Archive for the ‘General Topics’ Category

New class formats at some schools

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Ong visiting a Secondary 1 form class with students from different streams at Ping Yi Secondary School. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

FOR Secondary 1 student Zayeed Ibrahim, the start of the new school year on Jan 2 was especially exciting because he was one of the first students in Singapore to have classmates from other academic streams.

The 13-year-old Normal (Technical) student is from Ping Yi Secondary School, one of 28 schools from this year to pilot full subject-based banding, start form classes with students of different streams, or do both.

“I am happy because we will get to spend time together in a class, but nervous because we haven’t gotten to know each other. I hope we can be good friends, ” said Zayeed.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who visited the school in Chai Chee, said the changes mark a “big step ahead for our education system” in bringing out students’ potential.

The pilot schools are trying out new Sec 1 form classes with students from different streams.

The students will take a common set of subjects, which include art, character and citizenship education, and physical education.

Traditionally, students are sorted into Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams.

Ping Yi Secondary has four Sec 1 classes, each with 30 to 35 students from different streams.

“Each class is carefully composed of students from different streams, different ethnic backgrounds, different profiles, special needs students.

“If you are a stronger student… you can play a part to teach other students who may not be keeping up as well in the academic subjects, and they in turn have something to teach you in sports, in values, in various subjects, ” said Ong.

Such changes, he said, are meant to help students break out of mindsets that constrain their achievements and how they perceive themselves.

Students at Ping Yi Secondary can also now study humanities subjects – geography, history and literature in English – at a more demanding level from Sec 2, if they have the aptitude. Previously, options were limited to English, mathematics, science and mother tongue.

Two of the school’s Normal (Academic) students are now taking geography at the Express level, and three are studying Express-level history. They are all in Sec 2.

Principal Ang Chee Seng said: “These students took humanities subjects at Sec 1, and based on their results last year, we are confident that they can cope with higher-level subjects.”

Sec 2 student Lim Tie, 13, who is studying Express-level mathematics, geography, history and science this year, said: “I want to learn more… I am quick with numbers and mental calculations.”

“I didn’t expect to be able to take Express subjects. I thought Normal (Academic) is Normal (Academic), and there is nothing you can do about it, ” he said. “In primary school, I was very playful. But now, I like studying and I feel happy about it.”

His classmate Hajamaideen Asimathul Jafriya, 13, is also taking four subjects – mathematics, science, geography and Tamil – at the Express level. She is keen to study geography to find out about the world.

“I want to work harder to go to junior college or polytechnic, and work even harder there, ” she said.

The pilot comes ahead of the roll-out of full subject-based banding to all secondary schools by 2024. The Normal and Express streams will be scrapped that same year.

Ong said teachers will have to cater to students of different abilities in one classroom. “Some students are more vocal, some students are more quiet… So, the teacher (has to) actually make a conscious effort to draw out the students who are more reserved.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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New international school opens

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Unveiling the school plaque at the opening of Tzu Chi International School Kuala Lumpur.

TZU Chi International School Kuala Lumpur (TCISKL) was officially opened on Jan 6, following more than two years of construction after the groundbreaking in September 2017.

With blessings from over a thousand guests gracing the inauguration ceremony, the first batch of 750 students started on their new learning journey. This also marked a significant milestone of the Tzu Chi education mission in Malaysia.

The flag-raising ceremony was carried out by three student representatives. Twenty guests, including Representative of Taipei Economic and

Cultural Office in Malaysia Annie Hung; Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman president Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat;

Tzu Chi Kl and Selangor CEO Echo Chien; TCISKL principal Lim Siew Li; Master De Rang, Master De Ge and Master De Yuan from Jing Si Abode, Taiwan; Tzu Chi Foundation vice president Lin Pi-yu; Tzu Chi Charity Mission deputy CEO David Liu; Tzu Chi Education Foundation CEO Wang Pen-Jung and Tzu Chi Senior High School principal Li Ling-hui, officiated at the inauguration of TCISKL by unveiling the school plaque.

Although many international schools have been established in Kuala Lumpur, Tzu Chi hopes to lay a strong foundation in the development of students’ character development as well as life and living skills and inculcating propriety and virtues.

TCISKL adopts the internationally recognised Cambridge IGCSE curriculum, and incorporates Tzu Chi’s humanistic lessons into its syllabus, to nurture the students into all rounded individuals with a wide range of knowledge, global perspectives, independent thinking skills, innovative and creative mindset, as well as humanistic spirit. This will prepare the students to face the competitiveness and challenges of the 21st Century, an era of artificial intelligence.

Tzu Chi set up its first Da Ai Kindergarten in Kuala Lumpur in 2007. Now, with the opening of TCISKL, the education offered will extend from preschool to primary and secondary school level; and in the future, pre-university level, forming a comprehensive education system.

TCISKL was built with generous support from people. The building contractors visited the construction site almost daily to monitor the progress.

The journey of two years and four months saw the educational institution being constructed from ground up. The school will be able to accommodate 3,500 students on the completion of its second phase of construction.

Tzu Chi Foundation founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen, conveyed her blessings through Dharma Masters from Jing Si Abode. She said that Tzu Chi has carried out its missions in Malaysia for more than a quarter of a century.

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Tools in shaping a better Malaysia

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020
Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama (second from right) looking at ‘The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities’ report at the Seventh Asia-Pacific Urban Forum in Bayan Baru in October. With him are Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow (second from left) and Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin (right). The report makes a case for the link between achieving sustainable development goals and the ‘New Urban Agenda’. FILE PIC

IN the last few months of last year, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the action focused component of the Agenda 2030, the global blueprint agreed in 2015 at the United Nations, were the focus of several initiatives in Malaysia.

From a global summit to an array of national events all centred on SDGs, the country seems set to forge ahead in embedding sustainability and equitable development in its plans and programmes.

The fact that the country is ramping up its interest on the goals through a wide open policy-level conversation, is an indicator of importance that the government and other stakeholders are attaching on them, understanding that they can be instrumental in shaping for better the future of Malaysians.

First, a global forum led by UN Habitat, the Seventh Asia-Pacific Urban Forum (APUF-7) that, held in Penang in mid-October, saw the launch of a major report, “The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities”, making a compelling case on the link between achieving SDGs and the so-called “New Urban Agenda” focused on urban and territorial planning, urban resilience, smart and inclusive cities and urban finance.

A stronger-than-ever realisation emerged on the importance of partnerships and collaborations, the underpinning of SDG No. 17, that is more and more indispensable to lay the foundations for inclusive and sustainable urban spaces in the region.

The Penang Platform for Sustainable Urbanisation, a network of cities administrations, civil society organisations and other stakeholders, will help to “collaborate, integrate, transform and increase” the local efforts pursuit of inclusive and equitable urban development.

We can imagine here officers from cites of different sizes and populations sharing best practices, but also carrying out common pilot initiatives in partnership with civil society and private sector actors, to pursue the common good while achieving equitable development strategies.

The Asia-Pacific Mayor’s Academy was also launched, another complementary tool to share expertise, create new knowledge through an enabling and supporting network that will allow cities’ administrators to strengthen regional synergies.

If the Platform and the Academy will truly come into shape through impactful and cost-effective actions, a radical transformation will be undertaken in the way urban planning and urban governance happen in the region.

Obviously, the government should look at these initiatives with a strong interest, providing not only financial support but also acting as knowledge broker and facilitator, creating bridges among its cities’ administrators, perhaps even nudging the Asean Secretariat to enable such programmes in its Community of Nations and People.

Indeed, the real sustainability of the cities of the region will rely on the involvement, engagement and real interest of their citizens without which ambitious declarations and bold plans will remain empty papers.

The Penang gathering was followed by a series of events like the International Young Leaders Conference organised by UTAR Sungai Long Campus and again, in November, the Malaysia SDG Summit, jointly hosted by the United Nations and the Prime Minister’s Office. The Asean Sustainable Development Summit jointly convened by the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development (JSC) and the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute was also held.

Two challenges will lay ahead for the decision-makers that
can make or break the momentum created around the SDGs.

The first is about shifting from bold policy planning and mechanism to real actions on the ground, building on this emerging realisation that SDGs could be an enabling tool to support the process of national planning, bringing up national policies that can be matched by localised, grassroots ones.

Central planning for the sake of the country’s sustainability and biodiversity should not stifle people’s imagination for action.

Consequentially, the second challenge is establishing bottom-up ownership and accountability, about ensuring that the people, especially the younger generations, have not only a voice and a real stake in such vital conversation for the future of Malaysia but also take responsibility for action seriously.

We need to muster all the creativity to come up with solutions that first help the common folk realise how vital talking about SDGs can be, creating awareness locally in families, in schools and universities and in communities in the country.

So, on bottom-up actions: we need new partnerships that can support scalable programmes at the bottom, even the simplest ones that can be run, for example, in elementary schools.

After all, SDGs are so broad and comprehensive that school children can come up with small projects, for example, from environmental preservation actions and recycling to spreading the message in their families and communities.

In November, the Selangor government showed what a responsible good governance focused on the SDGs can mean with RM1.5 million for green volunteerism initiatives allocated in its 2020 Budget.

Funding is always important but equally important is harnessing the ideas and spirit of initiative of community organisers, school teachers, NGOs activists and corporate houses.

They are indispensable agents of change if we want to ensure that policy planning turns into transformative actions that change lives.


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Many hurdles amid great growth

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020
The headquarters of Maxis Communications Bhd. is seen against the KLCC Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018.

BY many measures, the Malaysian economy has made tremendous strides over the last 10 years.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to be 1.7 times larger now compared with at the start of the decade.

Additionally, despite setbacks from a weaker currency exchange rate, the gross national income (GNI) is inching up to meet the World Bank’s US$12,376 GNI per person threshold for high-income economies. Some forecasts estimate this could be breached by 2023.

Compared, with a decade ago, goods exports in ringgit terms have increased by about a third, roughly RM300 billion.

The types of products we export have also changed. Over the last 10 years, Malaysia has been exporting more chemical products and manufactured parts and less machinery, equipment and vegetable oils.

At a more micro level, median household incomes are forecasted to have doubled since 2010, while real median wages are estimated to have risen by 34 per cent over the same period.

Poverty rates based on Malaysia’s national poverty line income have fallen to virtually zero from upwards of two per cent at the start of the decade.

Nonetheless, beyond these achievements, numerous hurdles remain.

ONE, the pace of GDP growth has slowed in recent years.

Part of this is cyclical — external headwinds from a contentious global environment and slower world economic growth, along with domestic factors like policy uncertainty and weak consumer and business sentiments.

A large part is due to structural reasons — countries get richer, economic growth tends to slow as growth increasingly comes from marginal gains in productivity.

Yet, in Malaysia’s case, productivity growth has been lethargic — labour productivity continues to dawdle below levels seen in advanced economies, while catch-up has been gradual.

The Malaysia Productivity Corp’s 2018 report said measures of multifactor productivity growth have been negative over the past decade.

On this front, the key challenge would be to improve the innovative capacity of domestic firms and to continue to raise the productivity of workers.

TWO, even as measures of national poverty and inter-household income inequality have declined over the decade, inequality between regions has not.

Ten years ago, the median household income in Kuala Lumpur was 2.6 times higher than in Kelantan. Latest data indicate that this ratio has crept higher to three times.

Despite poverty rates along the peninsula’s west coast declining to virtually zero, households in Sabah and Sarawak have high incidences of poverty.

In 2016, one in three households in Kelantan did not have piped water, while one in nine in Kelantan and Sabah lived in “dilapidated” houses

In parts of Sabah and Sarawak, where connectivity is poor, geographic disparities in access to basic services are more alarming: one in five households lives more than 9km away from the nearest public healthcare facility and secondary school.

As such, the challenge here would be to sustain the progress we’ve made in reducing poverty and inequality.

THREE, we aren’t doing the best job of measuring things, which continues to hamper our ability to analyse and overcome problems that arise.

Itis well known that Malaysia’s poverty line is too low for its level of development.

Likewise, figures from the Department of Statistics’ Household Income Survey, from which crucial statistics on poverty and income inequality are calculated, may be flawed, said World Bank senior economist Kenneth Simler.

By Calvin Cheng

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A war nobody wants

Saturday, January 11th, 2020

IT will be sheer lunacy if the tensions in the Middle East were to escalate to an extent that the United States and Iran embark on a full-scale war that nobody wants.

Yet, despite the rhetoric and bravado, both the US and the Islamic Republic know that a war between the two traditional enemies would have catastrophic consequences not only in the region but also for the rest of the world.

But, the dangerous tit for tat moves being played out by both these countries have led to an avalanche of misinformation and fake news that illustrates just how toxic social media can be.

False reports on various platforms generated fears of a wider outbreak of war when international tensions were already high. Fake posts include news that 80 US servicemen were killed in Iranian retaliatory strikes in Iraq and also missiles from Iran were used to bring down the ill-fated Ukrainian plane which led to the deaths of 176 people in Teheran.

The barrage of misinformation underscores that despite the pledges and efforts by big tech companies to crack down on falsehoods, fabricated or misleading content remains a significant threat.

Tensions between the United States and Iran came to a head when Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani, reputedly the second most powerful figure in the republic, was killed in an American drone strike last Friday.

Iran vowed revenge, but the assassination was the culmination of heightened tensions in recent weeks when an American military contractor was killed and Iranian-backed militias stormed the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve.

On Tuesday, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed.

Iran does “not seek escalation or war”, foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said in a tweet hours after the missile strikes.

“All is well!” President Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!”

What’s happening in Iran today is déjà vu in terms of the many wars and escalations that have taken place in the Middle East.

But it would be futile to go into the various permutations of what is going to happen now given that the scenarios will be changing at rapid speed while the superpowers engage with each other.

How then should Malaysia react to these developments? Should we react at all?

Wisma Putra should of course take the obvious measures of warning Malaysian citizens against travel to the region and at the same time evaluate the situation in Iran and if necessary evacuate Malaysian students from there.

Malaysia Airlines’ announcement that it would avoid the “conflict airspace” of Iran follows a similar response from most major airlines.

This no-fly zone is a result of the US Federal Aviation Administration decision to ban US carriers from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, the Gulf of Oman, and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s reaction to Soleimani’s death was typically acerbic. He described the killing as an immoral act that is against the law, and compared it to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The act is akin to the killing of Khashoggi which happened across boundaries. This is also another act where one country decides on its own to kill the leaders of another country.

“Both are guilty of immoral acts, it is against the law, ” he said.

This remark is sure to rankle with the Saudi government, already upset over the KL Summit, the recently concluded gathering of Muslim leaders, including heads of state from Turkey, Qatar and Iran, none of whom can be described as friends of Saudi Arabia.

Last month, Dr Mahathir also spoke up for Iran at a conference in Qatar when he said the American sanctions imposed on the republic violated the United Nations charter and international law.

“Malaysia does not support the reimposition of the unilateral sanctions by the US against Iran, ” he told the Doha Forum, adding that Malaysia and other countries have lost a “a big market” because of the sanctions on Iran.

The Americans may not like it, but don’t expect Dr Mahathir to change or tone down his comments. He is his own man and has been criticising superpowers from the time he first assumed the prime ministership in 1981.

Asked this week if he would continue to voice his views on the world stage, the Prime Minister said he would continue to “point out the truth”.

“I am not worried about who is strong and who is weak. If things are not right, I think I have the right to voice it out, ” he said.

The writer believes that Malaysia as a trading nation should perform a delicate balancing act between the superpowers. The focus should be on making ourselves strategic. We do not have the military or economic might to influence geo-political decisions.

By Brian Martin.

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PM: Malaysia heading in the right direction

Friday, January 10th, 2020
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad says the machinery of government has been cleansed and is rapidly adapting to the new ways of working. -NSTP/File pic

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today reassured that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has a clear direction for the country despite being criticised.

The premier reiterated that work had already begun for Malaysia and it could take time.

“Even for me it is frustrating to wait, but wait we must. The machinery of government has been cleansed and is rapidly adapting to the new ways of working, even the ministers are adjusting to being in the government instead of in the opposition.

“We are clear as to what we want to do and how we will do it. Plans may take a week or so to create but implementation will take much longer, at least two years or more,” he said in a posting entitled ‘Kerajaan Pakatan Harapan’ on his blog, Chedet, today.

He said the accusation that the government was directionless was made by those who refused to acknowledge reality.

“Are we really the same Malaysia under the previous government? Or are they saying they prefer the kleptocratic government?

“Give the government a little bit of time and participate fully in the Shared Prosperity Vision policies, and in two years you will realise that the direction of the government is right.”

Dr Mahathir said the country also needed time when it was switching from an agro-based economy to an industrial economy.

“(But) most of us cannot remember and the young never saw the transition. The same will happen now and the transition will take time – perhaps two years or more from now.”

He said the new direction that the country was heading was already implemented in some sectors.

“We are going paperless and soon there will be cashless. Digitalisation is already happening and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is contributing towards increasing speed of work and transaction.”

Dr Mahathir said since PH took over the government from Barisan Nasional (BN), the administration was able to retain the solvency of the country despite facing a huge debt of over a trillion ringgit.

“The creditors are not suing the government. Indeed, some are even keen to lend more money at low rates.

“The government is clearly creditworthy and debt has been reduced.”

In terms of political stability, Dr Mahathir said no one had tried to overthrow the government by a vote of no-confidence as they know it would not succeed.

The premier, however, acknowledged that there were some disturbances in a member of the ruling coalition which was normal.

“As for the country’s economy, it is still growing at a good rate for a country at this stage of development.

“Yes, there is an outflow of funds and the currency has been devalued. This is a function of the market. Malaysia still has the biggest savings,” he said.

He said Bank Negara reserve was high at more than RM400 billion, while other funds such as Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and some smaller funds added up to over RM1.5 trillion.

“Foreign assets are big. The national oil company Petronas is doing well with more than RM100 billion income. It is 100 per cent government-owned.”

Dr Mahathir said the country’s reserves would have guaranteed the strength of the currency as how it happened in other countries, unfortunately the depreciating ringgit did not reflect this.

“(But) the market apparently cannot believe this strength of the Malaysian finances and its currency.”

Dr Mahathir further assured that the Malaysian economy and its currency were strong.

“The market and the detractors may not think so. But the Government has faith in its financial and economic policies. And so do foreign and local investors.”

The premier said the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 showed the government’s clear direction to reinvigorate the country and share its wealth equitably.

“Towards this end, we have initiated a new industrial plan, complemented by a new agricultural plan,” he wrote, adding he would not elaborate.

“(But) we know the direction we are going. Outsiders may not, but we do.”

By New Straits Times.

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Get ready for tougher times, says Daim

Friday, January 10th, 2020
Tun Daim Zainuddin says while the country’s economy is currently stable, the people must be prepared for any eventuality. -NSTP/File pic

SHAH ALAM: Malaysia needs to brace for economic uncertainties and tougher times ahead, in light of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

Former finance minister Tun Dr Daim Zainuddin said while the country’s economy is currently stable, the people must be prepared for any eventuality.

“There are problems all over the world, the Middle East, Hong Kong, North Korea, the South China Sea. Hopefully it doesn’t affect us. But of course, anything that happens in the world will affect us.

“Therefore, we must be prepared from now,” he told reporters at the MyKampung initiative, in conjunction with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Setia Alam here today.

Asked on how the people could prepare themselves for the uncertainties, the government’s economic advisor said proper plans must be in place.

“Get ready. Make sure we have everything that the people need. This is why I said food and education are very important. We have to take care of our children and their future. We must plan (everything) now,” Daim added.

The Council of Eminent Persons chairman also repeated his call for youth to venture into the agriculture sector as it has the potential to eradicate poverty and create employment.

According to Daim, this could also reduce the country’s dependency on agriculture imports.

He said Malaysia’s food import bill in 2018 stood at more than RM50 billion, and this figure could be reduced significantly if more people, especially the youth, get involved in the agricultural sector.

“By doing so, we can reduce the import (bill) and start exporting (our products). This will create employment and increase the people’s income.”

“At the moment, the unemployment (rate) is high, graduates don’t have jobs. That is why we urge them to (get involved in) agriculture.

“Once we manage to produce (crops), the people can get fresher and cheaper products. When we start to export, foreign exchange will come in.

“It is not too late (to start),” he said, adding that there was a need to make the agriculture sector more appealing, especially to the younger generation, to attract mass participation.

By Arfa Yunus.

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Mohd Zuki Ali is new Chief Secretary to the Government

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020
Datuk Seri Mohd Zuki Ali (2nd from right), 58, replaces Tan Sri Dr Ismail Bakar, who has held the post since August 2018. Ismail will be on leave before his mandatory retirement. – Pic courtesy of chedetofficial Twitter

PUTRAJAYA: Former Defence Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Mohd Zuki Ali has been appointed as the new Chief Secretary to the Government effective tomorrow (Jan 1).

Zuki, 58, replaces Tan Sri Dr Ismail Bakar, who has held the post since August 2018. Ismail will be on leave before his mandatory retirement.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Zuki’s appointment had received the consent from the King.

“The 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah Sultan Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah, upon recommendation from the prime minister through the Public Service Commission has consented to the appointment of Datuk Seri Mohd Zuki Ali as Chief Secretary to the Government effective January 1, 2020 to replace Tan Sri Dr Ismail Bakar who is taking (his) leave prior to compulsory retirement,” said the statement.

Zuki, 58, who will be the 15th Chief Secretary to the Government obtained a Masters in Business Administration from Nanyang University, Singapore.

He has vast knowledge and experience in the civil service where he has served for 28 years.

He had previously been appointed to serve in the Finance Ministry, Education Ministry, Home Ministry, Rural and Regional Development Ministry (now Rural Development Ministry), Home Ministry and Natural Resources and Enviroment Ministry (now split into jurisdictions of two separate ministries).

Apart from that, he had also served in the Istana Negara and Prime Minister’s Department and has been the Sarawak Federal Secretary before being appointed as Defence Ministry secretary-general on April 18 this year.

The Prime Minister’s Office also recorded its highest appreciation to Ismail for his service throughout his tenure as Chief Secretary to the Government.

By Hashini Kavishtri Kannan.

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Smash the stigma, stop the suicides

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

SINGAPORE beat us to it again, this time in decriminalising suicide. Last week, it became the latest country to repeal archaic laws that made suicide attempts a criminal act.Unlike in Malaysia, where experts have been mulling over the issue since 2012, Singapore’s Penal Code Review Committee appraised outdated laws and came up with recommendations in August 2018.

Its parliament passed the Criminal Law Reform Bill on May 6,2019, and the law came into effect on New Year’s Day.

Why is this significant? Based on the World Health Organisation’s findings, about 90% of suicide cases are associated with mental disorder.

Globally, suicide is among the top 10 causes of deaths and is the second biggest among those aged between 15 and 29.

Every 40 seconds, someone commits suicide somewhere in the world. In Malaysia, there are 2,000 suicides a year, or more than five such deaths a day.

Five years ago, a National Health and Morbidity Survey found that one in three Malaysians had a mental health condition, while mental health problems among those aged 16 and above was already 29.2%, a big jump from 10.7% in 1996.

A similar study in 2017, on students between 13 and 17, showed suicidal thoughts were prevalent among 10% compared with 7.9% noted five years earlier. The depression rate among teenagers was 18.3%, with one in five suffering depression, two in five facing anxiety and one in 10 stressed.

Malaysia launched its National Suicide Prevention Strategic Action Plan in 2012, aimed at removing barriers and stigma associated with seeking mental healthcare, limiting access to methods of suicide (such as pesticides and poisons), introducing responsible reporting of suicides, raising public awareness on mental health disorder and improving the reach of mental healthcare.

Two years later, the government adopted the World Health Assembly’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 and WHO’s World Suicide Report, which raised the criminal status of suicide in 25 countries then, including Malaysia.

This led to moves by the Malaysia Law Reform Committee to review Section 309 of the Penal Code, which punishes those who survive a suicide attempt with up to a year in jail, a fine, or both, if convicted.

But the experts have been dragging their feet for eight years now.

Last October, de facto law minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong told Parliament that the Attorney General’s Chambers was studying possible amendments to laws related to suicide.

He said a review of the laws, including Sections 309,305 and 306 of the Penal Code, for attempting and abetting suicide required detailed study, adding that there would be consultations with several ministries, the police, Fire and Rescue Department, Jakim, the Department of Islamic Development and the Malaysian Psychiatric Association.

But it is not just about the decriminalisation of suicide.

There are now only about 7,000 psychiatrists for our population of 32 million.

The ideal ratio of psychiatrists to the population is 1:10,000 but in Malaysia it is 1:200,000.

Difficulties in getting access to treatment is still a major problem.

Those seeking help have to go through government clinics to get a referral for an appointment with a psychiatrist but the stigma of being mentally unwell prevents many patients from disclosing their actual problems.

At the workplace, people with mental health issues are unlikely to admit so, again due to the shame attached to it. In most cases, mental health is also not covered under employees’ insurance.

It has been estimated that the economic cost of mental illnesses could be as high as RM105.47bil by 2030.

Depression in the workplace already costs billions of ringgit in absenteeism and presenteeism (the problem of employees being at work but because of their conditions, they are not fully productive).

According to Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, president of Malaysian Mental Health Association and one of the international contributors to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Malaysia needs to widen the leadership in mental health, beyond the scope of the Health Ministry.

He said Malaysia should move more quickly towards the promotion of a compassionate society by destigmatising mental illness, shifting mental health issues to the mainstream, and safeguarding the interest of persons with mental illness and their families.

Like in many other countries, stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders.

To take a holistic approach and tailor appropriate inclusive interventions, associations representing mental health patients and their families must be involved in the conversations concerning access to appropriate health care and the right to living lives with dignity.

On the plus side, Dr Andrew said it was heartening to see celebrities, politicians and even royalty coming out to support efforts to destigmatise mental illness.

In Australia, mental health has become such a big issue that there are even ministers holding the portfolio in two states, while others have commissioners for mental health and ombudsman-type bodies.

In Thailand, there is a director-general for mental health but in Malaysia there is not even a division for this in the Health Ministry.

Perhaps, it is better that representation is reflected at our highest law-making body – Parliament.

Traditionally, Malaysia has one seat in Dewan Negara reserved for a representative of organisations for those with physical disabilities.

It is time to expand this to at least two representatives from physical disability associations and one from the mental health sector.

The upper house would provide the space for a dignified representation and better decision-making processes concerning mental health issues and care for this segment of society.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: We do not have to visit a madhouse

to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

By M. Veera Pandiyan.

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Let’s rekindle the hope provided by Vision 2020

Monday, January 6th, 2020
(File Pix) Let’s work towards a better future. — Pix: NSTP/ZUNNUR AL SHAFIQ

LETTERS: FINALLY, we have stepped into 2020. Ever since Vision 2020 was introduced in 1991, it has been embedded in our minds through the education syllabus and the Wawasan 2020 song, which we sing on National Day.

I remember that Vision 2020 was a big deal during my schooling days.

Look at the pictures in our textbooks. We envisioned a future where our cities were filled with skyscrapers and flying cars.

I was filled with excitement and couldn’t wait for those pictures to become a reality.

Ironically, these pictures that once gave hope to young Malaysians like me are now jokes on the Internet.

While we understand that those pictures are unrealistic as we grow older, have we achieved the expectations that we set 30 years ago?

The nine goals of Vision 2020 are to establish a united, tolerant, progressive, caring, mature, democratic and economically competitive society with equitable distribution of wealth.

Wth Malaysia categorised as a higher middle-income country, it seems that we are progressing in achieving the goals of Vision 2020.

However, reports from institutions suggest otherwise. The State of Households 2018: Different Realities by Khazanah Research Institute highlights the geographical income inequality between states.

The institute stressed the issue of youth underemployment in the report The School-to-Work Transition of Young Malaysians.

Most recently, the World Bank reported that despite low inflation, many Malaysians struggle to cope with increasing cost of living.

In addition, race and religious issues are taking centrestage in our lives.

It seems we are more divided than ever before.

Unsurprisingly, most of the blame goes to politicians.

They have the power and authority to steer the direction of our country and they are accountable if we are heading in the wrong way.

My wish in 2020 is that we do not allow politicians to dictate our lives. A bottom-up approach can be just as impactful as a top-down approach.

We might not be in a position to change the direction of the country, but we can influence our family, friends and communities.

Let’s not forget that Microsoft was started in a garage.

For young adults like me who were once inspired by Vision 2020, we might not have been able to do much when we were kids, but now is the time for us to step out and make a difference.

2020 might not turn out as anticipated, but we should not be pessimistic. At the very least, Vision 2020 once gave us hope of a Malaysia we desire.

Let’s rekindle the hope and work towards the future we desire.


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