NB: This press statement was released on 27 September 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

The proposed amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA) have caused a public outcry, not least because it appears to be a way of reintroducing the controversial provisions of the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) and Emergency Ordinance (EO), both of which were repealed by the very same administration.

Many have pointed out the double standards of Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak, who began his term promising “transformation” and respect for human rights and civil liberties, but have now succumbed to business as usual by undoing his very own reforms, and his own credibility in the process.

Further to that, the amendments to the PCA are problematic due to a few other reasons, as stated below.

No to preventive detention

Firstly, the reintroduction of preventive detention is completely unnecessary. This is especially so in light of the fact that the Government has already passed the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, which allows for preventive detention in cases of national security. Moreover, even without the amendments, the PCA already allows for remand of up to 28 days and then a further 28 days upon the approval of a magistrate.

Therefore, the PCA amendments can be seen as an attempt to broaden the ambit for detention without trial. Instead of taking the easy way out by using detention without trial, the police should focus on solving crime via the criminal justice system.

Overturning of the principle of justice

Secondly, there is a strong element of presumption of guilt in the proposed changes to the PCA. For example, section 7C(a)(i) states that a detention order can be issued on a person who has “committed two or more serious offences, whether or not he is convicted thereof, if the inquiry report finds sufficient evidence to support such finding.” In other words, a person who has been accused of an offence can be detained without having been proven to have committed it. Does this not contradict the basis of criminal justice, whereby a person is innocent until proven guilty?

Arbitrary power of the Prevention of Crime Board

Thirdly, it would appear that the arbitrary powers of the Home Minister that existed in the ISA has now been replaced with the arbitrary powers of a “Prevention of Crime Board.” This Board will comprise three members, with a chairman who “shall be or have been, or be qualified to be, a judge of the Federal Court, the Court of Appeal or a High Court.” In addition to the chairman, there will be two other members. However, the bill provides no specification of any criteria whatsoever for the appointment of these two other members. This raises many questions – who will recommend them and on what basis would they be recommended?

Lack of independence and check and balance in decision-making

Finally, the proposed law also prohibits legal redress by not allowing judicial review of the Board’s decisions. This is stated by Section 15A(1): “There shall be no judicial review in any court of, and no court shall have or exercise any jurisdiction in respect of, any act done or finding or decision made by the Board in the exercise of its discretionary power….” A judicial review is only possible on matters concerning the Board’s compliance with procedural requirements.

Oddly, however, Section 19A(2) appears to contradict the earlier section by allowing a review of “the direction of the Board… by the High Court”. As such, it is at best a contradicting law and at worst, one that ignores the fundamental principles of justice.

Conclusion

Thus, it is obvious that the proposed amendments to the PCA are a clear violation of civil liberties, and a return to a haunted past Malaysians believed to have been buried. While we do not object to the strengthening of existing criminal laws to tackle escalating crime, the current amendments are akin to the government reviving the oppressive EO and ISA through the backdoor via the PCA.

Steven Sim Chee Keong, Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam

Zairil Khir Johari, Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera

NB: This press statement was released on 26 September 2013 in Alor Setar.

Bagi pihak DAP Kedah, saya ingin menyampaikan salam takziah kepada keluarga Tan Sri Dato’ Seri DiRaja Ustaz Haji Azizan bin Abdul Razak atas pemergian Allahyarham yang cukup selesa dan rendah diri dengan panggilan mesra, Ustaz Azizan. Demikianlah janji Tuhan, tiada yang dapat menundanya mahupun mempercepatkannya barang sesaat juga.

Allahyarham Ustaz Azizan bukan sahaja tokoh pemimpin politik yang dihormati, malahan juga seorang pemimpin agama serta bekas ahli akademik yang disegani. Sesungguhnya, negeri Kedah telah kehilangan seorang pemimpin yang memiliki keperibadian unggul dalam banyak bidang – siasah, akademik, dan agama – yang amat sukar dicari ganti.

DAP Kedah juga ingin menyatakan rasa berbesar hati kerana dapat berkhidmat bersama Allahyarham Ustaz Azizan yang senantiasa tegas dalam komitmennya untuk memastikan kebajikan rakyat dan pembangunan negeri Kedah.

Meskipun kepimpinan Allahyarham di Kedah hanya sepenggal, namun dalam tempoh itu Allahyarham telah menunjukkan tauladan pentadbiran yang telus dan amanah. Semoga usaha, jasa, pengorbanan dan kerja keras Allahyarham dirahmati Allah.

Zairil Khir Johari, Pengerusi Interim DAP Kedah merangkap Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This press statement was released on 26 September 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

Kami berasa amat hairan membaca maklumbalas Timbalan Perdana Menteri merangkap Menteri Pendidikan Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin mengenai pendedahan bahawa syarikat perunding McKinsey & Co telah dibayar RM20 juta untuk menyediakan Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia (PPPM) 2013-2025.

Menurut laporan media, beliau dipetik sebagai berkata, “Saya percaya itu satu kadar yang berpatutan sebenar pasal dalam mana-mana usaha yang kita buat pun, kita memerlukan beberapa pihak yang agak lebih pakar membantu.”[1]

Sememangnya kami tidak menafikan bahawa pandangan, pendapat dan analisa daripada pakar, khususnya pakar pendidikan, adalah diperlukan. Namun begitu, kami mempertikaikan mengapa perunding bukan pakar pendidikan telah dilantik sedangkan kerajaan mempunyai ramai pakar yang mampu melaksanakan tugas tersebut.

Sebagai contoh, laporan akhir PPPM sendiri telah menyenaraikan sumbangan daripada pakar-pakar tempatan, termasuk kajian oleh enam buah universiti awam tempatan, iaitu Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Universiti Penguruan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) dan Akademi Kepimpinan Pengajian Tinggi (AKEPT).

Malah, Kementerian Pendidikan juga telah memperolehi khidmat nasihat antarabangsa daripada pakar-pakar seperti Unesco, yang telah menyediakan laporan terperinci mengenai pembangunan kurikulum, teknologi maklumat dan komunikasi dalam pendidikan, pendidikan guru, latihan dan pendidikan teknik dan vokasional; serta peperiksaan dan pentaksiran murid.

Selain itu, Bank Dunia (World Bank) juga telah menjalankan kajian menyeluruh ke atas perbelanjaan awam (Public Expenditure Review) termasuk sektor pendidikan pada tahun 2011. Pada masa yang sama, Panel Dialog Nasional Pendidikan Malaysia di bawah pimpinan Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin juga telah menyediakan laporan hasil daripada mesyuarat-mesyuarat Townhall yang telah diadakan di 14 negeri.

Pemandu pula melaksanakan Makmal Pendidikan dengan sokongan pasukan NKRA Pendidikan. Makmal tersebut diketuai oleh pakar-pakar tempatan daripada Kementerian Pendidikan termasuk daripada Institut Aminuddin Baki.

Di samping itu, Panel Penilai Bebas Malaysia juga telah ditubuhkan di bawah pimpinan Prof Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak. Panel Penilai Bebas Antarabangsa pula telah ditubuhkan dengan keanggotaan pakar-pakar seperti Dr Andreas Schleicher (Ketua, Analisis dan Indikator, OECD), Dr Byong-Man Ahn (Mantan Menteri Pendidikan Korea Selatan), Prof Michael Fullan (Penasihat Khas kepada Premier dan Menteri Pendidikan Ontaria, Kanada) dan Prof Sing Kong Lee (Pengarah, Institut Pendidikan Kebangsaan, Singapura).

Ketersediaan khidmat nasihat pakar-pakar di atas adalah bukti bahawa Kementerian sudah mempunyai pakar pendidikan yang bukan sahaja mampu tetapi bertaraf antarabangsa. Justeru, mengapa perlunya Kementerian melantik perunding McKinsey dengan jumlah RM20 juta? Adakah ini “berpatutan”?

Tambahan pula, sumbangan sebenar McKinsey – yang bukan pakar dalam bidang pendidikan – adalah tidak jelas kerana tidak disenaraikan langsung dalam laporan PPPM. Jika McKinsey tidak menyumbang dari segi input, adakah peranan mereka itu hanya sekadar menulis laporan sahaja?

Tampaknya, jelas bahawa khidmat perunding McKinsey adalah tidak perlu, bukan sahaja dari segi input malah dari segi penyediaan laporan. Ini kerana Kerajaan mempunyai pelbagai jabatan dan agensi yang tidak kurang kemampuannya, seperti pasukan NKRA dan NKEA Pendidikan (Pemandu), Bahagian Perancangan dan Penyelidikan Dasar Pendidikan atau EPRD (Education Planning and Research Division), serta Unit Pelaksanaan dan Prestasi Pendidikan (Padu) yang ditubuhkan pada bulan April 2012.

Apakah Menteri tidak mempunyai keyakinan pada pakar-pakar dan pegawai-pegawai sendiri untuk menjalankan tugas mereka?

Dr Ong Kian Ming, Ahli Parlimen Serdang

Zairil Khir Johari, Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This press statement was released on 23 September 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

Kerajaan negeri Pulau Pinang telah mengumumkan bahawa semua Adun negeri tersebut, termasuk Adun pembangkang, akan diberikan peruntukan untuk projek pembangunan kecil. 10 orang Adun pembangkang daripada Umno akan diberi peruntukan sebanyak RM40,000 bagi tujuan tersebut mulai 2014.

Tindakan tersebut jelas merupakan satu langkah besar ke hadapan untuk mewujudkan sebuah demokrasi yang matang di negara kita. Ia sekaligus juga membuktikan bahawa kerajaan negeri Pulau Pinang tidak bermain politik dan sebaliknya serius dalam usaha pendamaian nasional yang tidak pernah diamalkan oleh kerajaan Persekutuan.

Usaha ini patut dicontohi setiap kerajaan negeri di Malaysia dan sudah tentu sekali oleh kerajaan Persekutuan. Pada tahun ini, sejumlah RM185.5 juta telah diperuntukkan kepada semua 222 kawasan parlimen. Jumlah ini bersamaan dengan lebih kurang RM835,000 setiap kawasan. Malangnya, Ahli Parlimen pembangkang langsung tidak diberi kuasa untuk mengurus ataupun meluluskan sebarang projek menggunakan peruntukan tersebut.

Jelas, tindakan ini merupakan diskriminasi terhadap Ahli Parlimen pembangkang dan pencabulan terhadap prinsip demokrasi. Ia juga boleh dilihat sebagai menghina rakyat di kawasan-kawasan pembangkang.

Justeru, kami menggesa kerajaan Persekutuan terutamanya Perdana Menteri Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak untuk mengikut jejak langkah kerajaan negeri Pulau Pinang dan memberikan peruntukan tahunan kepada Ahli Parlimen pembangkang agar kami dapat melaksanakan kewajiban kami sebagai wakil rakyat yang dipilih secara sah.

Kami juga berharap Perdana Menteri akan mengambil peluang ini untuk bertindak secara berhemah dan membelakangkan kepentingan politik sempit demi mencapai kematangan proses demokrasi di negara kita.

Steven Sim Chee Keong, Ahli Parlimen Bukit Mertajam 

Zairil Khir Johari, Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

The most basic form of democratic decision-making is the exercise of majority rule, a binary concept whereby the option that gains more than half the votes is chosen. However, this simplistic model, in use in most legislatures throughout the world including ours, can easily lead to majoritarianism, or simply put, the “tyranny of the majority”.

In such a situation, particularly in the absence of legal safeguards, political minorities risk the danger of being oppressed, be they minorities of race, gender or class. This is especially relevant to a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society such as ours, comprising of various ethnic groups co-existing alongside the majority Bumiputeras (most of whom are Malay-Muslims), which make up over 50 per cent of the population.

Such a delicate ethno-religious situation thus requires a kind of democracy that is more intuitive and just, which not only serves the wants and needs of the majority, but which also protects the rights and needs of the minorities. This balance is critical and must be maintained in order to provide the necessary space and opportunities for every citizen to achieve their optimal potential and ambitions.

In other words, the state must ensure the provision of social mobility. This goes beyond merely providing the required space and infrastructure, and then allowing nature to take its course. Such a liberal concept is problematic because it is unfair insofar as the world is unfair.

I refer here to the issue of income inequality. It has been traditionally accepted that inequality is a natural by-product of economic growth because healthy competition and meritocracy would result in unequal outcomes. After all, it makes sense that those who work harder and smarter than the rest would reap more benefits compared to those who aren’t as competitive. In short, income inequality reflects a well-functioning market economy.

However, recent empirical evidence produced by mainstream research has pointed out that income inequality may not be sustainable as far as long-term economic stability and growth is concerned. This is because income inequality will invariably result in the gross concentration of wealth at the top, and consequently weakening effective demand at the bottom. As we have seen in recent times, this may translate into loose monetary policy and unsustainable debt as the masses at the bottom struggle to keep up.

At the same time, income inequality also creates a vicious cycle of disenfranchisement as quality education, healthcare, economic opportunities and ultimately social mobility begins to edge further and further away from the reach of the masses. In other words, not only do the rich get richer, the poor will get poorer, both materially and socially.

Hence, the role of the state is extremely important in rebalancing inequality through income redistribution, not only to ensure the welfare of the people, but also to facilitate growth. The macro concept is simple enough – the healthier the population, the more educated they are and the more they earn, the stronger consumer demand becomes and the more sustainable the economy will be. For proof of concept, one only has to look at the Scandinavian model which has produced strong, resilient economic growth through equitable income redistribution.

Now, coming back to the Malaysian situation. We currently suffer from one of the highest levels of income inequality in the region. With a GINI coefficient of 0.4621, our income gap is the widest Southeast Asia. The bottom 40 per cent of Malaysian income earners earn a total of 14.3 per cent of total income while the top 20 per cent commands nearly half or 50 per cent.

Thus, while it is not difficult to argue for the need for some kind of redistributive policy, it is not as simple as one would think given the complicated nature of Malaysia’s polity, ethnic diversity and colonial history.

Post-1969, the Malaysian government recognised the need to address vast socio-economic inequalities that were apparent along racial lines, whereby the Bumiputeras, despite being the majority, only owned an equity share of 2.4 per cent of the economy, compared to the dominant Chinese, which made up the bulk of the capitalist class. Faced with a situation that would unlikely correct itself owing to the general lack of qualifications and social capital amongst the Malay populace, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was devised to address this gap.

The NEP entailed a two-pronged approach, namely: (1) the eradication of poverty regardless of race; and (2) the restructuring of society to eliminate the identification of race with economic function. The former took the form of rural development and poverty eradication programmes while the latter manifested as positive discrimination in favour of the Bumiputeras via education and employment quotas, government procurement policies, as well as corporate equity requirements on publicly-listed firms.

After two decades of the NEP, poverty was successfully reduced from 49.3 per cent in 1970 to single digits today. Local ownership of corporate equity also increased at the expense of foreigners while the Bumiputera share grew tenfold to about 20 per cent according to official data.

However, critics point out that while the NEP managed to lift a significant portion of our population out of the poverty trap and create a sizable and urbane Malay middle class, it has over the years also been used and abused not only to enrich a small elite class of Malay capitalists, but also as a tool of patronage.

Under the guise of the NEP, privatisation, property ownership, corporate listing requirements, senior public positions, and even education opportunities were captured and monopolised by those in power – all made kosher by the standard line of “helping the Malays”.

As a result, a handful of Malay millionaires and billionaires were created while the average Bumiputera remains trapped with little prospect of social mobility. According to the Federal Government’s New Economic Model, the bottom 40 per cent of Malaysian households earn an average household income of RM1,500 a month, with the Bumiputeras making up close to three-quarters of this number.

While inter-ethnic inequality has indeed been reduced, the intra-ethnic gap has widened by leaps and bounds. State monopoly capitalism now pervades, while the private sector is increasingly crowded out. In short, the NEP’s intended purpose of addressing poverty and increasing Malay participation in the economy has given way to corruption, cronyism and abuse of power for the benefit of the ruling capitalist class. This has occurred principally because of the racialised nature of the affirmative action policy, which allows special entitlements based solely on one requirement: race.

Hence, what is needed is not the dismantling of affirmative action, but a reorientation of the policy from race-based to needs-based. This will ensure positive discrimination not in favour of a certain race, which has been easily abused, but instead in favour of those who truly require support and assistance.

In particular, attention must be focused on the marginalised, such as the Orang Asli, the Bumiputeras of Sabah and Sarawak, other ethnic and religious minorities, and those in the lower income groups, in order to help them compete and in turn contribute towards the development of our nation.

We also need an economic agenda that recognises the problem of income inequality, and seeks to alleviate it by empowering those at the bottom, providing them with health, education and economic opportunities, regardless of race.

Most importantly, any kind of affirmative action must be implemented in a transparent and accountable manner, so as to reduce the scope for corruption and cronyism.

In this pivotal moment of our country’s development, it is critical that we embark on a new, inclusive national policy that is able to target and support the most vulnerable in our society. The failure to address this successfully will render any economic development meaningless, as its benefits will be invariably reaped by a select few.

After all, as Nelson Mandela once wrote, “a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones”.

NB: This press statement was released on 5 September 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

According to the Malaysiakini articled titled “Zam: DAP irate as its logo stands out in Tanda Putera” dated 4 September 2013, former minister of information Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin is quoted as saying that the DAP is against the film because the party’s logo is prominently displayed in the film’s controversial May 13, 1969 racial riot scene.

I would like to state that I have seen the film, and having done so, I admit that I am sorely disappointed. However, my dissatisfaction against the film stems not so much from the fact that the DAP was constantly maligned (indeed, our logo appeared to be omnipresent in most of the racial riot scenes, although there was no direct reference linking the party to the riots). This is because I had expected nothing less than a perversion of reality, as how the DAP has been constantly victimised and misrepresented in recent times, most notably over the CEC election.

I was also not surprised by the grossly unfair and one-sided portrayal of the Chinese as the main instigators of the racial riots. That too was expected, considering the film was fully funded by a RM4.8 million grant from FINAS (National Film Development Corporation) and MDEC (Multimedia Development Corporation). After all, race-baiting and provocation is everyday fare for the BN-controlled mainstream media.

However, what most surprised me, and disappointed me at the same time, was the fact that despite the record sum of money invested, the film failed miserably in its main objective – to honour and glorify the true achievements of the late Tun Abdul Razak.

Tun Razak, our second prime minister, is also known as Bapa Pembangunan (Father of Development), a sobriquet that reflects his efforts in championing extensive land reforms undertaken in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Under his stewardship, the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) and Urban Development Authority (UDA) were birthed, which ultimately led to rapid rural development and mass urbanisation of the Malays. Through FELDA, rural Malays were resettled into newly developed areas and granted land with which they could engage in modern agriculture. UDA, on the other hand, was tasked to oversee the urban migration of Malays.

As a result of these initiatives, millions of Malays were lifted out of poverty, while education and economic opportunities became accessible to the rural Malays. Consequently a thriving Malay middle class now exists today. That, above all, was Tun Razak’s greatest contribution to the country.

Unfortunately, anyone who watches the movie will be unable to appreciate any of those efforts. Instead, the viewer will merely learn that were it not for Tun Razak, Malaysia Airlines would today be known as MAL instead of MAS.

The gross abuse of millions of public funds for self-aggrandising propaganda notwithstanding, I believe the greatest tragedy of this film is its failure to contribute anything positive about one of our nation’s great leaders.

Zairil Khir Johari, MP for Bukit Bendera

Saya kecewa Tanda Putera remehkan jasa Tun Razak

Menurut artikel Malaysiakini yang bertajuk “Zam: DAP irate as its logo stands out in Tanda Putera” yang bertarikh 4 September 2013, bekas Menteri Penerangan Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin dipetik sebagai berkata, DAP menentang filem Tanda Putera kerana logo parti itu jelas dipaparkan dalam filem kontroversi 13 Mei 1969 dalam babak rusuhan kaum.

Saya ingin menyatakan bahawa saya telah menonton filem Tanda Putera, dan saya mengaku bahawa saya sangat kecewa. Walau bagaimanapun, rasa tidak puas hati saya terhadap filem ini tidak begitu banyak berpunca daripada hakikat cemuhan terhadap DAP (sememangnya, logo kami kelihatan jelas dalam kebanyakan adegan rusuhan kaum, meskipun tidak ada rujukan langsung bagi menghubungkan DAP dengan rusuhan). Ini adalah kerana saya telah menjangkakan penyelewengan realiti ini, sebagaimana DAP sentiasa dimangsakan dengan pelbagai tohmahan sejak kebelakangan ini, khususnya berkenaan pemilihan CEC yang lalu.

Saya juga tidak terkejut dengan gambaran tidak adil dan berat sebelah terhadap masyarakat Cina sebagai pencetus utama rusuhan kaum. Itu juga telah dijangka, memandangkan filem ini dibiayai sepenuhnya oleh geran RM4.8 juta daripada FINAS (Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional) dan MDEC (Perbadanan Pembangunan Multimedia). Lagipun, perangkap perkauman dan provokasi adalah modal harian media arus perdana yang dikuasai BN.

Walau bagaimanapun, apa yang paling mengejutkan saya, dan mengecewakan pada masa yang sama, adalah hakikat bahawa disebalik jumlah wang yang dilaburkan, filem ini gagal dalam objektif utamanya – menghormati dan memuliakan pencapaian sebenar Allahyarham Tun Abdul Razak.

Tun Razak, Perdana Menteri kedua, juga dikenali sebagai Bapa Pembangunan, gelaran penghormatan yang mencerminkan usaha beliau dalam memperjuangkan reformasi tanah besar-besaran yang dilaksanakan pada 1960-an dan awal 1970-an.

Di bawah kepimpinan beliau, Lembaga Kemajuan Tanah Persekutuan (FELDA) dan Lembaga Pembangunan Bandar (UDA) telah dibentuk, yang akhirnya membawa kepada pembangunan luar bandar yang pesat dan pembandaran besar-besaran orang Melayu. Melalui FELDA, Melayu luar bandar telah ditempatkan semula ke kawasan pembangunan baru dan dikurniakan tanah bagi membolehkan mereka melibatkan diri dalam pertanian moden. UDA pula telah ditugaskan untuk memudahcarakan migrasi Melayu ke bandar.

Hasil daripada inisiatif ini, berjuta-juta orang Melayu berjaya keluar daripada kemiskinan, manakala peluang pendidikan dan ekonomi dapat dicapai oleh orang Melayu luar bandar yang kemudiannya membentuk kelas menengah Melayu berdaya maju yang ada kini. Ini semua adalah sumbangan terbesar Tun Razak kepada negara.

Malangnya, sesiapa yang menonton filem ini tidak akan dapat menghargai mana-mana usaha tersebut. Sebaliknya, penonton hanya akan mengetahui bahawa kalaulah tidak kerana Tun Razak, syarikat penerbangan Malaysia hari ini akan dikenali sebagai MAL, dan bukan MAS.

Selain daripada penyalahgunaan nyata berjuta ringgit dana awam untuk propaganda diri sendiri, saya percaya tragedi terbesar filem ini adalah kegagalan untuk menyumbang nilai positif berkenaan salah satu daripada pemimpin besar negara kita.

Zairil Khir Johari, Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

Selama 56 tahun, rakyat Malaysia tanpa gagal menyambut satu perayaan yang cukup besar maknanya. Perayaan yang mengingatkan kita betapa berharganya nikmat hidup dalam keadaan bebas daripada cengkaman penjajah.

Dalam pada itu, umum juga menyedari bahawa penghayatan sambutan kemerdekaan bukan sekadar menggantungkan bendera kecil di kenderaan masing-masing, berdiri tegak di dalam pawagam semasa lagu Negaraku dimainkan atau berhimpun menunggu percikan bunga api pada detik 12 tengah malam.

Sebaliknya, kemerdekaan adalah sesuatu usaha pembinaan negara bangsa yang berterusan. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa setiap anggota masyarakat memiliki hak dan tanggungjawab bersama untuk menentukan corak dan masa depan negara ini. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa pilihan rakyat menjadi pilihan keramat. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa setiap insan yang bergelar rakyat dimartabatkan dengan kehidupan yang bermaruah dan peluang untuk menikmati berkongsi kekayaan negara ini.

Namun, walaupun sudah lebih setengah abad kemerdekaan, rakyat makin hidup dalam ketakutan dengan kadar jenayah yang kian meningkat. Hak demokratik pula tercabul apabila pilihan rakyat yang lantang dalam pilihan raya umum tidak berjaya diterjemahkan kepada realiti.

Kesenjangan pendapatan pula makin melebar sehingga negara kita mencatat Pekali Gini (Gini Coefficient) yang tertinggi di Asia Tenggara dan antara yang tertinggi di Asia. Begitu gentingnya jurang antara yang kaya dan miskin, akibat kerangka ekonomi kapitalis kroni yang menguntungkan segelintir elit serta kerabat mereka, sementara 40 peratus rakyat terbawah terpaksa hidup dengan pendapatan purata RM1,500 sebulan seisi rumah.

Yang paling teruk, keharmonian dan kesepaduan antara kaum dan agama makin terancam. Saban hari media arus perdana menyajikan rakyat dengan sentimen-sentimen ekstremis perkauman dan agama, seolah-olah kebencian itu merupakan sifat fitrah masyarakat kita. Apakah yang sudah terjadi dengan matlamat Bangsa Malaysia? Harapan mulia yang pernah diimpikan kini lemas diselubungi dendam kesumat gara-gara politik sempit dan pemimpin dangkal.

Justeru, kita memerlukan pembaharuan yang ketara dalam kancah politik negara kita. Politik lama – politik perkauman dan agama, politik kebencian dan ketakutan – sudah jelas gagal dan perlu dibelakangi. Yang diperlukan adalah keazaman politik baru, iaitu politik bertunjangkan dasar, yang menggalakkan perdebatan serta berjiwa besar. Sekiranya pemimpin politik kita sanggup melakukan perubahan ini, nescaya matlamat Bangsa Malaysia boleh dicapai.

Kita juga memerlukan kerangka ekonomi baru yang mampu mengagihkan kekayaan dengan lebih saksama. Bantuan sosial, pendidikan dan juga ekonomi harus diberikan – tetapi kepada mereka yang perlu dan bukan kepada mereka yang bergelar kroni. Ini tidak akan tercapai selagi sistem ekonomi berdasarkan perkauman tidak dapat diganti dengan sistem yang menyasarkan golongan yang paling memerlukan bantuan tanpa mengira kaum dan agama.

Akhir sekali, kunci kepada pembinaan Bangsa Malaysia terletak dalam sistem pendidikan. Pada masa kini, sistem pendidikan yang seharusnya menyatukan rakyat tampaknya semakin jauh daripada sasarannya. Menurut laporan awal Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia 2013 – 2025,  enrolmen murid bukan Melayu di Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) hanya 6 peratus manakala enrolmen murid bukan Cina di Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (SJKC) mencapai 12%. Statistik ini seolah-olah menyatakan SJKC lebih bersifat “kebangsaan” berbanding SK dari segi komposisi kaum. Sudah tentu, ia juga menonjolkan kegagalan kerajaan untuk menjadikan jurusan Sekolah Kebangsaan sebagai pilihan utama masyarakat.

Oleh itu, sudah tiba masanya kita memikirkan kembali bagaimana untuk mengembalikan fungsi pendidikan sebagai pemudahcara perpaduan nasional tanpa mengabaikan kepentingan mana-mana pihak.

Bagi saya, satu-satunya cara adalah melalui proses disentralisasi dalam sistem pendidikan. Saya percaya, kita harus mengagihkan tanggungjawab dan peranan utama dalam pendidikan kepada pihak-pihak berkepentingan (stakeholders), yakni ibu bapa, guru-guru, murid-murid serta masyarakat tempatan.

Sejauh mana yang mungkin, campurtangan politik harus dielakkan. Ini kerana secara lazimnya politik itu menjadi punca segala masalah, sepertimana yang sudah berulang kali kita alami sepanjang sejarah kita (memori yang paling segar kes PPSMI yang dilaksanakan semata-mata untuk memenuhi kehendak seorang pemimpin).

Sesudah 56 tahun bergelar Merdeka, besar harapan saya agar 56 tahun yang akan datang tidak akan menampakkan kegagalan impian dan harapan nenek moyang kita yang telah banyak berkorban demi mewariskan negara yang megah, maju dan saksama.

Maka, janganlah kita sia-siakan usaha mereka. Sebaliknya, marilah kita meneruskan agenda kemerdekaan dengan mengukuhkan lagi batu asas kenegaraan kita dan mendirikan rangka ekonomi, siasah dan pendidikan yang teguh bagi penjalinan Bangsa Malaysia pada suatu hari kelak.

NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

A climate of fear and tension appears to be gripping the Muslim world today – not only in the ever-conflicted Middle East, but even here in Malaysia. In recent months we have seen an increasing zeal on the part of the authorities, certain politicians and right-wing groups. The gross overreaction in the handling of issues such as the surau in Johor, the “dog lady” video incident, the use of the word “Allah”, and the growing persecution of minorities such as the Chinese, the Christians and the Shias, have revealed uncharacteristic fanaticism. Since when have we become such an intolerant society?

The worst part is that most of these sentiments do not assume any rationality. Take the virulent stance against the Shias for example. During one of the terawih prayers that I attended in the recent holy month of Ramadan, a popular cleric had been invited to deliver a tazkirah or sermon. In his sermon, the cleric nonchalantly informed us all that the Shias were not really Muslims, and that they worshipped a different religion altogether. I thought this extreme view was perhaps an isolated one, until I read that the Kedah state government is planning to gazette a fatwa that will effectively treat Shias as deviants.

Now, if Shias are deviants and regarded as non-Muslims, why do we invite them every year to participate in our annual Tilawah Al-Quran competition at the Putra World Trade Centre? In fact, since 1961, nine Iranians (read: Shias) have won the men’s recital competition. Furthermore, why is Iran accepted as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)? What about the thousands of Iranian students that we are willing to accept as students in our universities every year?

Obviously, there is more to it than meets the eye. I believe that this sudden surge of bigotry and hawkish posturing has more to do with local political manoeuvrings than cultural fault-lines. It is no coincidence that certain political leaders have adopted extremely hard-line stances just as their internal party elections loom around the corner. From now until October, I suspect we will see a proliferation of instant Malay-Muslim heroes. The only question is whether a keris will be brandished this time around.

In the same vein, a lot of what is interpreted as “sectarian tension” between Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East could also very well be a manifestation of geo-politics and the competition for power and influence, in particular between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

After all, as Duke University professor and Iranian exile Mohsen Kadivar astutely commented during his recent visit to Malaysia, the Sunni-Shia divide is 14 centuries old. After 1,400 years, no amount of fighting can change what happened. What happened, happened. Whether it was right or wrong, it happened. That is no longer the issue. Therefore, the conflict manifesting in the Middle East today is not really a quarrel over a historical event, but rather a struggle over influence and power in the region. Seen in this light, the couching of the conflict in sectarian or religious terms is merely a convenient label to justify the actions of the power-hungry. After all, who can argue with God?

Secularism as a safeguard against abuse by the state?

It is relevant to be aware of how popular opinion and perspectives can be shaped by political agendas, not only in interpreting the dynamics of conflict but also in discussing social and political philosophies such as secularism. This term has become highly contentious in our country, mainly because different communities understand it differently. For the minority non-Muslims, secularism is what they believe to be the foundation of our state – a guarantee of their freedom to express themselves and practise their beliefs without undue interference by the state.

However, the majority Malay-Muslims have an altogether different view. They are inherently suspicious of the term and believe it to be antithetical to the Islamic deen, or way of life. This is mainly due to the fact that their understanding of secularism is largely shaped by the Turkish experience of Kemalism and the Iranian experience under the Pahlavi Dynasty. This influence is pervasive because most religious knowledge in Malaysia is derived from post-Islamic Revolution scholars and literature. As such, the thought of secularism brings to mind the trauma of statist governments that suppress religious expression.

Now, while the regimes of Atatürk and the Shah can be considered harsh forms of secularism, it must be noted that they were both authoritarian regimes. In contrast, democratic models of secularism are far more moderate, such as that exists in India, Europe and the United States. In effect, secularism is not a definite concept and can take on various manifestations, ranging from the extreme to the liberal, depending on the nature of its implementers.

Broadly speaking, secularism in the political context is meant to denote a separation of religion and state. It is not to be confused with the secularisation of society. In fact, far from suppressing or casting aside religion, secularism as a concept of state can arguably provide greater respect for religion.

For example, an ideal secular state would respect freedom of religion and ensure that all religions can be practised without state interference and control, and instead be accorded assistance and support from the government. In India, for example, the government has for decades been subsidising the airfare of Muslims going on the Haj pilgrimage.[1] And we are talking about a secular country with a majority Hindu population!

Implemented well, a democratic secular state would also protect and allow greater space for discourse on cultural matters. This will allow civil society to flourish and contribute to the enlightenment of the populace. At the same time, cultural decentralisation will also be allowed to take its natural course – something that is relevant to our country. As we know, Malaysia is a federation of states in which Islam, alongside land and local government, is designated as a state matter. As a result, states may and do differ in opinion on various matters in the religion, thus allowing localised context and idiosyncrasies to exist.

For example, different states have differing opinions on the legality of practising yoga, the poco-poco dance, smoking and even investing in Amanah Saham unit trusts. Now, whether right or wrong is a matter of opinion, and should ideally be debated by a mature civil society. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in Malaysia. Not only do we have very little room for discourse, we are now seeing things start to go wrong when overzealous officials attempt to implement opinions as laws set in stone and then go on to persecute those who question them as criminals.

In short, state capture of sociological identities rarely results in positive outcomes. As we have seen in Malaysia and elsewhere in the world, race and religion are too easily hijacked and abused as tools for political gain and convenience.

To avoid this, we need to entrench certain “secular” safeguards in governance, provided they conform to democratic norms, in order to not only protect against state abuse of race and religion, but also to facilitate healthier discourse and development via civil society. The absence of such safeguards will allow room for those in power to impose their will in an arbitrary and self-serving manner.

After all, if history has proven anything, it is that whatever the ideological nature of the conflict, be it over race, religion or even class, the underlying pattern of power politics always remains the same.


[1] This practice is currently being phased out and will be replaced by a new model of imposing premiums on well-to-do pilgrims in order to cross-subsidise the poorer ones.

NB: This article was originally published in Roketkini.com.

Polemik PTPTN harus dibaca bersama dengan kualiti pendidikan tinggi negara, kerana pemahaman isu ini secara berasingan hanya akan menyebabkan kita menyalahkan para graduan dan mengutuk mereka sebagai golongan yang tidak tahu bersyukur serta lari daripada tanggungjawab membayar hutang. Kita juga akan gagal mencermati bahawa para graduan sebenarnya merupakan mangsa kecurangan sistem pendidikan negara ini.

Sebagai mengiringi penggubalan Akta Institusi Pendidikan Tinggi Swasta pada tahun 1996, skim pinjaman Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional (PTPTN) telah diperkenalkan pada tahun seterusnya. Ekoran daripada itu, alam pengajian tinggi di Malaysia telah menampakkan percambahan institusi pengajian tinggi swasta (IPTS) dengan begitu pesat. Setakat 30 November 2012, terdapat sejumlah 478 buah IPTS yang diperincikan kepada 37 universiti swasta, 20 kolej universiti swasta, tujuh kampus cawangan universiti luar negara dan 414 kolej swasta di negara ini.

Memang tidak dinafikan, ketersediaan pinjaman PTPTN sekaligus membuka pintu pengajian tinggi kepada ramai pelajar yang dahulunya tidak mampu dari segi kewangan. Namun pada masa yang sama, ia juga memberi ruang kepada kolej-kolej swasta untuk mengambil kesempatan ke atas kemudahan tersebut.

Akibat proses permohonan dan pemberian pinjaman PTPTN yang begitu mudah dan longgar (lulus SPM dengan 1 kredit atau kelayakan yang setaraf dengannya untuk kursus sijil dan lulus SPM dengan 3 kredit atau kelayakan yang setaraf dengannya untuk kursus diploma), jumlah kemasukan siswazah pun meningkat dengan mendadak.

Akan tetapi, gara-gara lambakan graduan ini, beberapa masalah telah muncul. Pertamanya, bilangan graduan yang dihasilkan adalah melebihi kehendak pasaran, suatu masalah yang pernah diakui oleh mantan Menteri Pengajian Tinggi Dato’ Seri Khaled Nordin.

Menurut laporan Bank Dunia pada tahun 2007 yang bertajuk “Malaysia and the Knowledge Economy: Building a World-Class Higher Education System”, wujud kesenjangan di antara pembekalan dan permintaan (supply and demand) dalam pasaran kerja untuk graduan, di mana lebihan keluaran graduan berbanding pekerjaan yang sedia ada telah mengakibatkan fenomena pengangguran di negara kita.

Mengikut Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia, walaupun kadar pengangguran negara secara keseluruhannya adalah rendah (3.3 peratus setakat Mei 2013), kadar pengangguran dalam kalangan anak muda adalah tinggi, iaitu 10.3 peratus. Malah, kadar ini adalah lebih tinggi berbanding negara-negara jiran seperti Thailand (2.8 peratus) dan Singapura (6.7 peratus).

Pun begitu, angka ini tidak meliputi kadar “youth underemployment”, ataupun fenomena di mana anak muda terpaksa menerima jawatan dan tangga gaji yang lebih rendah berbanding kelayakannya. Di Malaysia, kadar ini adalah 15.1 peratus, sementara peratusan pemegang ijazah yang terpaksa bekerja dalam jawatan yang tidak memerlukan kelulusan ijazah adalah 21 peratus. Dengan kata lain, setiap satu daripada lima graduan di negara kita tidak berjaya mendapat kerja dan gaji yang setimpal.

Pastinya, sebilangan besar daripada graduan yang terpaksa menderita dengan pengangguran merupakan produk IPTS. Ini kerana peningkatan enrolmen pelajar IPTS adalah lebih ketara berbanding IPTA. Sebagai contoh, jumlah kemasukan pelajar IPTA telah meningkat daripada 310,000 pada tahun 2005 kepada 372,000 menjelang tahun 2010. Bagi IPTS pula, jumlahnya telah meningkat daripada 337,000 kepada 466,000. Tambahan pula dengan keadaan ekonomi yang kurang memberangsangkan, di mana purata pertumbuhan Keluaran Dalam Negara Kasar (KDNK) hanya mencatat 4.64 peratus sejak tahun 2000 hingga 2013, masalah pasaran pekerjaan ini dijangka akan berterusan.

Selain pembekalan graduan yang terlebih banyak berbanding ketersediaan peluang pekerjaan, dasar pendidikan swasta negara kita juga mendorong kepada penjanaan graduan yang kurang berkualiti, khususnya daripada IPTS. Ini disebabkan bukan sahaja oleh kemasukan pelajar-pelajar yang kurang layak, tetapi juga oleh kelemahan tenaga pengajar IPTS.

Menurut statistik Kementerian Pengajian Tinggi pada tahun 2010, 50 peratus daripada staf akademik IPTS hanya mempunyai kelulusan ijazah sarjana muda dan ke bawah. Nisbah pelajar IPTS kepada staf akademik berkelulusan PhD pula adalah 221:1 ataupun 221 pelajar kepada seorang PhD. Bagi nisbah fakulti berkelulusan sarjana dan ke atas kepada pelajar pula, kadarnya adalah 21:1. Secara lazimnya, nisbah yang lagi rendah adalah lebih afdal (Oxford mempunyai nisbah pelajar kepada fakulti 5:1 sementara Harvard mempunyai nisbah 7:1). Oleh itu, persoalan muncul – adakah IPTS-IPTS di negara kita mempunyai tenaga pengajar yang layak dan mencukupi untuk menjamin pendidikan berkualiti tinggi bagi semua pelajarnya?

Dalam konteks ini, cadangan kerajaan untuk menyenaraihitamkan graduan-graduan yang tidak membayar balik pinjaman PTPTN dalam Sistem Maklumat Rujukan Kredit Pusat (CCRIS) adalah kurang wajar. Walaupun cadangan tersebut tidak akan diteruskan buat masa kini, kita tidak boleh lari daripada hakikat bahawa IPT di negara kita, khasnya IPTS, telah gagal menghasilkan graduan yang memiliki kebolehpasaran yang secukupnya.

Jelas, dasar pendidikan tinggi negara serta skim pinjaman PTPTN tampaknya lebih bertujuan untuk menguntungkan pengusaha kolej swasta dan bukan untuk memastikan pembinaan modal insan yang berdaya saing. Dalam erti kata lain, bidang pengajian tinggi sudah menjadi perniagaan komersial yang lumayan, di mana kualiti pengajaran dianggap sebagai matlamat sekunder. Yang paling tidak adil, para pengusaha IPTS tidak perlu menanggung sebarang risiko dan tanggungjawab untuk memastikan graduan mereka menepati keperluan pasaran kerja, bahkan terus mengaut keuntungan.

Justeru, adakah patut kita salahkan graduan-graduan kita yang dibebani bayaran hutang, sedangkan mereka tidak berjaya mencari pekerjaan yang selaras dengan kelulusan mereka akibat kecurangan sistem pendidikan tinggi negara kita?

NB: This press statement was released on 17 August 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

Saya menyambut baik keputusan Jawatankuasa Tertinggi Pusat (CEC) DAP untuk mengadakan pemilihan semula CEC. Pada detik yang amat genting ini, di mana kewujudan parti diancam oleh sebuah rejim yang lantang menyalahgunakan kuasa, pucuk pimpinan parti tidak mempunyai pilihan lain melainkan untuk bertindak sedemikian bagi mengelak pembatalan pendaftaran parti.

Sebagai ahli CEC yang telah mengambil bahagian dalam mesyuarat tergempar pada 14 Ogos 2013, saya ingin menyatakan betapa berat dan sukarnya keputusan tersebut dibuat. Siapalah yang dapat menyangka bahawa kami akan dihukum dan dimangsakan dengan sewenang-wenangnya walaupun tidak bersalah.

Seperti yang sudah diterangkan, CEC telah bersetuju untuk mengadakan pemilihan semula demi mengelak kemungkinan pembatalan pendaftaran parti, dan bukan sebagai pengakuan seperti yang didakwa beberapa pihak. Segala tuduhan liar termasuk dakwaan 753 orang perwakilan yang kononnya dinafikan hak untuk mengundi, 547 orang “perwakilan hantu” , serta kewujudan “Father Augustus Chen” tidak pernah dibuktikan dan merupakan rekaan jahat musuh politik DAP semata-mata.

Tambahan pula, sehingga ke hari ini, pihak Jabatan Pendaftaran Pertubuhan (ROS) masih belum memberi sebarang sebab atau penjelasan untuk mewajarkan tindakan yang diambil, di samping gagal menunjukkan peruntukan manakah dalam Akta Pertubuhan 1966 yang memberikan kuasa untuk menghukum DAP dengan tindakan sedemikian. Malah, Pendaftar Pertubuhan Dato’ Abdul Rahman Othman juga enggan bertemu dengan Setiausaha Agung DAP Lim Guan Eng yang telah berkali-kali menuntut penjelasan daripada pihak ROS.

Permintaan DAP kepada ROS dari permulaan sehingga ke sekarang adalah mudah dan munasabah – sekiranya benar DAP bersalah, buktikan sahaja!

Hakikatnya, DAP tidak melakukan apa-apa kesalahan di bawah mana-mana undang-undang, termasuk Akta Pertubuhan 1966. Kesilapan teknikal yang berlaku semasa pengumumuman keputusan pemilihan pada bulan Disember 2012 telah pun diperbetulkan. Selain daripada kesilapan yang tidak sengaja itu, seluruh proses pemilihan telah dijalankan secara teratur dan bersih. Malah, keputusan yang sebenar sudah pun diperakui oleh sebuah firma akauntan yang telah diminta untuk menyemak semula undian yang dibuat.

Pun begitu, saya ingin mengambil kesempatan ini untuk menawarkan diri saya sekali lagi sebagai calon CEC. Biar bagaimana pun pilihan para perwakilan, saya tetap akan menerima dan akur dengan keputusannya. Harapan saya cumalah satu, iaitu agar para perwakilan akan memilih calon-calon yang terbaik berdasarkan kebolehan, keupayaan dan rekod prestasi mereka. Sesiapa pun yang berjaya, biar prinsip ini dikekalkan.

Semoga DAP kekal berjuang demi masa depan Malaysia yang lebih demokratik, adil dan sejahtera.

Zairil Khir Johari

Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

Zairil Khir Johari

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