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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Freedom of Information Act (FOI) for Malaysia

What is a Freedom of Information Act?

According to Wikipedia, such laws define a legal process by which government information is available to the public. A basic principle behind most freedom of information legislation is that the burden of proof falls on the body asked for information, not the person asking for it. The requester does not usually have to give an explanation for their request, but if the information is not disclosed a valid reason has to be given.

How many countries have a Freedom of Information Act?

, Again, according to Wikipedia, were seventy countries around the world have implemented some form of freedom of information legislation. Many more countries are working towards introducing such laws.

Should Malaysia have a Freedom of Information Act?

The information in this section is taken from a pamphlet entitled "No More Secrets. Freedom of Information (FOI) Campaign) I obtained in a gathering Bangsa Malaysia Merdeka Get-together (click BACK button to get back to this page) I attended just hours ago at the newly opened Blogger House about which I will write more about tomorrow. Here is what the pamphlet says:

Do you know what you are breathing? What is in your water? What's really in your food and drinks? Who are getting the scholarships?

The Government, the companies making and testing products like your food, or providing you with water supply? Don't you think you should know what they're doing?

Malaysia National Coalition for a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act

Let us introduce ourselves. We are the National Coalition for a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, formed in early 2005 following from a two-day conference on FOI legislation for Malaysia and the formulation of a statement of principles endorsed by over 32 organisations. We are a loose network of civil society organisations -ranging from human right's groups to environmental organisations to women's NGO's - coming together to campaign for a legislation that allows access to information, pave the way for an end to secrecy law in Malaysia.

We think the (Malaysian) Government has too secrets. We aren't allowed to know how they spend our money, yet our taxes an petrol prices go up to subsidise them. We aren't allowed to know why our water companies are being sold, yet our taps run dry and our water stinks. We aren't allowed to know about contracts, bridges, or hospitals, yet we're expected to pay for them, even as the roads are falling apart, as the bridges are not built and the hospitals are likely to make you more sick rather than get better.

Isn't it time we had some access to some of these "secrets"?

What can you do to help?

Hold a talk on No More Secrets. Call together some friends and have a teh-tarik (boiling hot tea made cooler by repetitively pouring from a container held high into another container held lower) sessions. Contact us, the FOI coalition, through the website given below.

  1. Sign the petition. Visit the Info Cafe to sign the petition. The website is given below.

  2. Whether you are a lawyer, doctor, accountant, salesperson, clerk or home-maker, contact us. We need you and there are many things you can do to help us.

  3. Talk to local government and get them to adopt some of the ten principles in their dealings.

  4. Write letters to people you know who are doing a bad job, and ask them for information. Show up their answers (or lack of answers) on the Info Cafe website, or write to the newspapers and tell them.

  5. Come up with your own ideas, and we'll try and help you make them real.



I want to know more....

That is what this is about! For more on the FOI campaign, pop into Info Cafe for debates, articles, opinions and experiences.

You can also contact us at

Center for Independent Jornalism
29-C, Jalan Sarikei
off Jalan Pahang
53000 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia.
(behind Tawakal Hospital)

Tel: 603-4023 0772
Fax: 603-4023 0769
Email: infocafe.cij@gmail.com

So, We're saying that....

Maximum disclosure

We would like to be told important details relating to our society. Government information should be public information. We want to have access to all information, unless there is a good reason to keep it from us. That is principle one, the principle of maximum disclosure.

Routine Publications

We want to know when we want to know, not when the Government wants to tell us. Facts about water quality, minutes of meetings, criteria fo appointing local councillors, these should always be made available. It's principle two, the principle of routine publication.

Independent Administrative Oversight Body

The Government (or any self-appointed censors) don't get to day what we want to know. Somebody who's not going to benefit from the failures or corruptions in Government should decide. This is principle 3, the principle of setting up an independent, administrative oversight body.

Open Government

Rather than hiding their mistakes, the Government should be open about their mistakes and learn from them because each mistakes costs the public dearly. There should be a move towards making as few mistakes as possibles. Principle four, the principle of open government.

Exceptions

Some things can be kept secret. This isn't about stopping the police from catching criminals, or betraying military secrets. But there should be good, tight reasons for having secrets. It should be about protecting us, not protecting corruption. Hence principle five, the principle of exception.

Keeping costs Low and processes simple

We shouldn't have to pay. This information is important for all of us to contribute to society. Costs should be kept low. We shouldn't have to spend three days filling in ten forms to find what is in the air we breathe in. See principle six, the principle of keeping costs low, processes simple.

Open meetings

We should be able to see what the government is up to. When the local government is changing plans, we want to be there. When a new factory is being approved, we want to be there. When a hill is being destroyed to build more houses, we want to be there. Meeting, whether about education or advertising billboards, should be open because these are decisions that affect us. This leads us to principle seven, the principle of open meetings.

Reviewing other legislation

There is a need to ensure that the implementation of the FOI legislation will not be impeded by existing laws. Thus principle eight. the principle of reviewing other legislations.

Protectin whistleblowers

If you expose corruption, you should be rewarded, not punished. Principle nine, the principle of protecting whistleblowers.

Reviewed regularly

Periodically check to see if the FOI legislation is still working. What's good tody might be not so good tomorrow. Think principle ten, the principle requiring the FOI law to be reviewed regularly.

Yes, but... what about privacy, you ask?

This falls under the principle of exception as mentioned above. If it is about my body, my health, any personal information about me, sorry, but you wouldn't get near them, even if the information is in the hands of the Government.

Our country's security?

Again, this falls under the principle of exceptions. When unsure if something should be kept 'secret' by the Government, use the 3-stage test. For examples

  1. Is the information about our national security?

  2. Does releasing the information harm the national security?

  3. Is there an overriding public interest for the information to be made available?


Even if the answer to the first two questions is YES, then the information should be withheld. However, and affirmative to the third question means we have a right to the information, even if it harms our national security in the short-term.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Malaysian bloggers: a new hope for Malaysia?

There is currently a "war" between the authorities who accuses bloggers of spreading lies while bloggers claim that what they published are truth which were never revealed in the mainstream mass media because of the authorities tight control. Some claimed they have documents to back them up. Raja Petra of Malaysia especially have screenshots of the documents on his site. When the former Mentri Besar (Chief Minister) of Selangor called him a coward because he hosted his blog oversea to escape the law, he even offered to produce the evidences at UMNO's own turf. The fact that the authorities are trying to catch Raja Petra not based on what he wrote, but on the comments in his blog seem to lend credibility to his accusations. Leaving aside the arguments, how much exactly can the bloggers' influence the general Malaysian population, particularly the Malay rural community?

According to M.C.M.C. (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission) there are
13,528,200 Internet users as of Sept/2006 representing only 47.8% of the population. And these I guess are urban dwellers whose votes are heavily diluted by the unfair delineation of the electoral constituency with some estimating that a rural vote is worth 10 to 20 times that of an urban dweller. With this scenario, what possible effects that the bloggers' writing can influence the coming election? The situation seems bleak.

But listen to what Saidul A Shaari of Malaysian government officials VS Malaysian bloggers… The event is a blessing in disguise for the Malaysian Malays?. I as a non-Malay who unfortunately do not have much opportunities to go the the Malay kampungs (Malay villages). Saidul attended several Malaysian Malay matrimonial ceremonies (kenduri kahwin) located far from the city and deep in ‘kampungs’ in the past few weeks and was pleasantly surprised to hear those village folks talking about some of our well known Malaysian bloggers! After much listening here and there, he conclude that the publicity generated by our current war of words between authorities and the bloggers had benefited the Malaysian Malays in two (he said three, but I only found two) particular ways:

1. The Malaysian Malays now knew more about what is really going on in the country. All the while, their source of information was nothing more than the tightly controlled mainstream media but now they have another alternative - Malaysian blogs!
The Malaysian Malays are now more inclined towards reading news and information dished out by alternative newsprint media such as Harakah and online alternative news media such as HarakahDaily and MalaysiaKini. They would go and check every single news splashed on mainstream news media against the alternative news media. Looks like the Malaysian Malays today are becoming more aware of the things going on around them. Finally they have the intelligence to do some comparison. Unfortunately, I don't hear Raja Petra of Malaysia Today mentioned. But still, MalaysiaKini is a good source of real news.

2. The Malaysian Malays also found out much to their shock that the non-Muslims in Malaysia do not like their community and their religion, Islam. They were surprised to see that the non-Muslims in Malaysia openly criticized and condemned Islam from some Malaysian blogs that they were reading. Saidul said the Malaysian Malays in general should not blame the non-Muslims for disliking them. They cannot really blame non-Malay, non-Muslim for even hating the Muslims. Some of our non-Muslims in Malaysia even knew more about Islam than some of the Malaysian Malay Muslims. They have bought books on Islam and tried to learn and understand more about Islam. They even read our Holy Quran to learn more about Islam! When they are done with their readings, they suddenly found that the Malaysian Malays in general are not really practicing Islam as what has been taught in Islam. Hence, the Malaysian Malay Muslim are actually giving bad impressions to the non-Muslims. It is all due to their own faults. Some of the better known Ulamas and Muftis had spoken about this but unfortunately their calls for all Malaysian Muslims to go back to Islamic basics and keep the remembrance of Allah close to their hearts had been suppressed by the authorities.

Due to the grossly unfair delineation of the electoral constituencies, the rural folks are the ones who ultimately decide who sits in the Parliament, assuming that the elections are free and fair. Dare we hope that this awakening that there is something rotten in our country will eventually bring some changes?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Malaysia at 50: Sedition Act and the Nationhood Forum

Forum: Malaysia at 50: Sedition Act and the nationhood

Organizers

Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
Institute of Policy Research/ Institut Kajian Dasar (IKD)
KL-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Civil Rights Committee (CRC)

Date
24th August 2007

Time
8:30pm

Venue: Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Jalan Maharajalela (opposite
monorail station- Maharajalela stop)

Speakers:
Haris Ibrahim- human rights lawyer; initiator, People's Parliament project
Khalid Jaafar- Executive Director, Institute of Policy Research (IKD)
Dr. Dzulkifli Ahmad- Director, PAS Research Centre central working committee
Yasmin Ahmad- Filmmaker, Advertising Film Creative Director, blogger

Chairperson and Moderator: Gayathry Venkiteswaran, CIJ Executive Director

Brief on Sedition Act 1948

Lately, Sedition Act 1948 has been central in the controversies involving blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin and student musician Wee Meng Chee, or "Namewee", who produced a rap video featuring the national anthem. The broad power vested under the Sedition law inevitably raises questionabout the protection for freedom of expression and whether such stringent limit could limit healthy
dialogue among different communities. Do we need the Sedition Act, a product of the postwar Emergency Period, to protect our nationhood and social harmony after fifty years of independence? Has it made our nation stronger or weaker? Is it time for Malaysians to think out of box for something else? We invite an eloquent human rights
lawyer, an internationally- acclaimed movie director and two articulate political think-tankers to share their thoughts.

Centre for Independent Journalism
27-C, Jalan Sarikei, off Jalan Pahang,
53000 Kuala Lumpur
T : 03 4023 0772
F : 03 4023 0769
Center for Independent Journalism, Malaysia

Contact Person:
Yip Wai Fong CIJ Advocacy Officer.
03 4023 0772, 012-6986662

Monday, August 20, 2007

People's Merdeka (Merdeka Dialogue): "Merdeka: Wither Bangsa Malaysia?": Report

Here are some photographs of the event held on 19 August 2007 at the Crystal Crown Hotel, Petaling Jaya.

People's Merdeka (Merdeka Dialogue):
The speakers


On the left is Jeff Ooi of Screenshot who just left Gerakan party to join DAP, and at his side, Haris Ibrahim, the human rights lawyer.

The panelists including Jeff Ooi and Haris Ibrahim
The panelists


A comment by one of the speakers - where are the young ones? A comment by me - where are the Malays. My question was, how on earth is Bangsa Malaysia ever going to become reality if we can't get Malays to join such gatherings? There were only two, one among the speakers, and one among the panelists. But I was assured by Haris Ibrahim that if you talk to the kampong folks, you will be more optimistic.

More later.

the audience
The audience

Friday, August 17, 2007

People's Merdeka (Merdeka Dialogue)

People's Merdeka (Merdeka Dialogue)

Title of the event:
"Merdeka: Wither Bangsa Malaysia?"

Yes, how far are we from achieving that Bangsa Malaysia with this stress on "Bagi, agama, bangsa dan negara"?

Date: 19 August 2007 (Sun)
Time: 2.00pm
Venue: Crystal Crown Hotel, Petaling Jaya

Speakers:
1 ) Sdr Lim Guan Eng
2 ) Sdr Lim Kit Siang
3 ) Y. Bhg Tunku Abdul Aziz
4 ) Datuk Param Cumuraswamy
5 ) Mr Yeo Yang Poh

Panel:
1 ) Sdr M Manogar
2 ) Sdr Haris Ibrahim
3 ) Sdr Jeff Ooi
4 ) Dr Oh Ei-Sun

For more information, call 03-79578022 (Lim Swee Kuan)

50th Merdeka Anniversary Nation Building Dialogue

The 50th Merdeka Anniversary Nation Building Dialogue event is jointly organised by Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI) and Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS). Refreshments will be served.

Date: August 30, 2007 - (Thursday)
Time: 9.30am
Venue: Auditorium 7, SUNWAY University College, Bandar Sunway

Special Addresses: Experiences, Struggles and Lessons from the Past

1 ) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, former Prime Minister of Malaysia
2 ) Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, former President of MCA and Parti Gerakan

Moderator:
Dato' Dr Michael Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer, Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI)

Question & Answer Session:
Dialogue Session on Building a United Malaysian Nation

Special Panel Discussants:
1 ) Dr Chandra Muzaffar, President, International Movement for
a Just World (JUST)
2 ) Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Simon Sipaun, Vice-Chairman,
SUHAKAM and former Sabah State Secretary
3 ) Reverend Dr Hermen Shastri, Secretary-General, Council of
Churches Malaysia.
4 ) Mr Ragunath Kesavan, Vice-President, Malaysian Bar Council
5 ) Toh Puan Uma Sambanthan, Wife of former MIC President,
Tun V. T. Sambanthan

Moderator:
Dato' Dr Michael Yeoh

For further information, please call 03-20932820 (Jessica or Tricia)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Poll: Is the world flat or round?

Note: Poll at the bottom of post)

Background: I attended the Parliamentary Roundtable to reaffirm that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion and not an Islamic state (click BACK button to get back to this page) and was very impressed with the intelligence and speech by Farish A. Noor. He said he studied the countries were former colonies in Africa and Asia like Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak and which obtained independence and went on to become nations. He said he noticed a disturbing pattern, in that many of these countries have a weak democracy. In a weak democracy, you can have a rule by decree where a powerful few rule the country by decree.

I would place Malaysia currently as a weak democracy, and the shocking statement by our Honorable Deputy Prime Minister which clearly runs contrary to the supreme Constitution and the intentions of our founding fathers and what Sabah and Sarawak expected when they were persuaded to join the federation of Malaysia, as almost a rule by decree. I am of course referring to his statement that Malaysia had always been an Islamic state and never a secular state. Then the subsequent order to the mass media not to publicise any discussions on the issue except statements by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister when this naturally prompted energetic rebuttals.

This was followed by the statement by the Honorable Prime Minister that Malaysia is neither a secular state or an Islamic state. I was told by Y.B. Lim Kit Siang that he has tried to ask the Prime Minister what kind of state is Malaysia many times, but to date never got a response. A very natural state of affair when authorities get questions or requests which are very difficult to respond to.

Farish A. Noor then offered an interesting parallel "example". He said that in a country, a leader decreed that the world is flat and no one can dispute that. Then another leader also decreed that the world is neither flat nor round. So is the world flat or round? We will like to see what are the opinions of the readers of this blog is by making a poll. Let us have your voice heard by voting in the poll below. Ours is still a democracy, although a weak one:

Is the world flat or round?
Flat
Round
Neither flat nor round
  
pollcode.com free polls

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, Sultan of Selangor: More hope for Malaysia?

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah has called for immediate action to be taken to check corruption, bureaucratic red tape, race problems, religious intolerance, the brain drain and crime, issues which are troubling many concerned Malaysians these days. While much of the power of the royalties had been taken away, I think they still command much respect especially among the rural communities. Plus many of the royalties are now very highly educated.

The Sultan of Selangor said that corruption is still a problem and that people are very concerned about it, echoing the thoughts of many Malaysians. He called for more effective actions to be taken.

He also expressed concern over the country's brain drain, pointing out Singapore as the greatest benefactor of the brain drain. I can vouch for that for the former CEO {Chief Executive Officer} of SIA {Singapore Airlines} one of the most successful airlines in the world, Dr. C.K. Cheong, was my former statistic lecturer and a Malaysian citizen, although I do not know if he had taken up Singapore citizenship. The Sultan of Selangor pointed out as examples a highly qualified Malaysian academic could not get an appointment in any of the Malaysian universities, but was appointed as a department head at the NUS (Natioinal University of Singapore), and the Malaysian architect who designed the Singapore National Library.

The Sultan of Selangor indicated that the Palace is taking the lead in caring for the environment by committing to plant 5,000 trees on its ground.

He called for respect for each other's religion, national unity and racial harmony.

Related post: Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah, Raja Muda (Crown Prince) of Perak, hope for Malaysia

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Malaysia Parliament House

Friday 10 August 2007 was the first time I stepped into the Malaysia Parliament House to attend the Parliamentary Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion and not an Islamic state (click BACK button to get back to this page). Took some photos to show how the Parliament House as seen from outside and part of the inside its compound. The top part of this post shall consist mainly of photos. The bottom part is the more important section of the post. Here is a view from outside:

Malaysia Parliament House from outside
Outside view of Malaysia Parliament House


This is the view of the tower block from the car park inside the compound:

View of the tower block of the Malaysia Parliament House from the Car Park inside the compound
View of Malaysia Parliament House Tower block from car park


It seems the Parliament house is divided into 2 blocks, the 18-storey tower block that you see in the photos above and the three-storey podium, housing the Senate and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) behind it. Beside the main tower are some nice fountains and a photo of one of them is shown below:

Water fountain beside main tower


The Parliamentary Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion and not an Islamic state (click BACK button to get back to this page) was held in the three-storey podium behind the main tower. To get in, we have to put our keys and digital camera in a basket and pass through a metal detector. We also have to surrender our identity card to get a visitor pass although if I am not wrong, it is against the law to hold the identity cards of visitors. Strange that such requirement is practiced in the house of the lawmakers when at the Citibank building tower, to get in, they only scan your identity card but give it back to you. Seemed to me Citibank is more law abiding than our law makers!

To get to the chamber where the Roundtable is held, we have to go through a long corridor pictured below:

Corridor to the chamber


This photo was actually taken after the Parliamentary Roundtable is over, and the figure on the left in the distance is Harris Ibrahim whose writings I have quoted in other parts of this blog. Alon the corridors are, among others, an indoor garden and a souvenir shop. Below is a photo of the indoor garden:

Indoor garden


At the end of the corridor, we had to climb the stairs to the first floor to the discussion chamber. Unfortunately, another group was occupying the chamber beyond their allotted time, and we had to wait outside. Here are some photos while we were waiting to get in:

Parliament Opposition Leader interviewed by Oriental Press reporter


Wonder if the report of the interview will ever get to see the light of day.

Well, those are some photos of the Malaysia Parliament House. The Parliament, according to Fulton, E. Davie. Progressive Conservative Member for Kamloops, B.C., Canada, exists for the purpose of controlling the executive, of holding it accountable and responsible in the fullest sense; and second, that Parliament is a representative institution to which the people have entrusted the task of acting for them with respect to this matter of controlling and giving consent to the proposals of the executive. There are supposed to be 3 branches of bodies to govern the affairs of a democracy. These three branches are the Executive, Legislative (Parliament or Congress), and Judicial branches. No one branch contains absolute power, rather, each branch is balanced off of the others creating a system of checks and balances to protect the principals of democracy.

However, it appear to many that this system of checks and balances have been broken down to quite an extend in Malaysia by the sheer majority of the Barisan (coalition) and the way the constituencies are divided. Malaysia has always been proud to proclaim to the world that there is power sharing among the races in Malaysia. However, the Barisan itself is dominated by UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) dominates the Barisan and dictate terms and the other parties appear to me to be there just to tag along. They are bound by the whip to vote for all proposals by the executives and to vote against any proposals by the opposition, irrespective of the merits of a proposal. The Barisan Members of Parliament are not allowed to vote according to concience. So what is the purpose of all debates and the shoutings when at the end of the day, result of the debate is irrelevant. The Parliament as it exist today appear to be nothing but a rubber stamp for the purpose of formalising the proposals of the Executive. It is my hope as a Malaysian citizen who was born here, bred here and intend to live out the rest of my life here that the situation will change and the Malaysia Parliament will one day become what it is meant to be, where meaningful debates are carried out, where no one is allowed to call another "stupid, stupid, stupid....." instead of rebutting a valid point brought up, and get away with it because the Speaker says such language is the norm, when Members of Parliament, irrespective of party, ruling or opposition, are allowed to vote according to conscience.

Regarding this issue of Malaysia being an Islamic state, the MCA or the Malaysia Chinese Association made a statement, and was promptly ordered by the UMNO youth to shut up. Now not a squeak on the issue from them. What is the role of the other component parties in the Barisan?

The Judiciary have been shackled from the day the former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir sacked the then Lord President Salleh Abbas in 1988 and the power of the judges to declare laws or executive actions ultra vires if they clashed with the Constitution was squashed. Now we have a subsevient Judiciary which is not independent, where the appointments of judges are controlled by the Executive.

Farish A Noor talked about what can happen in a weak democracy where a powerful few can rule by decree, and if the citizens don't wake up, this is the situation we will end up with if we do nothing and allow it to happen. BTW, there is further discussions of this at Poll: Is the world round or flat? Has important implications for Malaysia.

Think carefully before you convert to Islam

If you have any intention to convert to Islam, do so only if you truly believe in the teachings of the religion, you are prepared to be subject to its rules and requirements, you intend to practice it and to follow its teachings. Do not do it just because you want to marry a Muslim. This advice is especially directed towards woman who may want to marry a Muslim man. While Islam discourage divorce, it is very easy for a Muslim man to divorce his wife. A Muslim husband can divorce his wife by pronouncing divorce orally three times on his wife. The divorced woman will then be faced with a very difficult situation as she will not be able to remarry a person of another faith without first having succeeded in renouncing Islam.

Now if the divorced wife want to renouce Islam, she will have to go the the Syariah court and I believe in every case, the court will order compulsory conseling. There had been cases of forced detention for long period for conselling. And there will be a very high possibility that her wish to renouce Islam will not be granted even after counselling. Plus apostasy (renounciation of a religion) is considered a crime in some Malaysian states. So asking a Muslim to go the the Syariah court to get permission to renounce Islam is as good as asking him/her to incriminate himself/herself.

Google the terms Revathi Islam or Lina Joy and you will see what a Muslim who wants to renounce the religion have to go through. So refer to Candleligth vigil for Revathi (and for Malaysia) (click BACK button to get back to this page).

Recently there is another case. A religious court has ordered a Malaysian woman, Siti Fatimah who is an ethnic Chinese whose original name was Tan Ean Huang, and is trying to renounce Islam, to undergo three months of counseling. Siti Fatimah says she converted from Buddhism to Islam in 1998 because married an Iranian, but she never truly practiced Islamic teachings. The Iranian left her after nearly two years of marriage.

So think very carefully before you decide to convert to Islam as it is a very important decision deserving much delibration and heart searching. Be wise.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Parliamentary Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion and not an Islamic State: Report

The Parliamentary Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion and not an Islamic State was successful executed, though with a slight delay because another group had occupied the chamber a bit longer than their allotted time. The panelists were, from left to right:

Y.B. Karpal Singh, the Lion of Gelugor (absent from photo because he was in the wheelchair, not on the platform).
DAP National Chairman
M.P. Bukit Gelugor

Honey Tan
AWAM (All Women's Action Society)

Dr. Farish A. Noor
Political scientist and historian at the Centre for Modern Orient Studies, Berlin

Malik Imtiaz Sawar
HAKAM (National Human Rights Society)

Y. B. Lim Kit Siang
Parliament Opposition Leader

Datuk Vatthilingam
MCCBHCST (Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism)

Lim Guan Eng
DAP Secretary General

Dr. Nasir
Protem Chairman
Party Socialist Malaysia

Andrew Choo
Human Rights Committee
Bar Council Malaysia

Parliament Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular State and not an Islamic State panelists
Parliament Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular State and not an Islamic State panelists


Here is the missing Lion of Gelugor - Y.B. Karpal Singh (behind him are some journalists, probably including one from Malaysiakini as the event is reported in that online newspaper):

Lion of Gelugor - Y.B. Karpal Singh


Below is a photo of some of the participants (minus me plus some cut off from the left hand corner). I am not a journalist, but perhaps trying to be one. A true and impartial journalist is said to report events as the are, not as them want to be Unfortunately events like protests against petrol price increase drew large crowd but events involving crucial issues like this drew a pathetic crowd. I was told the Barisan M.P.'s and others were invited but declined. Would have loved them to be present to rebut the arguments put forth by the panelists and the participants, but apparently they prefer to ignore such events (the points put forth are hard to dispute in my opinion) but probably prefer to blank out mainstream media coverage of such events and maybe just dismiss them as nonsense if they appear on the Internet rather than rebutting them.

Parliamentarh Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular state and never an Islamic State - Participants
Participants at the Parliament Roundtable to reaffirm Malaysia is a secular State and not an Islamic State participants


As I said above, I am not a journalist and don't have a tape recorder nor can I take notes in short-hand, but scribble what I can. So what I report may not be exactly accurate (some may be from my recollection or even my own interpretation. My apologies to the panelists if I have quoted them inaccurately). I hope to contact them to examine this post and correct me wherever I am wrong or missed out something important. This is the first time I am doing something like this and if a future opportunities come, from the experience gained, I hope to do better next time.

Y.B. Lim Kit Siang started off the discussions summarising why Malaysia cannot be considered an Islamic state, then passed the microphone to Malik Imtiaz Sawar.

Some points raised by Malik Imtiaz Sawar

Declaration of Malaysia as an Islamic State cannot be taken lightly, but have serious legal implications. In a secular state, the Constitution is the supreme law . In a weak democracy (which is what Malaysian is now), the Executive controls the Parliament. Rule can be by decree by a powerful few. The Judiciary is controlled by the Executive. The statement by the honorable Deputy Prime Statement has no basis and is an irresponsible statement.

This is not part of Malik Imtiaz Sawar's speech at the Parliamentary Roundtable, but is what I believed he published as part of this preparation for the Roundtable. You can read more about his thoughts on this issue at Not just a matter of labels

Some points raised by Y.B. Karpal Singh

What state are we? The documents available showed clearly Malaysia is a secular state.

Some points raised by Farish A. Noor, the internationally renowned scholar

In his study of various countries who got Independence from the colonists, he found some disturbing trends and similarity. A weak democracy can lead to a rule by decree. He gave an interesting example: A deputy decreed that the world is round and no one is to dispute it nor discuss it. His superior came up with a slightly watered down version - the world is neither flat nor round, and I suppose no one can question that either. So is the world flat or round?

He said there is a pattern that the more corrupt the leaders are, and the greater their credibility drops, the more religious they will want to appear. He said no true Islamic state will support (a very draconian) ISA (Internal Security Act).

"Centuries of Muslim legal scholarship have argued against detention without trial, and yet we have politicians summarily applied Islamic ethics to which we cannot, beyond any stretch of the imagination, reach the even minimum basic ethical requirement of any Muslim theology."

Some try to demonise the definition of a secular state as anti-religion. He says a secular state is not anti-religion (further notes not legible). The only important thing in a secular Malaysia is that every Malaysian is considered equal.

Farish Noor's speech is reported in Malaysiakini at Nation descending into sectarian politics. You have to subscribe to Malaysiakini to read the report in full.

Some points raised by Mr. Lim Guan Eng

We Malaysians have been given many promises. Religious freedom? There is no (real) religious freedom. Give financial aids to temples and churches? Some even had to wait for years to get approval and are forced to go to court to get building approval. So what religious freedom? Most wouldn't even dare to ask for financial aid, much less expect to get any.

And why would the whole government machinery be brought against a 24 year old Taiwanese student Lee Meng Chee? To distract attention from something? He said if there is any action taken against him, Karpal Singh will defend him. He quoted the well known saying about the freedom of expression - 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'

Some points raised by Honey from AWAM

There have been many cases of injustice been perpetrated against women, and many of them steamed from the Syariah. She quoted the cases of Sharmala, Lina Joy, Revathi, the refusal of the Parliament to make marital rape as a crime, based on the Syariah law.

Some points raised by Harcharan Singh

A secular state means all citizens are equal. That is not so in an Islamic state. Many are denied justice because of Islam. Some judges also refused to give justice to some people because of Islam.

Some points raiased by Datuk Vatthilingam

He remembered that Malaysia had always been a secular state. Why now the declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state again? Is it for politial mileage, to try to win votes for the coming election, to distract attention from something more serious? The government is continuing to use race and religion to try to run the country their own way. There are subtle moves to .....

Some points raised by Andrew Choo

He said, some ask why the statement that Malaysia is an Islamic state is so important. I think he said something that statements like this can have legal implications and can lead to undesirable consequences, like how other countries are going to view us and interact with us. I think he also said it may also embolden some religious zealots in making things difficult for non-Muslims (and perhaps even moderate Muslims). He said the test of democracy is how will it protects the weakest components of a nation.

Declaration

At the end of the Roundtable, Y.B. Lim Kit Siang read out a prepared declaration and asked those who agree with the declaration shows it by a show of hand. Those who agreed signed the declarations and handed them in, and I supposed they will be handed over to the proper authorities. I don't know what effect that will have, but at least, we have done our part.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, Raja Muda (Crown Prince) of Perak, hope for Malaysia

As mentioned, this blog is meant to promote Malaysia, and I am very happy to publish this post as the speeches by Raja Dr Nazrin Shah gave us loyal Malaysian some hope for the future of the nation. Unlike others who are privilaged, he declined using state funds for his recent wedding. The Perak State Secretary Datuk Dr Abdul Rahman Hashim (I presumed taking the stand from Raja Dr Nazrin Shah), said that people should not use government allocations for the purpose of buying gifts for the wedding.

"The departments are however allowed to donate and hold thanksgiving feasts at welfare homes by organising the event themselves or to channel their contributions through the palace," he said in a statement.

Raja Dr Nazrin Shah is the Raja Muda (Crown Prince) of Perak and also the son of the current Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Muhibbudin Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Yusuff Izzudin Shah Ghafarullahu-lahu and the Raja Permaisuri of Perak Tuanku Bainun Binti Mohd. Ali. I have great respect for Raja Dr Nazrin Shah. I is my fervent prayer that one day he may become the Prime Minister of Malaysia rather than the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (roughly equivalent to King). Raja Petra has an interesing article on that. It is the weird incidence of the successions of the Prime Ministers of Malaysia following in the order of RAHMAN, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia. If you want to read about it, surf over to Who comes after A?.

Sultan Azlan Muhibbudin Shah, the father of Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, was the ninth Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia from April 26, 1989 to April 25, 1994. A lawyer by profession, he was a judge, and previously served as the Lord President of the Federal Court. I also have great respect for him too.

Sources: Wikipedia

I and I am sure many other loyal but concerned Malaysian got their hopes raised from the speeches Raja Dr Nazrin Shah made rather than the many unbecoming speeches of some Members of Parliaments who makes seditious and sensitive speeches, and then label the responses of loyal and concerned citizens as seditious or sensitive, lies or stupid. Not only that, one such sensitive speech that Malaysia has always been an Islamic state and never a secular state drew great concern from non-muslims citizens who naturally try to rebut his uncalled for speech. A Minister then gave a directive that the mainstream media should not publicise any (valid)discussions by the public and that only the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister can make statements on the issue. I was glad to read a statement by our honorable Prime Minister that Malaysia is neither an Islamic state nor a secular state. However, he has not acted on many of the statements he made and I hope this will not be one of them.

Regarding the call for Malaysians to not make sensitive statements, there was the case of the current head of the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) youth, Hishamuddin Hussein, who waved a kris (Malay dagger) at last year’s national UMNO convention and offered to bathe it in Chinese blood to the loud cheers from the delegates, but was not hauled up for making sensitive statements. Why should the obligations of some Malaysians have to be adhered to and made accountable for, but others are not?

For more information on related post, refer to (click BACK button to get back to this post)
Flag of Malaysia and Flag of the United States of America (note particularly the updates at the bottom of this post).

There are many events which got many loyal but concerned non-Muslim Malaysians and also some Muslim Malaysians greatly disturbed. One was the case of Revathi who was born a Muslim, but brought up as a Hindu and married a Hindu. She got detained by the Islamic authorities for a long period of time and was forceably separated from her husband and children. She was only released just before a court hearing to try to free her, thus making that court hearing irrelevant and the concerned parties unable to bring up issues they want to raise. Refer to (click BACK button to get back to this page):
Candlelight vigil for Revathi (and for Malaysia)

Candlelight vigil for Revathi (and for Malaysia) Part 2

Unity Threatened by Continuing Infringements of Religious Freedom booklet

Celebrating 50 Years of Nationhood

However, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah has given us some hope. At the Keynote address by him at the first annual Student Leaders Summit 2007 - "Celebrating 50 Years of Nationhood" on Aug 5, 2007, at Nikko Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. He said, among other statements:

"The first is the Rule of Law and the inviolability of the constitution. The constitution is the supreme law of the country which guarantees fundamental liberties to every citizen. A cleverly crafted document, it clearly provides for adequate checks and balances against excesses through the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- with each protected from encroachment by the other."

""We must be the protectors of those who are vulnerable to abuse. We have to stand up and be counted. We have to protect the things that make our nations great..."

"Opportunities in the global world reward those with ability, regardless of colour or creed."

"As I have said elsewhere, to ensure sustained success at nation-building, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun." But

"Upholding the Rule of Law is paramount."

"Only those who are capable, responsible and scrupulously honest should be allowed to serve in positions of leadership. Those who are inefficient, incompetent and, most importantly, corrupt should be held in absolute contempt. There must also be concrete anti-corruption measures and management practices based on efficiency, transparency and accountability. It is also very important that we have leaders who are earnest in maintaining unity, never resorting to religious or ethnic posturing to further their political careers at the expense of peace and security. Should they fail in this respect, they must be held accountable and answerable before the law."

"Third, you must take personal ownership over the wellbeing of the country. Do not succumb to indifference and apathy. Hold on to your ideals. Do not give way to cynicism and opportunism. Believe that you can make a difference. Channel your energies in a constructive manner to bring about positive changes around you." (This is what I am trying to do by publishing posts like these, but my family hoped it will not get me into trouble like Nathaniel Tan, Raja Petra, Jeff Ooi, Rockybru. However, I don't think this blog will draw the amount of traffic they attract, so probalby, I am safe, as I don't think I pose much of a threat. I also refuse to publish seditious posts or posts insulting the Agong and Islam, nor allow comments of such nature. I hope to promote unity in diversity, not disunity, chaos and trouble).

Young Malaysians’ Roundtable Discussion on National Unity and Development in Malaysia: Prospects and Challenges for Nation Building

This Roundtable Discussion was organised by the Bar Council and Transparency International KL Chapter. Statements made by him at this Rountable Discussion include:

"Political, social and economic incentives must reward good behaviour and penalise bad." I wish this is happening especially when the current Honorable Prime Minister vowed to fight corruption among various other election promises in the last election. But what we are seeing is bloggers like Raja Petra who made corruption allegations backed by documents according to him (some of them appear as screenshots in his blog Malaysia Today), but are being harassed (and apparently now extended to members of his family who have nothing to do with his blog) while those who are accused are either not investigated or not thoroughly investigated.

Then there is the case of Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop’s evasive but technically-correct replies to the Public Accounts Committee over the ECM Libra-Avenue Capital merger. Nor Mohamed kept repeating the technically-correct answer that the Securities Commission had approved the merger. What the public wants to know is who in the first place within Government gave the initial approval or the first green light to sell Avenue Capital? Nor Mohamed, according to Raja Petra of Malaysia Today, is being very evasive about this simple question.

(may be continued)