Constitution, courts and free speech

April 12th, 2018

IN the Federal Constitution, Article 10(1)(a) explicitly confers a “right to freedom of speech and expression”.

The inclusion of the word “expression” implies that the horizon of freedom extends to communication in all its forms – by word of mouth, signs, symbols, gestures, art, music, sculpture, photographs, films, videos, books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, banners, bunting and cyber speech.

Even symbolic speech (like the manner of one’s dressing and grooming) can be regarded as part of one’s freedom of expression. This was established in the cross-dressers’ case of Muhamad Juzaili (2015).

Elsewhere in the Constitution, there are rights to assemble peaceably, to form associations, and to practise and propagate one’s religion. These are also manifestations of free speech.

However, rights cannot be absolute and must be accompanied by responsibilities and restraints.

Therefore, Articles 10(2), 10(4), 11(4), 11(5), 149, 150 and Schedule 9 List 2 Para 1 supply 17 grounds on which federal or state law may impose restrictions on free speech.

These grounds include public order, national security, incitement to an offence, morality and defamation.

The 17 grounds are indeed very broad and have led some to believe that despite the theory of constitutional supremacy, Parliament’s power to restrict speech, assembly and association is almost limitless.

This view is bolstered by the existence of Article 4(2)(b), which excludes judicial review and makes Parliament the final judge of whether a restriction is necessary or expedient.

Relying on their constitutional powers, Parliament and the state assemblies have enacted about 35 statutes that impinge on freedom of speech and expression.

Prominent on the list are the Sedition Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Official Secrets Act, Communication and Multimedia Act, Peaceful Assembly Act, Penal Code, Film Censorship Act and Defamation Act.

Despite this phalanx of laws, the courts have tried gallantly to evolve some principles for testing the constitutionality of legislation.

In the SIS Forum case (2012), it was ruled that the restrictions imposed by Parliament must be confined to the permissible, enumerated grounds.

The Constitution must be read as a whole (conjunctively). Article 10 must be read along with the equality clause of Article 8, which requires fairness (Dr Mohd Nasir, 2006).

The law restricting rights must be precise and not vague (Pung Chen Choon, 1994). The restriction imposed must be reasonable and proportionate (Dr Mohd Nasir, 2006; Sivarasa, 2010; and Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei, 2014). However, the judiciary is deeply divided on this issue.

Fundamental rights are part of the basic structure of the Constitution (Sivarasa, 2010, and Semenyih Jaya, 2017).

A Constitution is a living and organic thing (Tan Tek Seng, 1996).

Regrettably, however, such scintillating principles have not produced much result.

In 60 years, there have been only a handful of cases of successful judicial review of legislation on the ground of violation of Article 10. These cases are Hilman Idham, Mohd Juzaili, Mat Shuhaimi, Nik Nazmi, Nik Noorhafizi, and Fathul Bari.

Only one case survived the appeal process and left a lasting impact. That was the “UKM Four” case of Hilman Idham (2011), which struck down Section 15 of the Universities and University Colleges Act.

In many instances of successful judicial review of legislation by the High Court or the Court of Appeal, the rulings were demolished by a conservative and cautious Federal Court – sometimes on very unconvincing technical grounds. See Muhamad Juzaili (2015) and Mat Shuhaimi (2014).

Judicial review of Article 10 legislation is obviously not a significant feature of our Constitution. But it would be overly pessimistic to conclude that citizens have no fundamental right to speech.

Though most judges do not question the power of Parliament, many of them show the willingness to review executive decisions under Article 10 legislation.

In the SIS Forum case, the court held that an executive order to ban a book must be pegged to the permissible restrictions in Article 10. The purported justification by the Home Minister that “the book may confuse Muslim women” is not an authorised ground.

In other orders to ban books or assemblies, courts have applied objective criterion to test the executive’s subjective satisfaction that public disorder is likely, such as in the cases of Berjaya Books (2015), SIS Forum (2012), Edge Communications (2016) and Mohd Faizal Musa (2018).

Courts have ruled that the anticipated danger must not be too remote or fanciful (Sepakat Efektif).

The “absolute discretion” of the minister under the Printing Presses and Publications Act cannot be interpreted literally.

Absolute discretions are a violation of Article 8’s promise of equal treatment.

There must be an objective basis for his exercise of discretion (Darma Suria, 2010).

Finality clauses in legislation cannot oust judicial review (Darma Suria).

Fundamental rights in the Constitution must be interpreted prismatically and broadly. Restrictions on fundamental rights must be read narrowly (SIS Forum, Sivarasa, Hilman Idham and Shamim Reza Abdul Samad).

In some cases, courts have thrown out the charge wrongly made (Tan Jye Yee, 2014).

In public interest privilege cases like BA Rao v Sapuran Kaur, the court and not the executive decides whether evidence should be disclosed or suppressed.

In sum, judicial review of legislation that curbs free speech is not a significant feature of our legal system.

Barring some honourable exceptions, judges speak boldly but act timidly.

However, there are glittering examples of judicial review of administrative action. Courts have evolved sterling principles to keep absolute powers in check.

What the future holds is difficult to predict. The seeds of human rights activism have already been planted by some judges. These seeds may blossom one day. The situation is akin to a forest in which there is no path.

by Shad Saleem Faruqi
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Call for UMS studies on indigenous laws

April 12th, 2018

Kota Kinabalu: Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum suggested Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) consider starting a programme which looks into the indigenous laws in Sabah and Sarawak.

“I am making this suggestion because we have a big problem about the indigenous laws in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said when launching the 7th International Conference on Law and Society at UMS, here, Wednesday.

He said it is a subject in some local universities in the peninsula but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

“Yesterday, I attended another meeting with the local communities. They can actually tell you the real meaning of life, the meaning of sustainable development, the meaning of how to live when there is nothing more to look at.

That’s the lesson I could draw from the discussion,” he said.

He said those are the things that should be preserved because one day we will need them.

“I think if only there could be a kind of certificate or diploma in indigenous studies that can be started by UMS possibly under the School of Humanities, that would be wonderful,” he said.

His promise to be the first to help out and to give lectures drew claps from the participants of the three-day conference.

On another note, Malanjum said they are already collecting materials everywhere, adding that they have in fact already had three meetings for all the indigenous leaders.

“We are actually documenting them and hopefully in a year or so we can get it fully done and conduct a workshop and so forth.

“Our biggest fear is the young generations. They seem to have forgotten their ancestors…they need to know their ancestries to be able to move forward.

“They think that WhatsApp is good enough in life. I don’t think that’s right, so that is how it is…the young are the ones we want to inculcate the love and also the attachment to their culture and identity.

“Once those are lost, you will have no identity as a human being, so that is the reason why we are so worried about the young, they have seemed to have forgotten that.

“I hope therefore that UMS can help us out in this,” he said.

On a lighter note, he encouraged participants, especially first time visitors here, to take time to visit the State capital.

“The night life in Kota Kinabalu is very interesting, with Jalan Gaya itself being literally a 24-hour celebration, a very pleasant and a peaceful place to walk around,” he said.

He said four years ago, there were some snatch thefts there and UMS Board of Directors Chairman Tun Zaki Tun Azmi, who was the Chief Justice then, said “look, we need to be serious about this.”

“So we started sending them to jail, imposing heavy sentences and whipping them, and so of course it has gone down, thanks to Zaki for alerting us on that.

“Now we don’t have many of those snatch thefts and of course the police force is very alert in all this, so walk around in Kota Kinabalu,” he said.

Towards this end, he congratulated the organisers for holding the talk in UMS and hoped more such conference will be held here to attract more intellectual discussions.

“UMS may even be a seat of wisdom in time to come,” he said.

Meanwhile, UMS Vice Chancellor Professor Datuk Dr D Kamarudin D Mudin, in his welcoming speech, said he had an earlier discussion with conference moderators who asked why they don’t have law programme in Sabah.

“It is actually a very interesting issue to discuss and I would like to mention that we cannot be starting something with a full programme maybe, but we probably will find a way to programme with our counterpart.

by Sherell Jeffrey.

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Multi-disciplinary degree to prepare for working world

April 11th, 2018
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia freshmen taking their oath during orientation week. Today’s market demands.

THE demands on graduates entering the working world are different today.

Other than recruiting those with deep and specialised knowledge, employers are also on the lookout for employees who can hit the ground running, solve problems on the fly and multi-task. They want those who are versatile, resilient and eloquent, have multi-disciplinary knowledge, and the list goes on.

And these are the traits that Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) aims to mould in its undergraduates.

The university’s newly-unveiled Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (BSLS), which will commence this September (the first semester of the 2018/2019 academic year), has what UKM terms as a future-focused curriculum — one that is cross-disciplinary with flexible study structure.

Conducted by its Pusat Citra Universiti, the degree exposes students to solid multi-disciplinary lessons in humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and the arts, subsequently allowing them to pursue diverse careers ranging from manufacturing, tourism, human resource, finance and takaful; all the way to logistics, communications and public service.

UKM Vice-Chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dr Noor Azlan Ghazali outlines the uniqueness of the BSLS programme.

Noor Azlan Ghazali

“The norm is when a student enrols in a degree course, he will go straight into a specific field of study. The four-year BSLS programme has a different approach.

“You tell us what you want to be, and we will guide you to your goal. That means our role is more focused on helping students realise their dreams.

“In this programme, we no longer have too-rigid borders, but can craft a degree that cuts across faculties,” said Noor Azlan.

To illustrate this, he gives the following example: “Say a student wants to enter the halal food industry, there is the halal, food science and marketing components to study. He can pursue all three components in one degree programme. The faculties teaching the components will sit down with the student to enable him to complete that degree.”

The BSLS is born out of Pusat Citra Universiti’s general studies programme.

It is in line with the Higher Education Ministry’s recommendation for UKM to incorporate liberal studies and multi-disciplinary education in its programmes.

The university management had set up a task force to carry out research and workshops in 2012, roping in multinational companies, small-and medium-scale enterprises, government agencies, non-government organisations, students and lecturers for feedback.

Among the areas of discussion was the main attributes that every student should have.

As a result, the university came up with four compulsory courses for — Basic entrepreneurship and innovation, Islamic and Asian civilisation, Ethnic relations and soft skills — which they must pass.

There are also Citra Education courses under six domains, which students from all faculties can choose to take.

The six domains are ethics, citizenship & civilisation; language, communication & literacy; quantitative and qualitative; leadership, entrepreneurship & innovation; science, technology and sustainability; and, family, health and lifestyle.

“For other degrees, students have been taking these courses as components of their programme in the last four years.

“But this year, the courses are to be taken as part of a degree programme for students enrolled in BSLS.

“It is a ‘buffet’ programme. You enter into a guided ‘buffet’, where you decide on the courses you want to take, and we come and coach you,” said Noor Azlan.

The BSLS is a “2u2i” (two years university and two years industry) programme that takes four years to complete. Each student will be guided by an academic adviser.

The first year is focused on completing 30 credits of compulsory courses, which include data analysis and management, as well as the Pusat Citra Universiti courses, said centre director Professor Dr Khaidzir Ismail.

“We have chief executive officers coming over to give talks to provide students exposure on various businesses and industries.” — Khaidzir Ismail, UKM Pusat Citra Universiti director

For the second year, students will focus on an area of specialisation that fits their personal and career goals.

“Students will undergo a psychometric test before choosing a major, and will be assigned a mentor. We have chief executive officers coming over to give talks to provide students exposure on various businesses and industries,” Khaidzir said, adding that Pusat Citra Universiti will be coordinating the logistics and scheduling with faculties.

During the third year, students will undergo community or industry-based training.

“There will be several industrial stints to expose students to working life in companies or communities,” said Khaidzir.

In the final year, students will undertake an industry-based project, community-based report or produce a thesis.


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Key to higher order thinking skills

April 9th, 2018
Nawal says a lively classroom means the students are actively taking part in the teaching and learning process.

Nawal says a lively classroom means the students are actively taking part in the teaching and learning process.

SINCE 2013, Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) questions have found their way into national level examinations.

And they will gradually be increased until the year 2020.

This is part of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 plan to develop students who can think critically and creatively.

Ultimately this is to create generations of resilient students that can face the challenges of the working world in the future.

Despite being around for the past few years, there are still teachers struggling to teach their students the skills needed to tackle these types of examination questions.

“Teachers are not prepared to develop HOTS among their students,” says the former director of the Examination Syndicate Datin Nawal Salleh (pic).

She adds that teachers need to develop HOTS first before they can impart their knowledge to their charges.

This year, the Leaps of Knowledge Conference had fun and engaging workshops to help parents and teachers understand education through gamification and how HOTS can be incorporated into teaching and learning.

“What we are trying to do now is to develop HOTS in the classroom,” she tells StarEducate.

Although not easy, Nawal offers a few ideas that are easily implemented.

She says that teachers can kickstart a student’s curiosity the moment they enter the classroom by asking questions.

Curiosity is a key requirement to develop HOTS.

She says an example of a HOTS question is “Why do you think leaves are green?”

This thought-provoking question has many answers such as “because of the chlorophyll” and also “because the leaves reflect green light.”

An open question like this requires the student to think critically and creatively to come up with the answer, she adds.

HOTS questions need to be opinion-based as well, she explains.

“We are actually trying to stimulate the thinking process.”

Nawal says a sign a child is using HOTS in the classroom is when they ask questions.

Teachers should encourage the children to voice their thoughts and queries, she says.

“If you want to develop their critical thinking skills, you have to provoke and encourage the students to ask questions,” she adds.

Assuming students ask a difficult question, the teacher should not just brush it aside.

Instead, Nawal says the teacher should act as a “facilitator” and help the students find the answer on their own.

She also says a classroom should not be “too quiet” as it is a clear sign that one-way teaching is going on.

A lively classroom means the students are actively taking part in the teaching and learning process.

Nawal stresses that HOTS questions are now necessary to break the cycle of rote-learning and develop students who are creative and critical-thining problem-solvers

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Are educators ready for Education 4.0?

April 7th, 2018

CAN digital immigrants teach digital natives? It all depends on whether digital immigrants are able to break through the digital era and adapt to the changing environment.

In a recent high achievers’ workshop which I conducted in the university, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my students were silent during the break between the workshop sessions. Observing them, I noticed that they were all glued to their mobile devices. Is this what technology has brought for our younger generation?

Born in the late ‘60s, I have had the opportunity to be a recipient of technological change and am able to have first-hand account of the evolving technology in my lifetime. I am what people call part of the generation of digital immigrants. In contrast, my students are what are known as digital natives – persons born during the wide spread of technology who are always attached to their digital devices.

Education in the 21st century is all about embracing digital technology. The Government’s aspiration for our future generation is for them to be tech-savvy. This is living with the changing times.

In the near future, according to a survey, some of the jobs today will no longer be relevant. New jobs will emerge and these will most likely be catering to the digital age.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh recently said that universities have to be prepared to adapt and change their curriculum and delivery so that graduates are able to fill in jobs which are yet to emerge. Technology is moving rapidly and educators have to keep up with this fast pace.

In the Education 4.0 framework, challenges of the fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) are addressed in relation to the Malaysia Education Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-2025.

It is imperative that students are equipped with ICT and collaborative skills and be interested in lifelong learning. They also need to have critical and creative thinking and communicative skills.

Statistics show that the number of unemployed graduates in Malaysia is worrying. There are many possible causes for this. Employers look upon fresh graduates as liabilities who need to be provided with extra training before they can function adequately in their job.

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Fostering a true halal economy: Global Integration and Ethical Practice

April 6th, 2018
(File pix) Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah delivering his keynote address.

THE following is the keynote address by the Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah at the conference yesterday at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur.

BISMILLAHI r-Rahmani r-Rahim. Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

It is my great pleasure to be here at such a prestigious international event to discuss crucial questions about the future of the Islamic economy. Embedded within this economy is the concept of halal. As those of you gathered here today will know, halal refers to that which is permissible or lawful according to Islamic law. As such, the concept and practice of halal should be omnipresent in the end-to- end ecosystem of both production and consumption within the Islamic tradition. The halal industry has, therefore, always been of paramount importance to Malaysia as a Muslim-majority country. Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the ongoing work of the Halal Industry Development Corporation (or HDC) in Malaysia, which has implemented various initiatives since its foundation in 2006, with the aim not only of furthering the development of the halal industry locally, but also, I hope, of fostering its ecosystem beyond Malaysia.

There are approximately 1.84 billion Muslims in the world today, making up around 24.4 per cent of the world’s population, or just under one quarter of humankind. By 2030, this number is expected to increase to 2.2 billion. It is important to recognise, however, that although Islam is one religion, the Muslim community is not one homogenous group. The worldwide Islamic community is spread over 200 countries, with an estimated one fifth of the world’s Muslim population living in non-Muslim- majority countries. Muslims throughout the globe are citizens of their respective countries, but they also have a sense of belonging to the ummah, the worldwide Muslim community.

The growing Muslim population worldwide translates into a rising international demand for halal products. Halal is now a truly global industry, and this ever-increasing globalisation represents an exciting opportunity for the Islamic economy, to grow more prominent within the world economy as a whole. However, it also presents a number of challenges, to do with international attitudes and rapid technological change; and it entails important responsibilities concerning the ethical governance of the halal industry and its proper regulation worldwide. I will be considering these aspects of the burgeoning global halal industry in my speech today.

These are, indeed, exciting times for the global halal economy. The value of the halal industry is growing at a remarkable rate: from approximately US$2.3 trillion (RM8.89 trillion) in 2012, the halal sector is expected to almost triple, to US$ 6.4 trillion by this year. This is an astonishing growth within a period of just six years, and represents a major success for the global halal industry. In Malaysia, there have been a number of concerted efforts and programmes, most notably, the formulation of the Halal Industry Blueprint for 2008-2020, to propel the international growth of the industry, and to make Malaysia a global leader in innovation and production.

While halal is perhaps most often associated with food and drink, there are in fact a wide range of halal products and services which can be offered, including healthcare and pharmaceuticals, personal care and cosmetics, travel and tourism, and financial services. According to Reuters, by the end of 2018, the halal food industry alone will be worth USS 1.6 trillion, the halal cosmetics industry will be worth USS 39 billion, and the halal pharmaceuticals industry will be worth US$ 97 billion. It is projected that the halal food and drink sector may be worth as much as US$ 2.1 trillion by 2030.

This vast and widespread growth is due to the increasing demand for halal alternatives across a variety of retail sectors, particularly in parts of the world with a rapidly growing Muslim population. The halal market is not only thriving in Muslim-majority countries, but also in major non-Muslim- majority economies, including China, Japan, the US and the UK. In the United Kingdom, for instance, food production companies are increasingly recognising the importance of the Muslim market, with around 20 per cent of sheep meat in England being consumed by the Muslim population. More and more companies are therefore catering to the Muslim market by producing halal food items. Indeed, one of Malaysia’s Department for Halal Industries has been collaborating with local councils in the North East of England to develop a business hub for producing halal meat. This is an excellent example of the way in which building bridges and establishing global links can help to foster the development of the halal industry worldwide.

There is also an increasing international awareness of the importance of halal tourism, with travel agents offering halal holiday packages. Halal tourism is thriving across Europe, to the extent that Spain even hosted the inaugural Halal Tourism Conference in 2014, and will also be hosting the Halal Expo conference, on food, tourism and lifestyle, later this year.

As these facts and figures attest, recent years have witnessed the rapid international growth of the halal industry across a variety of sectors, and this growth is predicted to continue. Countries are increasingly catering to Muslims at home, as well as appealing to Islamic tourists and holiday-makers overseas. There is a growing realisation, it seems, that halal is a way of life, and that businesses need to meet the needs and demands of Muslim consumers. In this way, the halal industry is propelling the growth of the Islamic economy on an international level.

Despite these success stories, however, the industry must address some significant challenges if this encouraging trend is to continue.

First and foremost, we must acknowledge that halal continues to face some opposition in non-Muslim majority countries. While many non-Muslims are also choosing halal products for their business and personal needs, recent years have witnessed the rise of what we might call “halal phobia” in certain countries. In December 2017, for instance, a French supermarket supplying halal products was ordered to close for not selling pork or alcohol. This kind of reactionary behaviour could potentially damage the globalisation of the halal industry.

I spoke several years ago at the Saïd Business School in Oxford University, about the role and importance of branding in relation to halal products. While we should be proud of the proliferation of Islamic brands in global markets, we must also ask ourselves to what extent we want to segment markets along identity and religious lines. Pushing Islamic brands too aggressively may affect the marketability of products in non-Muslim communities, and will almost inevitably invite reactions from other religious groups. There is, it seems, a delicate balancing act to be performed, between ensuring the availability of halal products and services to Muslims worldwide, and encouraging non-Muslims to see halal products as viable options for themselves as well.

Another potential challenge to the internationalisation of the halal industry is the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, or Industry 4.0. Rapid and unprecedented technological advances are currently transforming economies, jobs, and even civilisation itself. We must recognize that the world is changing. Billions of people are now instantly connected to each other via countless portable machines. Huge increases in processing power and storage capacity mean that data is being collected and harnessed like never before. Along with the incredible benefits of such developments come substantial risks, as evidenced by big data scandals such as the one high-profile case unfolding in the news at the moment.


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Penampang school leads charge in harnessing energy

April 6th, 2018

KOTA KINABALU: Five schools in Sabah were selected by Shell Malaysia to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) amongst lower secondary school students in Malaysia.

According to Prithipal Singh, Shell Malaysia Senior Representative, revealed the company introduced a STEM immersion programme known as #MyGeekMovement to 15 selected schools nationwide in August last year, including five schools in Sabah.

(The five Sabah schools are SM All Saints, SM La Salle and SMKMaktab Sabah in Kota Kinabalu; SM St. Michael in Penampang; and SMK Sung Siew in Sandakan.)

Shell Malaysia focused on STEM to influence students to take an early interest in fields like engineering, information technology and automation.

“This will increase the numbers of STEM graduates thus helping to meet national targets and aspirations,” a company statement said.

MyGeekMovement provides learning content that complements the existing school co-curricular structure with a long-term goal to increase number of students opting for science stream in the selected schools, while boosting interests in science and technology amongst the young generation.

STEM are subjects at the very heart of Shell, according to Prithipal.

“Our industry needs talented people with relevant knowledge and skills in these areas. Through our STEM-related programmes, we actively shape and participate in the energy transition.”

With the support of the Ministry of Education, #MyGeekMovement Shell STEM Malaysia selected 225 form one students in 15 schools in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. These students will experience the opportunity to gain hands-on STEM learning, with a focus on technology. Peer to peer coaching is also implemented to widen the knowledge beyond those directly involved in the participating schools.

During the showcase, Shell Malaysia presented the innovative inventions produced by the students involved in #MyGeekMovement. The students delved into an ‘Access to Energy’ challenge and the five Sabah secondary school champion teams were engaged in a #MyGeek-a-thon showcase to vie for the title #MyGeekMovement Sabah State Champion.

The team from SM St. Michael, Penampang was announced as the Sabah champion yesterday. Their prototype invention combines wind and hydro turbines and a solar panel to convert wind, hydro and solar energy as renewable energy to produce electricity. The team will represent Sabah in the #MyGeekMovement Malaysia Grand Finals, scheduled next week in Cyberjaya, Selangor competing against the other state champions of Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.

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Commonwealth Games: Is it still relevant?

April 5th, 2018
The Malaysian contingent at the Commonwealth Games flag-raising ceremony in Gold Coast, Australia. A total of 175 Malaysian athletes are competing in 16 sports at the Games. PIC BY YAZIT RAZALI

AMID the skyscrapers and coastline of Surfers Paradise in Australia’s Gold Coast, one can spot a large surfboard with a digital clock, determinedly counting down.

The Commonwealth Games will descend this week onto the Gold Coast’s beaches, bringing with it the world’s best athletes and nagging questions of relevance, competitiveness and economic effect.

The multi-sport event has gathered various nations of the British Commonwealth every four years since 1930, barring a few wartime aberrations. It was originally known as the British Empire Games, hosting various combinations of countries, with Australia and Britain among the mainstays. The 2018 Games will draw athletes from 71 Commonwealth nations and territories who will compete in 275 events over 18 sports.

Despite the impending glow of an international audience, familiar concerns over the games’ substantial cost and dwindling significance have again come to the fore, this time in the Australian state of Queensland.

There is little doubt the Commonwealth represents a particular, if ageing, type of might — it still represents about a third of the world’s population. Set up in the mid-20th century as Britain allowed for the self-governance of many of its territories, the Commonwealth of Nations have no legal obligations to one another, but instead aim to further shared values like democracy and freedom of speech.

But, in a post-Brexit landscape, and with many countries shrinking further into isolationism, questions have been raised not only of the games’ relevance, but the relevance of the Commonwealth itself.

“The Commonwealth matters to me,” said Jacqui Gooding, a New Zealander who was visiting Surfers Paradise on vacation.

“The queen is our leader — I don’t want a president.”

Gooding’s husband, John, dismissed the idea that the games would be absent of sporting and political relevance.

“It’s about bringing all the nations of the Commonwealth together,” he said.

“It shows the power of sport in diplomacy, and the importance of the Commonwealth.”

Organisers on the Gold Coast said they expected the games to reach a global audience of 1.5 billion. For context, the 2014 World Cup had about 3.2 billion global viewers and the Rio Olympics had about 3.6 billion.

The mood of locals varied from enthusiasm to curiosity to, occasionally, eye-rolling frustration at construction and traffic delays.

Nick Atkins, who runs a co-working space on the Gold Coast, has been an advocate for attracting and retaining talent in the region. He said he was more excited about the government’s spending on infrastructure than the events themselves.

“For me, personally, I don’t know who the Commonwealth’s best javelin thrower is, or table tennis player or swimmer,” he said.

“But, there’s an undeniable positivity on the Gold Coast for it.”

Peter Beattie, a former premier of the state of Queensland, and the chairman of the Gold Coast Games, said that he empathised with those who had reservations about the event.

“I understand that there’s always a bit of cynicism: Is this the remnants of the Empire? Look, it came from the Empire Games, but its relevance and relationship with the Empire Games is very tenuous,” he said.

This year’s games, for the first time, will feature an equal gender split of events. Women will compete for the same number of me-dals as men, a feat that organisers said had not been replicated by any other major multi-sport international event, including the Olympics.

Beattisaid that the games would send a message about the advancement of women that he hoped the Olympics would emulate.

Others said the games presented athletes with a rare chance at higher competition like the Olympics and World Championships — and some athletes with perhaps the peak competition of their careers

“I just snuck into the Commonwealth Games. It was the first major team that I made, representing Australia — they have more relaxed standards,” said Steve Moneghetti, a retired Australian runner who eventually competed in four Olympic marathons.

“It’s a good stepping stone, and certainly for some athletes it will be the only multisport competition that they go to.”

It is easy to see why for certain nations these games may be just as watchable as the Olympics — there’s a far greater chance of seeing a fellow countryman win.

Medal count aside, host cities have faced increasing pressure in recent games to ensure that the economic effect of the event proves both positive and sustainable.

Last year, the South African city of Durban was stripped of the right to host the games in 2022, following a series of missed deadlines and financial shortcomings. The African continent has never hosted the games.

Before that, India’s 2010 Games were marred by accusations of substantial overspend and corruption.

The 2014 Games in Glasgow proved something of a litmus test for the economic and cultural credibility of the event

There, a large chunk of responsibility fell to an American, David Grevemberg, who had previously been part of a team that secured an agreement that would require Olympic cities to also host the Paralympics.

“Post India, we had a brand that’s relevance was being questioned,” said Grevemberg, who today is the chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation.


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Benefits of going cashless

April 5th, 2018
(File pix) The main advantage of digital payment is that one can do the transaction at any time of the day and from any place. Archive image for illustration purposes only

THERE is much talk about going cashless these days. Is Malaysia ready to go cashless?

Given the increase in the number of snatch thieves and convenient stores being robbed, yes, perhaps it is time for Malaysia to go cashless or use electronic payment systems, such as credit/debit cards, smartphones or Touch & Go cards. But, on a serious note, what would it mean, going cashless?

Changing to “cashless” would be good for our country, soon to be developed with a high-income status. It is more efficient and cost-effective because we no longer need to handle physical money or go to the bank to deposit or withdraw money. All transactions are to be done online or virtually.

Cashless initiatives are also in line with the Financial Sector Blueprint launched by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). According to the blueprint, for the next 10 years, BNM targets to increase the number of per capita e-payment transactions from 44 transactions to 200 transactions.

But, does emphasising online transactions provide significant benefits or just add stress and extra charges? What are the advantages of going cashless? For the government, the cashless society makes tracking and collection of taxes easier and committing fraud harder. Cash payments can be made invisible, but for every cashless transaction, there is a digital footprint.

We can get rid of wallets or purses to carry that wad of cash. We can also enjoy the convenience of digital transactions using credit cards, debit cards, mobile wallets and other online payment systems. Digital and cashless transactions have also paved the way for e-commerce where one can shop online from the comfort of home.

According to BNM, the main advantage of a digital payment system is that one will have the freedom to do the transaction at any time of the day and from any location.

There are so many mobile wallet operators today such as MOL (Money Online), AliPay, and MyPay that we are spoilt for choice. Many e-commerce sites, too, offer special discounts to consumers who make online payments.

Another advantage is when travelling abroad. Imagine a situation where you are abroad and you have just been robbed of all your cash and other belongings. You are now stranded with no money. What do you do? Well, of course, the first thing is to go to the nearest police station and report the theft. Next, if you are debit or credit card holder, you have to call your bank and tell them to do the necessary. And, most credit card companies will provide you with a new card almost immediately.

Hence, it can be said that going cashless provides lots of benefits and is convenient. Of course, there is the risk of spending more than what you have. Actually, cash helps us curb our spending. Other disadvantages are an increased risk of identity theft, phishing traps, online frauds and account hacking — all these will naturally rise as we grow towards digitization.


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Early intervention services for disabled children

April 5th, 2018


Amber Huang (left) conducting the weekly activity for students at EIC Sandakan

SANDAKAN: The Early Intervention Centre (EIC) located adjacent to Sabah Cheshire Home Sandakan provides early intervention services to children 3 to 12 years of age and their families in order to promote optimal development for children with disabilities.

The EIC is situated within the compound of the Sri Harapan Senior Citizens Complex at Jalan Sibuga. EIC was established in 2006 for children with behavior problem (Autism). Today EIC has four staff and five students.

A volunteer from Taiwan, Amber Huang, has been conducting a two-hour weekly activity for the children since April 2017.

“Our trained caregivers / teachers with experience in special education will ensure the children entrusted to EIC are in a conducive environment and get the best care and education,” EIC supervisor Nita Kigi said.

“At EIC, we also want to instill awareness on care, education, employment, rehabilitation, access and health among persons with disabilities,” she added.

According to Nita, various programmes and activities are organised to assist the development of children with disabilities at EIC.

The EIC operation time is 7.30am to 5pm from Monday until Friday. It is closed on weekends and public holidays, Nita said.

Nita said parents of children with Autism can enroll them at EICSandakan.

On fees, she said parents will have to pay a one-time registration fee of RM50 while monthly fees are RM350 (full day) and RM 250 (half day) for one student.

by James Leong.

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