Thinking Allowed

Aliran Monthly takes a light-hearted look at recent events…

Chef Ling: fries a 'fierce' koay teow

Environment-Friendly Cabinet

"Jurassic," commented Kit Siang, "many old tired faces have been retained". "Nothing exciting…antique," declared Fadzil Nor. The new cabinet is a reflection of the "paucity of credible, capable and committed leaders within the BN", stated Chandra Muzaffar. For a while one feared that Tun Ghafar who had been brought back to recontest the elections had been reappointed to the cabinet. Thank heavens it wasn’t true.

But look at how certain others reacted as though we are talking about some other place, some other time. "A strong cabinet team," declared Samy Vellu, probably thinking about himself. "Good blend of people," commented Ling Liong Sik. It was "thumbs up" for FOMCA’s Hamdan. "Hopes are high," declared yet another minister.

Whichever, whatever, one must agree that this new cabinet is environmentally friendly. I mean, just look at the recycling. Tun Daim has retired as he requested in order to devote more time to his family, friends and financial empire? Wrong, he’s back as Finance supremo. Rafidah Aziz, has been dropped pending an investigation into allegations of corrupt practices? High hopes, she’s back in MITI. Ling, who has praiseworthy culinary skills and fries a fierce koay teow, nonetheless, is back in Transport. The MIC leader with hands-on experience in coiffure, expensive dressing and organising a lavish wedding party continues to be in charge of Works. And the man with the foot-in-the-mouth, and who drools when he drones in parliament, is still considered indispensable to Primary Industries.

Even Abdul Hamid Othman who lost his Sik seat to the author of SH** has been brought back. Recycled, too, was the Culture, Arts and Tourism minister, Abdul Kadir, the one with the silly bow-tie and even sillier ideas. Remember that one about Malaysians adopting the gesture of putting their right hand on their heart as a national greeting in welcoming tourists? Simply infantile, yet he returns.

Recycled, but reshuffled was Muhyiddin. Not so youthful with a not unimpressive paunch, he didn’t look the role of minister of sports and youth anymore; especially not when he insisted on wearing so very often the track suit. They were already quite baggy ones, yet … Now he ends up in Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, a ministry presumably concerned with securing the interests of the people. But what does he do on his first day of office? Nothing less than announcing that his ministry will be "business friendly". Either the competition for being the minister with the silliest ideas has started, and is becoming fierce, or, he was hoping to become entrepreneur minister, and was mixing one with the other. Way to go Muhyiddin! But just remember what happened to the persone who was in charge of the portfolio before you. Megat who?

Overhaul Needed

Also reshuffled was Najib, from Education to Defence. It’s really too sad, as suggested by the media (but what do they know anyway?), his transfer was because Education had become too politicised; that there was need to redress the problem by bringing in a professional educationist. Too bad, because Najib was full of ideas, generating them by the day, making policy by the month, and then changing them mid-month. Just look at higher education. The sprouting of private universities, the local campuses of foreign universities, the twinning colleges some with "3 plus 0" status, some with "2 plus 1", still others with "11/2 plus 1" status, and still others without licenses to operate, created complete confusion. In this regard, the 4-year programme in the public universities appeared jurassic.

So they were told not only to corporatise, but also to cut back to 3 years, without compromising standards of excellence, mind you. It’s then discovered that the curriculum was too heavy for three years. Hence orders were given to reduce the number of units needed for graduation, again, it was insisted without compromising standards. Instead of ensuring that the private sector ensure certain standards of excellence through depth and width of study, to match standards (admittedly declining) maintained in existing 4-year programmes conducted in the public universities, the latter were forced to cut back requirements. Who would want to graduate in 4 years’when it could be done in 2 years?

The saddest thing of all was that the heads of the public universities didn’t seem or dare to differ in opinion. Worse, many seemed oblivious about what was going on or at least went along with the charade. Malaysia Boleh ruled. In one university, they even set up a committee to look into how the institution might contribute towards producing Nobel Prize laureates. Incidentally, this same university has been conducting TQM courses for its staff and pushing the various departments to acquire ISO 9000 status!!

Nor was this kind of pursuit restricted to the institutes of higher learning. Recall the hype in September when Najib presented an ISO 9002 certificate to a school in Tanah Merah. Is this the sort of endeavour we should be encouraging for our educational institutions? The fact of the matter is that there is a mini disaster in Education, no thanks to the new Defence minister. It was time for him to go. Mindef, be forewarned. Your new minister has lots of ideas. And you might have to puruse ISO 9000 status.

Why, oh Why?

The appointment of Musa Mohamad to head Education is therefore timely. As a former VC, he would have the necessary experience, insights and hopefully the nerve to conduct the overhaul that is needed. If this is the reason for Najib’s transfer, and not because "Education has been politicised", there is cause for hope yet.

However, an "informed source" intimated that the cabinet does not think and work this way. The explanation is really quite straight-forward. Simply put, Musa Mohamad is blessed with the names of two great prophets. God knows the cabinet needs all the help that it can get. Question is: what if the cabinet is full of self-centred incompetent, silly and corrupt individuals? Isn’t associating such a team with the prophets tantamount to ridiculing what the prophets stood for? Yet another "informed source" questioned the source said, to replace Annuar Musa and Mustapha Mohamad who were both defeated in the polls. Both are favourites of the PM who couldn’t understand, nor accept, their defeats. He threatened to recycle them into the cabinet via the Senate. That’s two positions less for hopeful ministerial aspirants. It was one of them who suggested this compromise to Dr M – you don’t get to see them but you still get the ring of their names in cabinet meetings – and now he’s minister. Which minister are we talking about? The source refused to tell.

Meanwhile the new deputies and parliamentary secretaries have been expressing surprises on their appointments. All have expressed thanks to Dr M and to their party chiefs. All have promised that they will serve the people, rise up to the challenges of the new millennium, vowed to upgrade the quality of life for Malaysians, etc. The new MBs and CMs have also made their promises. They have also thundered that the Exco members will have to perform or else they will be removed. For a while the Penang CM had no Exco members to talk to. He was only talking to Dr M. Grand talk. Great promises. How about declaring your assets to the public for starters?

National "Sin", International Chiding

Malaysians, particularly the Opposition and the Reformasi-types, were reprimanded by BN politicians for having resorted to the foreign media to pour accusations against the government. In fact, they were demonised as traitors to the country for supposedly having washed the country’s dirty linen in the international arena.

Such demonisation grew acute when BN leaders accused the foreign media and certain foreign countries of trying to interfere with Malaysia’s domestic affairs. So the larger picture that was being painted is that the Opposition and other critical groups were in cahoots with these aliens. Yes, these people are indeed unnationalistic and unpatriotic, and thus deserve the scolding.

But then, we must also be reminded of the motto of Malaysia Bolehland, that is, don’t do what I do. And so recently, Prime Minister Mahathir did just that. He lambasted the Malay community for having swung into the arms of the Opposition, namely PAS, and consequently exhibited an unbecoming attitude of "biting the hands that feed them". This stinging criticism wasn’t made in the country nor written in the pliant, local mainstream newspapers, but, mind you, stated in a foreign newspaper, Mainichi Daily News, where he has his regular column.

What’s even worrying is that his vile censure has indicated that age is catching up on him. In other words, his senility has taken on a high profile in the international arena. Just see what he had said of the Malay community, which was instrumental in eroding UMNO’s popularity: the issues for the Malays "are based on the perceptions of the new educated elite who had been exposed both to Western liberalism while studying abroad and to the more extreme variety of Islam as preached by the PAS". Hmm … do all these add up to the Malays being liberal extremists?

Talking of foreign interference, one is reminded of the recent comments made by the Senior – meaning jurassic? - Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, regarding Malaysian politics and the recent general elections. He was full of praise for Mahathir, which explains why no one from the BN side was hopping mad over "foreign interference".

The Grand Old Man calls for New Blood (snigger)

Veteran UMNO leader Ghafar Baba called for "younger blood" in UMNO and attributed UMNO’s poor showing to the party’s old faces. An aide to Ghafar - one of the unpopular figures in UMNO who had led the campaign against Anwar Ibrahim before the controversial sacking on 2 September - said the results of the elections also could spark another round of calls for reform reminiscent of the UMNO General Assembly in July 1998.

Didn’t Ghafar contest in the recent elections? Hmm, wonder if Ghafar considers himself ‘new blood’.

What’s going on here…?

The trial run of the new National Records Information system, which processes new Identity Cards within seven days, was declared a "big success" in the media..

Hello, what’s going on here?

If the National Registration Department can issue new identity cards within seven days, why on earth does it take the Election Commission EIGHT MONTHS to register a new voter? Nearly 680.000 voters could not vote because of the commission’s inability or reluctance to process new registrations speedily.

Something is wrong with those chaps in the Election Commission, which appears to be a fossilised remnant from the Jurassic Age. Why can’t it be a little more like New Zealand, which allows new voters to register right up to the eve of polling. And we still want to boast about our much-hyped Multimedia Super Corridor?

WAKE UP, Election Commission! You can’t fool the people with your snail’s-pace "processing" which deprived the Barisan Alternatif of much support from the young and perhaps even the opportunity to upset the Barisan Nasional.Malaysia Boleh, indeed…