face, particularly given that his administration has failed to build any affordable housing since coming into power.

To make matters worse, this is happening amid an inflated property market on the island and where house prices have soared beyond the reach of 80% of wage earners.

Lim should be transparent about the issue. If the land has been sold, he should admit it.

If it is still in the state’s hands, then he should do the decent thing and use it for its original purpose.

Instead he is angry at being criticised and is punishing those who want to build affordable homes by doubling the price of the land.

A Penang lawyer said he is not surprised about the “Robin Hood issue”.

“What shocks me is the silence on the part of the Penang NGOs. They used to be so vocal on issues affecting public interest,” said the lawyer.

In the meantime, the countdown to Nov 3 has begun.


P/S:  Landlady of CM’s residence is not wife of company stakeholder

Regarding the Taman Manggis land, the Star and State exco member Phee Boon Poh clarified yesterday that the woman in question is his cousin, she is not married nor is she the wife of the company stakeholder.

“My cousin and the stakeholder are just business partners,” he said.

The Taman Manggis land which had been designated for low-cost housing by the former Barisan Nasional government, became an issue when the Lim administration decided to sell it to a Kuala Lumpur company to develop a health tourism facility that includes a private dental hospital, hotel and multi-storey car park. 

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