Monday, August 31, 2015

Bersih 4 (29-30 August 2015)

Bracing the scorch of day and cold of night,
to pave a way for a future bright.

Walking from National Mosque to Merdeka Square,
drenched in sweat with hope we wear.

Sitting on the floor under the LRT track,
with thousands more having each others' back.

Seeing Malays, Chinese, Indians, and all,
singing songs that breach racial wall.

Bersih! Bersih! We cry out loud,
demanding transparency, justice, and equality now.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Origin of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" language

The most famous phrase by the father of modern capitalism, Adam Smith that illustrates the pragmatic logic of market ideology is (for better or worse) adopted from Christian theological language of divine providence.

Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a Scottish Presbyterian philosopher and theologian at Glasgow University.

(H/T: Prof. Peter Harrison @uqpharri's Tweet: https://twitter.com/uqpharri/status/634683730594918400?s=08)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Give us a transparent government

http://themalaysianreserve.com/new/sites/default/files/Datuk%20Paul%20Low%20Seng%203.JPG
Several of us from the Penang state government are now in Kerala, India to attend a week-long cross-cultural learning. After 9 hours of traveling, the first thing we looked for at the airport was not food or toilet but mobile data plan! 

While in a telco shop listening to the heavily Malayalam-accented sales pitch given by the promoter, I could sense our entourage’s anxiety in not knowing whether were we being conned or given a real good deal. There was no official contract shown to us, but a brochure highlighting 4G speed. All that we are told to give them 500 Rupees (RM30) and they will give us mobile data. And there was no receipt. 

After waited until the next working day for our registration verified, we finally had access to mobile data. But only at 2.5G speed, slower than the publicised 4G. There is nothing we can do about it. 

One obvious lesson I learnt from this is the need for transparency. 

Recently Y.B. Datuk Paul Low, our Minister in-charge of governance and integrity, has commented that the federal government is not ready to provide official information to the public. He raised questions on the demand for more openness as akin to wanting the government to be ‘naked’ and so is similar to promoting pornography. He also cited the lack of administrative structure in place to facilitate public access to official data as another reason why the federal government cannot be transparent. 

In one broad stroke, Datuk Low has dismissed the need for the federal government which has ruled the country for more than half a century to work on being transparent to the public. While Penang and Selangor, ruled by the opposition for less than a decade, have already put in place a law to allow the public to have access to official data. 

We are not talking about 500 Rupees telco service here but financial scandals amounting billions of public funds and implicating top officials. All that we ask for is more transparency from the federal administration so that the public can protect the country from further mismanagement. 

However, such request is denied by the very minister whose responsibility is to enhance the government’s integrity. 

It makes me wonder if Datuk Low’s actual portfolio is to protect the federal government’s integrity by sweeping the dirt underneath the carpet so that everything looks fine, and discourage others from discovering and cleaning the dirt? 

When it comes to public administration, transparency expresses integrity and integrity strengthens governance. 

We may be conned by others at other places, and we cannot do anything about it. But for Malaysia, we want it to be ruled by a transparent government which is committed to be held accountable by the public.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Back to Singapore during SG50 weekend

I went back to Singapore over the SG50 weekend.

After being away for 4 weeks, it was a relief when I walked into Changi airport's toilet and found that the soap dispenser actually had soap and worked!

In fact, the soap dispensers in every public toilets that I entered were likewise functional. This is rare in Malaysia.

I managed to catch the "LKY" musical, which is based on Lee Kuan Yew's life, from his schooling days until Singapore's independence.

I left the theatre feeling happy for Singapore. But sad for Malaysia.

Singapore is what Malaysia could have been. Or vice versa, as determined by historical circumstances and national leadership.

Speaking of the latter, the late Lee Kuan Yew and his fellow founding fathers of Singapore are to be acknowledged. Their tireless works have left traces throughout the island. Their legacy pervades through generations.

In fact, it was Lee Kuan Yew's now-immortalized words that have largely prompted me to relocate back to Penang after having spent 12 years in Singapore: "At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life."

His dedication and vision have made Singapore into what she is today. He and Singapore are great inspiration to the developing world.

Therefore, I rejoice together with Singaporeans in their golden jubilee for what their wonderful nation stands for. There is much Penang can and should learn from.

Perhaps one day, the soap dispensers in Malaysia will contain soap and work too.