Archive for May, 2018

Next step – a nation that cares for all.

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

EXACTLY 22 days ago, Malaysia voted for change. Yes, it has been that many days since Pakatan Harapan became the coalition in power – and what a ride it has been so far!

We’re now just over one-fifth of the way into the new government’s first 100 days and we are seeing significant changes as it cleans house and begins setting things right.

Some of the developments were unthinkable just a month ago. Among them are a broad investigation into alleged wrongdoings involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd, liberalisation of the press and the formation of a more racially inclusive Cabinet.

One change I’m really happy about is that more Malaysians are appealing to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for fundamental amendments to the laws that protect women from abuse and harm.

After all, she is also the Women and Family Development Minister, and that in itself is something to be happy about as it could very well give the ministry the punch it needs to put through the right changes.

Having said that, I can’t help but feel that there is one struggle that might be forgotten in the clamour for her attention and support – the fight for a Malaysia that is fair to those living with disabilities or rare disorders that can and do create disabilities or other life challenges.

This concern drove me to speak to friends within the community of Malaysians with disabilities and rare disorders to hear them out on what changes they want to see in the weeks, months and years to come.

The first to share her thoughts was Rachel Siew, who urged the Women and Family Development Ministry to work with the Education Ministry to get children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms.

“Children with disabilities must be mainstreamed with able-bodied children, and I am speaking from experience here.

“It taught me from an early age to accept that I was different when compared to others and to find ways to adapt, overcome and succeed,” said Siew, who lives with Morquio syndrome, a rare genetic disorder in which the body is unable to break down sugar chains that help build bone, cartilage, cornea, skin and connective tissue.

Siew also urged the ministry to work together with the Health Ministry to help those who are fighting Morquio like her, as well as others who are living with similar disorders.

“In Budget 2018, RM10mil was allocated to patients with rare disorders, especially those who are undergoing Enzyme Replacement Therapy, which is a lifelong treatment. However, the new government froze the funds when they took over on the basis that they wanted to review the Budget allocations of the previous government.

“It was really painful to hear this, and I ask the new government to maintain the allocation or even better, to add to the funding,” she said.

I can definitely get behind her plea and her work to raise funds for her health, as her treatment costs RM1.6mil per year.

I also spoke to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Albinism Association founder Maizan Mohd Salleh, who also urged the Government to place children with disabilities in classrooms with able-bodied children.

“As far as possible, we must include these students in mainstream classes. This can have far-reaching effects, as it can stimulate compassion and empathy among students and create a culture that considers and includes people with disabilities instead of one that looks down on us with arrogance,” said Maizan.

This is a point I agree with completely, as this can help break many Malaysians’ stereotypes about people with disabilities, especially when it comes to how “useful” the community is and how such people can contribute to nation-building.

The third person I spoke to, Phelan McDermid Syndrome Foundation Southeast Asia Regional Representative Nadiah Hanim, also urged the Government (including the Women and Family Development Ministry) to work with all stakeholders when devising concrete plans that truly help Malaysians with disabilities and rare disorders.

“My key recommendation is that all efforts should include engagement with actual stakeholder groups throughout. Plans should be integrated and we should continue to communicate with each other all the way through.

“Be cohesive, comprehensive and work together. We need an integrated intervention approach that gives cradle-to-grave support,” said Nadiah.

She added that any policy to help should be comprehensive.

“There is a lot of focus on early intervention programmes, which is good. But need to also think about adolescent care, respite for caregivers, bridging, community and institutional care,” said Nadiah.

All in all, it looks like the relevant ministries need to put their heads together and get to work to help Malaysians with disabilities.

“And this is something I really think they should so that the Pakatan Harapan government can be a government that truly cares about all Malaysians. After all, people with disabilities are Malaysians too and are as worthy as you or me of being included in the fabric of our nation.

by Tan Yi Liang
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Open tender the way forward

Thursday, May 31st, 2018
(File pix) Pix by Ahmad Othman

THE suggestion by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that, henceforth, public procurement will be by open tender is indeed welcome news.

There will not be any more direct negotiated tenders and limited tenders that had, until now, been awarded without an open tender. The lack of transparency is among the reasons that the national debt has increased, according to Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali. To avoid the further ballooning of national debt, the way forward is to award contracts by open tender.

Open tendering provides an effective way by which companies can tender based on the expertise available in their organisations.

However, open tendering does not mean that a supplier cannot be reappointed. If the organisation is the best to deliver the services or goods, then the tender can be awarded again to the same tenderer.

When a procurement exercise is carried out in accordance with the fundamental principles of public procurement, it helps to streamline processes, reduce raw material prices and costs, and assists in identifying better sources of supply.

The main culprit in public procurement is vulnerability to corruption.

The financial interests at stake, the volume of transactions and the close interaction between public and private sectors in the award of public contracts are perceived to be of high risk to integrity.

In an open tender exercise, the bidding is open to all qualified bidders and the sealed bids are opened in public. The criteria for selection will be objective, with clear technical specifications, in simple language. Most, not all, will be chosen on the basis of price and quality. There will not be any negotiation with the tenderers.

In making the decision, sometimes, the price factor may not be the deciding factor, as the quality of work and the track record of bidders will take precedence.

Hence, the name competitive tender or public tender.

Due to the fact of the style that open tender employs, it has been opined that it is primarily designed for the procurement of simple goods, and not for complex procurements, where the focus is more on output and outcome of the contracting process rather than on strict adherence to standards.

However, this can be overcome as the open bid can still be used for large complex projects by the filtration method. The client may then call for a pre-qualification process that produces a shortlist of suitable tenderers by asking them for an expression of interest.

The shortlisted bidders will be invited to participate in the tender process.

The open tender method is not without disadvantages, as it requires strict adherence to procedures and, depending on the kind of procurement, may be lengthy. The process has been criticised for being slow and costly, attracting a large number of expressions of interest from bidders who may be unsuitable for the contract. The filtering process takes time and costs money.

However, the benefits of open tendering are many. It offers the greatest competition and has the advantage of allowing new or emerging suppliers to try and secure contracts. This facilitates greater innovation. By employing the filtration process, or the prequalification process, the number of firms tendering can be reduced.

Having a standard framework questionnaire can reduce the time and effort on the part of the tenderers when applying for the work, as they will know if they are competent to tender for the particular project.

Open tender method provides the best possible value for money.

It ensures a healthy and competitive marketplace with companies providing the best products and services. Suppliers will be encouraged to deliver on time, adhere to the quality required and offer competitive prices.

A government or organisation that subscribes to the open tender system shows the mark of good governance.


Research fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.

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Some areas of concern in the current education system

Thursday, May 31st, 2018
(File pix) Pupils can’t play during recess because they only have time to eat. Archive image is for illustration purposes only. Pix by Faris Zainuldin

WE are from Malaysia Primary School Parents, a Facebook group that has more than 27,000 members.

We applaud the education minister’s efforts to collect feedback from the public to improve our education system

As we regularly discuss the state of our country’s education system in the group, we would like to highlight some concerns in the current education system:

THE Education Ministry should take a fresh look at why the syllabuses of Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil and Chinese subjects are so hard. We can’t help but wonder if a syllabus as difficult as this is helpful for children in their formative years;

THE ministry should consider removing examinations for lower primary pupils (Years 1 to 3) and give teachers more autonomy to conduct classes in that period. Teachers will then have ample time to help pupils build solid foundations in their language subjects, rather than resort to rote learning and memorisation. It will allow teachers to inculcate values in the pupils, such as independence, innovativeness, critical thinking, civic-mindedness, respect for elders and love for the environment

LENGTHEN  the period per subject in the daily schedule so that instead of bringing to school books for six subjects, students need only bring three or four;

THERE should be subjects like art, music, drama and creative writing to allow self-expression in children. Engage teachers trained in these subjects;

INTRODUCE more learning outside of the classroom, as well as the development of life skills. Books can only teach so much;

PUPILS can’t play during recess because they only have time to eat. Perhaps emphasise Physical Education.

IF high-stake exams are staying, the ministry could re-evaluate the need for compulsory passes for subjects like History and Moral Studies in public exams;

RE-EVALUATE the difficulty gaps that affect students when they move from one level to the next. For example, Year 3 to 4, Year 6 to Form 1 and Form 3 to 4;

STREAM students in Form 4 based on their results rather than on their personal interests;

BRING back the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English policy; and,

ENSURE the education system is free from political influence, and racial and religious issues.

By Malaysia Primary School Parents

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Teach Science, Math in mother tongue

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

(File pix) Teaching Science and Mathematics in the mother tongue can improve students’ understanding of the subjects. Archive image for illustration purposes only. Pix by Sharul Hafiz Zam

I REFER to the letter, ‘An education wish list’, (NST, May 20). The writer hoped that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would bring back the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy so that Malaysians could improve their English literacy and proficiency.

I share her concern about the declining standard of English among schoolchildren and graduates, and I can understand her frustration at the continuing debate on the drawbacks of PPSMI by its detractors. But, the best way to teach English in schools is to teach it as a second language.

Teaching English to non-native speakers by non-native speaking teachers, as is the case in Malaysia, can be challenging. The main problem is the low English proficiency of teachers and the rote learning method of teaching it.

As a scientist, I look for hard evidence why we should not bring back PPSMI. The most obvious reason is the success stories of Japan and China, which implemented teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in their mother tongue. This, however, is not the only reason why Malaysia should not bring back PPSMI.

A more serious reason is the failure to improve Science and Mathematics achievements among schoolchildren. The failure could be traced to two international rankings — the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for eighth-grade students, and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15-year-old students.

The TIMSS results from 1999 (before PPSMI was introduced) to 2015 (after PPSMI ended), declined drastically compared with other countries, except in Singapore and Hong Kong, which used their mother tongue or national language for the subjects.

Malaysian students’ Science achievement rose slightly from 22nd place in 1999 (492) to 20th place above the international average in 2003 (510) before the introduction of PPSMI, but declined steadily thereafter in rank and score below the international average to 21st place in 2007 (471) and 32nd place in 2011 (426). It recovered slightly to 24th place in 2015 (471) when PPSMI was removed.

A similar trend could be seen in Mathematics achievement, which rose dramatically from 16th place in 1999 (519) to ninth place above the international average in 2003 (508), but declined steadily in rank and score below the international average to 20th place in 2007 (474) and 27th place in 2011 (440), but recovered slightly to 22nd place in 2015 (465).

Although students’ Science achievement in PISA rose from 53rd place in 2012 (421) to 48th place in 2015 (443) and, in Mathematics, rose from 52nd place in 2012 (420) to 46th place in 2015 (446), it is still below the international average and well below countries that use their mother tongue in the teaching of Science and Mathematics.

There’s also overwhelming evidence that former British colonies that gained independence much earlier than Malaysia, like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Cameroon, which kept English-medium schools and teach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in English, remain underdeveloped in STEM. That is why the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recommends teaching Science and Mathematics in the mother tongue or national language.

According to Princeton history of science professor Michael Gordin, English has only been used as a de facto language
for STEM since the early 1960s, when the official language of the Solvay Conference, the biannual premier science conference series, switched from French to English, and when scientific publishing was taken over by large British and American publishers. Scientific journals previously published in French and German were forced to publish in English only

Many of our promising young scientists, like Dr Nur Adlyka Ainul Annuar, who detected black holes, and Dr Hafizah Noor Isa, who detected gravitational waves, learned STEM in Bahasa Melayu before PPSMI was implemented. They are fine examples of young scientists who learned STEM in BM, but have no problems communicating in English.

Professor Datuk Dr Wan Ramli Wan Daud.

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Inclusive education for people with different abilities

Thursday, May 31st, 2018
UKM Second-year undergraduates experiencing a public transport ride with children from the Community-Based Rehabilitation Centre, Taman Ehsan Kepong.

IN the Unesco 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development unveiled in 2015, it was specifically emphasised that no one is “to be left behind” in the effort to achieve development for all.

Included in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a focus on guaranteeing equal and accessible education to persons with disabilities by building learning environments and providing assistance.

United Nations estimates 15 per cent of the world’s population live with a disability. Current figures from the Social Welfare Department show the number of registered persons with special needs in Malaysia at 464,672, probably a fraction of the real figure.

While there is no breakdown of the number of children belonging to the school-going age in the registered, access to and availability of education catering to their special needs may still elude many, and many remain excluded from the mainstream community.

Professor Datuk Dr Norazah Mohd Nordin, dean of the Faculty of Education at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), said that parents of students with different abilities want their special needs children to given appropriate education and be included as rightful individuals in society — be they physically disabled, visual- or hearing-impaired, or have learning difficulties.

Third-year undergraduates organising the Lensa Anak Istimewa programme at UKM.

“Parents now are more open and they want places and opportunities where they can bring their children to learn and be a part of society. There are instances where parents send their special needs child to a school 27km away from home just so the child can receive the right education. Yet there is a school nearby with empty classrooms that can be utilised for special education classes,” she added.

“The Education Ministry has set the target of 75 per cent of special needs students attending school by 2025. For this to happen we are suggesting that it increases the number of schools with special education programmes as the demand and awareness is there.”

In view of this, the faculty has redesigned its special education programmes — from the bachelor’s and master’s to doctoral — to be more inclusive in nature in line with the SDGs.

“The concept that we take on as a faculty is to offer community-based learning.”


Under the Bachelors of Education with Honours (Special Education) course, for example, the aim is to nurture special educators who are skilful, knowledgeable and possess the aptitude for education and rehabilitation according to different settings as well as those who can advocate for students with special needs and are knowledgeable on current issues, trends and practices, and research into special needs education.

“We work very closely with communities and also look into internationalisation. We recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Daegu University in South Korea, which strength is in special education, and will be sending our students for training there under a mobility programme so they can gain the latest knowledge in working with the disabled communities in the country.

“We will also be doing more collaborations with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the corporate sector to get students involved in programmes to immerse the special needs community in society,” said Norazah.

Associate Professor Dr Manisah Mohd Ali, who specialises in inclusive education, said the faculty also emphasises awareness of inclusive education advocacy, i.e. changing people’s perspective on children with special needs.

Sahabat Faqeh members practising signing in Arabic.

“For three consecutive years, master’s students have organised the International Day for People with Disabilities celebration. We will be holding the fourth celebration on Dec 3 which will see the attendance of the relevant communities and experts giving their support and taking part in the activities.

“For one semester, undergraduates are involved in activities at community-based rehabilitation centres under the Social Welfare Department. They organise events with relevant agencies to take the special needs persons at the centres out for a movie or spend a day at the zoo.

“We have had positive response from our students and it has opened their eyes to the public perspective on special needs people. The activities highlight the importance of supportive teachers to special needs children,” she said.

Senior lecturer Dr Norshidah Mohamad Salleh, a visual impairment specialist, who teaches the postgraduate consultation and collaboration course, works with NGOs and potential employers to expose special needs individuals to possible employment.

“The students identify and train special needs persons with specific skills as required by specific employers. These special needs trainees get the experience of working while employers get exposed to workers with special needs,” she said.

Norazah stressed that the faculty’s special education programme aims to produce educators who are far-sighted, who can source for facilities which can be utilised by those with special needs and get the community to accept students with special needs.

“We instil into our students the spirit of giving. They embrace



At Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia’s (USIM) Faculty of Quranic and Sunnah Studies the focus on inclusivity in education centres on providing the space and opportunity for spiritual awareness.

Norakyairee Mohd Raus, head of the Ibnu Ummi Maktum (UMMI) cluster at the faculty, said that people with non-typical levels of ability are often left out of religious education. UMMI focuses on research into the Quran and sunnah for special needs people.

“Religious schools and classes have no place for people with different abilities — like those with visual or hearing impairment or learning disabilities. Therefore, there is a lack of understanding and less priority given to issues regarding special needs and no formal knowledge of how to teach religious education to those with special needs,” he said

USIM kicked off its efforts in religious education for special needs people in 2006 when it embarked on research into Quran in Braille studies.

“While once not even one university in Malaysia offered Quran in Braille studies, there are schools offering the service like Princess Elizabeth School in Johor Baru.

“Visually-impaired students learn to recite the Quran from repetitive listening and memorisation. Only a few teachers could teach students to read the Quran in Braille but they were untrained.

“This prompted us to create a module for the Quran in Braille learning method.

“And in 2008, the faculty set up the Braille Application in Quran and Sunnah Studies — a compulsory course for its students — a first to be offered at higher education level.”

In the course, students are taught to identify the Arabic Braille alphabet, and the reading and writing format for Quranic studies.

USIM students trying their hand at writing Braille.

Norakyairee added some quarters questioned this move because the area of special needs education is not one that the faculty covers. “But this is the first move to create awareness among the public on the importance of religious studies among the differently abled in a non-ad hoc, yet focused manner.”

The effort later expanded to religious education solutions for the hearing-impaired and those with learning disabilities through partnerships with organisations such the Foundation of Quranic Education for Special Needs Children (also known as Yayasan Faqeh).

In 2012, students at the faculty did practical work with special needs children at Yayasan Faqeh. The exposure and collaboration resulted in the establishment of USIM’s Friends of Faqeh group, better known as Sahabat Faqeh, a volunteer group which organises outreach programmes for those with different abilities.

With the knowledge they gained through programmes at the faculty, Sahabat Faqeh members organised periodic activities such as Kem Huffaz Pekak Remaja, Jom Dhuha and Dakwah Tanpa Suara.

Nur Awatif Izzati Mohd Talib, a third-year Bachelor in Quranic and Sunnah Studies student who is Sahabat Faqeh deputy chairman, said the group aims to train undergraduates to approach those with special needs when carrying out religious outreach programmes.

“You can’t just simply approach them — there are specific ways to do it. The activities we carry out also create awareness among the public that those with special needs too can be included in religious studies and programmes.

“From my experience in working with those with special needs, I learnt that volunteer work comes from the heart. We can learn so much from those with special needs,” she said.

Sahabat Faqeh chairman Muhammad Zainul Abidin Mohamed Tahir, a third-year Bachelor of Sunnah and Information Management programme student, said that the group will be embarking on more programmes for those with different abilities.

“They include hiking with people with different abilities where we will attempt to infuse religious aspects into the activity. Religion can be learnt away from the confines of a classroom or mosque,” he added.

USIM will be organising a convention on dakwah to reach out to special needs people in September. Students from all universities in the country are welcome to participate.


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Knowledge reproduction: The value of criticism

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Should we teach university students to be critical of the nation and society?

THERE seems to be a natural fear of criticisms. At the same time, we evoke the rhetoric upon our society — the public, teachers and pupils in the school system, and scholars and students in the universities — to be critical. And, of course, a critical opposition in our political culture. And journalists to be critical of.

Some years ago when I was teaching journalism, there were occasions when colleagues posed the question: “Should we teach journalism students to be critical of journalism itself — as a profession, as an institution and as a vocation?” The answer is if students of journalism are critical of the practice, they will not be able to function as a journalist. There will be too many questions to ask and reflect on themselves and their role in society and the nation.

On the other hand, should we teach university students to be critical of the nation and society? The rhetoric would be a “yes”. But have we? Even our academics give lip service to being critical. And at another level, many are territorial and avoid criticisms of their own fields and academic disciplines. Assumptions, concepts, theories and methodologies in their fields are taken as a given, perhaps descending from heaven and must not be desacralised. The turf is sacred.

Dissent is frowned upon and delegitimised. While rummaging through books and papers in my cluttered library at home, I chanced upon a publication. The Dissenting Knowledge Pamphlet Series has been around for more than a decade since 2004. The bad news is that the publication has been poorly circulated and not consumed by those who should. The series, published by Citizens International in Pulau Pinang and Multiversity in Goa, India, from 2005, “seeks to furnish intellectuals, scholars, activists and serious readers, and especially those who rebel at the idea that the university should be the sole site of the life of the mind, with a more public and accessible forum of informed and dissenting opinion than is customarily available through scholarly monographs and learned journals,” said New Delhi-based scholar Vinay Lal, its founding editor.

The Forward was for series no. 9 titled Ignorance and the Durability of Religion: A Parable by James Carse, Emeritus Professor of Religion at New York University. Lal’s Forward referred to how we have reconstructed religion in a template informed by the early modern history of Western Europe, specifically Protestant Christianity. In context, it was a critique on globalisation and essentially a plea to recognise that what had been effectively affected are our knowledge production systems. Our universities should assume their institutional obligations as knowledge production systems, and our academics should see themselves as integral to the system. But which system? And what knowledge?

This is where being critical comes in. The knowledge production system that we are operating within — transmit, construct and theorise — is issued forth from a crucible that was to dominate, colonise and determine our worldview. In the modern guise of globalisation, it has captured and monopolised our imagination.

The Forward, in emphasising the ramifications of globalisation, looked at history as the principle determinant in regimes of colonialism, which some of us, and all of our forefathers, lived in for a few hundred years. We see the world, as I have repeatedly said in my earlier writings, from the prism of the West. We understand the world as we know today almost entirely through categories that are largely the product of Western knowledge systems and the academic disciplines. These have been charged with codifying, disciplining, organising, institutionalising and transmitting knowledge, not only about our physical and material world, but also about our various social, scientific, cultural, political, economic, religious and legal institutions and practices.

We have not broken our (false) consciousness. Within a knowledge-producing environment, being critical necessarily has political and epistemological consequences. And this means decolonising our academic disciplines. What we are engaged in as teachers and researchers of our “territory” was established and formalised against a past that later came to dominate us in their own image. The subjugation of the other, peoples of non-white and coloured races, has been accepted with a benign posture by our society and academic fraternity.

After almost 61 years of Independence, our universities and academics are still captive. We consume the great game of colonialism, in absolute awe of the European Enlightenment’s categories. We ignore Europe’s claim to universalism and are oblivious of the resulting extinction of our lifestyle, culture and knowledge. And so we respond with our category of what we have termed as “local knowledge”. But is this “local knowledge” that we have inadvertently and falsely celebrated — as to its sociological, historical and epistemological foundations — an adjunct to the mainstream knowledge production system? Thus far, local knowledge has been associated with the non-western, described condescendingly as ethnic, or tribal, and not within the geopolitics of the Western world. Is Europe not also local? Must “local knowledge” remain and assumed to be local, and is the past and not universal, as Europe and the west have constructed their beliefs and society to be? Colonialism has obscured a common, and often intellectual awareness of our histories.

The pamphlet series is part of the initiative to create an awareness and a consciousness amongst academics, scholars and the intelligent conscious public. It, of course, can come in many forms and platforms viz the integration with digital technologies and used in the social media. The social history of pamphlets, seen in the modern period, has led to consciousness and the democratisation of knowing. The concern is that our campuses develop an uncritical stance in the teaching and learning process. Our slogan of democratising higher education contradicts the democratisation of knowing and consciousness.

By A Murad Merican.

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SIDMA College staff received 2018 Harvest Goodies

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Harvest (Kaamatan) festival which is celebrated by the indigenous community of Sabah on 30th and 31st May every year; is a festivals which is closely associated with the end of the planting cycle – a time for harvest. For generations they have celebrated these unique festival as “magavau” or thanksgiving for a bountiful paddy harvest, and a hope of continuous good harvest in years to come.

This year’s Kaamatan festival theme of celebration is “Koubasanan Impowon Pisompuruan om Piobpinain” a Kadazandusun phrase which literally means “culture as the foundation of unity and kinship”; and is indeed relevant to SIDMA College Sabah as the staff are from a very diverse background and practicing a progressive corporate culture.

In line with this auspicious celebration, Dr Morni Hj Kambrie (Chairman and Founder of SIDMA College Sabah), through SIDMA Staff Welfare Association (PKKKSS) distributed Kaamatan goodies to SIDMA College Sabah staff celebrating the festival.

Goodies in the form of 10kg of rice, fresh whole chicken, fresh chicken wings and soft drinks were distributed to SIDMA staff at SIDMA Atrium on 26 May 2018 by Madam Azizah Khalid Merican (CEO). Also present during the event were Mr Zain Azrai Bin Mohd Noor (Chairman of PKKKSS), PKKSSS Central Committee, and SIDMA staff.

Mr Zain Azrai, on behalf of all SIDMA staff took the opportunity to thank Dr Morni and family, Madam Azizah Khalid Merican and family, and SIDMA Board of Management for their continuous support, care and generosity shown to all SIDMA staff.

Meanwhile Dr Morni and family, Madam Azizah Khalid Merican and family, Managers and Heads of Departments, as well as the PKKSSS Central Committee members conveyed their special harvest festival greetings “Kotobian Tadau Tagazo Do Kaamatan” to all lecturers, staff, students, relatives, parents and friends.

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Confirmation bias and the new Malaysia

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018
(File pix) Confirmation bias creates toxic environments — information is filtered to suit existing assumptions,

IF there is only one thing that we know about ourselves as humans, it is that we are mentally hardwired to hear what we want to hear. The saying that “opposites attract” is a nice sentiment, but, scientists have consistently found this to be a myth.

Some level of differences does appeal by offering contrasts that we find attractive, but, overwhelmingly the empirical evidence is that we are drawn to those with similar values, beliefs, and world views to us. We simply avoid our polar opposites.

This error of thinking is called confirmation bias and it plays out in our personal relationships, social interactions, and professional lives.

There is hardly an aspect of our lives where we do not consciously or subconsciously filter out things we do not agree with and interpret information in a way that suits our thinking and interests.

Social media accentuates our problem by using sophisticated algorithms to register our interests and preferences (e.g. likes) and then feeds us more of the same, hence, creating giant echo chambers that strengthen our world views and drown out different views.

Confirmation bias, compounded with other thinking errors, has led us to the present post-truth era. There have been others before in history. In this era, even the horrific killing of 20 innocent young American children can be denied and their families persecuted for allegedly staging it.

In short, confirmation bias creates ridiculously toxic environments. It is also present in national policy making and its effects can be pernicious. Most of us should know that decisions ought to be made in an objective and analytical setting. They should make use of all information available and dispassionately evaluated.

But this is not how many major policy decisions are made. Instead, information is filtered to suit existing assumptions, beliefs and, very importantly, interests. Those with opposing views are more likely to be sidelined or delegitimised rather than heard.

Policymakers are usually people in authority and can wield considerable power to ensure that only their view is heard. Everyone and everything else is labelled academic or apolitical. Once a decision is reached, it is vigorously defended even in the face of contradictory evidence and strong arguments.

On May 9, Malaysians voted in a new government for the first time. The new government has different ideas about how things should be done, and, given what is known about the past and which has since been revealed, it has an extremely good case for its change agenda.

The reform of compromised and weakened state institutions and the crackdown on corruption are critically needed and widely supported by the voting public. The promised repeal of laws that stifle dissent and human rights and that contribute to non-transparency, unaccountability and abuse of power is something that every right-minded Malaysian should want.

But, so too, should be the goal of a mature, civilised, and inclusive dialogue on matters of national importance. As a country with extensive linkages to the rest of the world, Malaysians cannot continue with the proverbial “frog under the coconut shell” mentality.

The world today operates at a speed and complexity that defies simple yes-no solutions. In an ever-changing political, economic, security and technological environment, desirable outcomes of decisions cannot always be assured.

A central element of good governance is an open learning and interactive environment, one where there is a plurality and diversity of responsible input. Instinctive decisions, or what one noted psychologist calls “fast thinking” has its place, but, there must also be “slow thinking” or more careful analyses and debate.

National dialogues on public policy must be safe harbours. Conscious decisions must be made to hold personal ideologies and even politics in check in the search for decisions that advance the nation’s interests and not a small group of parties or community’s interests.

Malaysia’s political system is designed to serve the greater good. As with any political system in the world, governments are expected to use their power to deliver. The way that power is applied today is as important a legitimising factor as elections.


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Give them more time to do their job

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018
(File pix) Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Council of Eminent Persons must be congratulated not only for the decision to form the Committee on Institutional Reforms, but also for the choice of persons who sit on this committee.
By Datuk Watson Peters - May 29, 2018 @ 9:13am

PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Council of Eminent Persons must be congratulated not only for the decision to form the Committee on Institutional Reforms, but also for the choice of persons who sit on this committee.

Institutional reforms, including constitutional amendments, must be taken as the guardrails of our democracy.

Public trust in our primary institutions has been going down a slippery slope at an accelerated and unexpected pace. Our system of checks and balances designed to prevent leaders from concentrating and abusing power has, in most part, failed us.

It may be instructive to recall that constitutional safeguards, by themselves, cannot secure a democracy. The great German constitution of 1919, which was well-crafted by great German jurists, saw the beginning of its end, with the ascension to office by Adolf Hitler, who was initially elected through democratic means.

Closer in time and region is the classic case of the Philippines. Its earlier constitution, modelled on the American constitution, replete with separation of powers and a Bill of Rights, collapsed under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos, who, too, was democratically elected.

It should, therefore, be clear in our minds that no institutional reform nor a constitution, however well-drafted, can guarantee faithful adherence to democracy.

There would surely be a number of lacunae and ambiguities as the committee cannot be expected to anticipate all possible contingencies or to anticipate how future leaders would conduct themselves in varying circumstances. There would always be competing and creative interpretations of the law, and construction may often be in a way that their creators neither intended nor anticipated.

It is, however, not suggested that the work of the committee would be an exercise in futility. Reforming our primary institutions is paramount, particularly in current circumstances.

As important as the guardrails of democracy are, its gatekeepers are the members the committee. Each person on the committee has had a long and consistent history in defence of democracy.

Without detracting from the capabilities and sense of purpose of the others, it is my respectful view that the choice of Datuk K.C. Vohrah as chief gatekeeper has been an inspired one.

Most members of the Malaysian Bar would agree that, whether one won or lost in any hearing before judge K.C., one always came away with the satisfaction of having been allowed a proper hearing and with the confidence that there could not have been any oblique influence on his decision making. During his distinguished career, Judge K.C. has never been tainted with even a whisper of any impropriety.

Having followed the live interviews of the committee on television, one got the impression that some members of the committee, with their well-intended enthusiasm, may well wander into areas outside the four corners of their terms of reference. Judge K.C. has an unenviable task of reining in their enthusiasm, which is understandable in the circumstances and much appreciated by most Malaysians.

The short time frame given to the committee may be insufficient in the circumstances; there is so much to do. Our government is urged to consider granting the said committee or a similar body a reasonable length of time to come up with comprehensive recommendations.

This is not a task that can be done in unholy haste; the gatekeepers have to entrench the guardrails in stone.

By Datuk Watson Peters.

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Mayor – Tanjung Aru Eco project shelved

Monday, May 28th, 2018

KOTA KINABALU: The Tanjung Aru Eco Development (TAED) project remains on the shelf until the Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK) receives the go-ahead from the new state administration.

The eco-friendly TAED project, with an area spanning 348ha was launched by former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2013 and is expected to provide a facelift to Tanjung Aru, which is already a renowned tourist attraction.

Mayor Datuk Yeo Boon Hai said DBKK has not signed any papers with anyone with regards to TAED and that the project, at the moment.

Briefing the member of parliaments and state assemblymen on TAED’s development, Yeo said all sea projects and reclamation works would be suspended.

He also said the state government has spent RM36 million to relocate and conduct studies.

Yeo also said that DBKK has yet to receive RM500 million from the Federal government and that it has not signed anything with any parties.

Present were assistant minister to the Chief Minister Jimmy Wong, Kota Kinabalu MP Chan Foong Hin, Luyang assemblyman Phoong Jin Zhe, Likas assemblyman Tan Lee Fat and Kapayan assemblywoman Jannie Lasimbang. Yeo also briefed on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, noting that they are currently waiting for the RM1.2 billion fund from the federal government.

He said the initial plan was to focus on developing the BRT system first which can later be transformed into Light Rail Transit (LRT).

Speaking to reporters, Wong said he would take note of the briefing and would relay it to the chief minister. He also requested DBKK to invite members from the opposition to attend future briefings in order to have check and balance.

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