Archive for October, 2012

It is not illegal to have friends. It is not illegal to help a friend either. Every culture encourages that. Help can be transactional, where both sides simultaneously do things for each other. It can also be one-sided, with only one party doing the other a favour. That isn’t illegal and is common amongst friends.

Why then has the country come up in arms against Sharizat Abd Jalil? Why does it give people a sick-in-the-gut feeling when hearing about the National Feedlot Corporation’s RM250 million fiasco? Why are so many people angry over her family company buying luxury apartments, hotel stakes and land, offered as sweet deal from a friend called Pak Lah?

The Pakatan Rakyat has done a gutsy and commendable job in bringing these findings to the forefront. Sharizat’s husband Mohd Salleh Ismail shady dealings were common gossip in banking circles. The media knew it well too. However, it is the PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli and Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin that crystallized the outrage, presented some documents and made it a topic of household discussion.

PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli’s move, led to an investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on Wanita Umno chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil however, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) cleared her as it found “there was no case against her”. Demanding an independent investigation into Sharizat, is a disappointment. Firstly, a fair and independent investigation is nearly impossible in Malaysia against the Sharizat’s family, especially when they are in power and connected to UMNO. Second, and more important, even if a fair investigation is conducted, there may not be much illegality in what Sharizat’s husband did (ignoring the charges of criminal breach of trust and violations of the Companies Act, as alleged in some news reports). After all, Sharizat’s husband made a friend in business consultant Shamsulbahrin Ismail, and Shamsulbahrin Ismail was suppose to pay police officers at the Commercial Crimes Division in Bukit Perdana to close the case and help Sharizat’s husband out. That’s all the paper trail may reveal, despite exhaustive investigations. In fact, when powerful people help each other, they are smart enough to keep the paper trail sacrosanct. Expensive lawyers work hard to ensure the deals have a semblance of legality, whatever the intent.

In fact, proximity and access to UMNO are of huge value. If National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) seniors are seen hanging out with the Prime Minister then and his son-in-law, would not the Minister of Agriculture and the UMNO Menteri Besar of Negeri Sembilan view National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) many request, well, a little differently? Neither National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp), nor the family, nor the Minister of Agriculture or the Negeri Sembilan government may ever sit down and spell out how each will help the other. They don’t need to, for they are friends. There’s nothing illegal about it, right?

In fact, this lack of, or hard to prove illegality is the cornerstone of the defence put forward by the UMNOs’ army of spokespersons and eager-beaver sycophants. ‘It’s a private matter’ or ‘prove give and take’ or ‘prove abuse of power’ are often the arguments given. It is hard to fault them completely, for the legal bases are probably well covered, or at least very difficult to prove otherwise.

And yet, what happened is ethically wrong. Politicians work for the benefit of common people, not for their family, not for their friends, business partners and relatives. At least that is the assumption people had about the Sharizat family. People also assumed that they believed in simplicity and were above personal greed, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. After all, what use is wearing simple baju kurung, implying simplicity, when your family members are accumulating hundreds of millions by exploiting political power?

There will be a huge price UMNO and Barisan Natinal will pay for this. Ethics may not matter in courts, but do matter in the hearts of people. A family that betrays trust will pay the price in the next election. It may even lose that trust forever.

However, the Sharizats are by no means alone in this. Nor is this just a UMNO issue. A large number of politicians have lost track of the idea that every profession in this world has ethics – it may not be illegal to break them but still is definitely wrong. A doctor must treat his patient as soon as possible, it is assumed, under ethical medical practice. But if he delays treatment, it would be hard to prove it illegal. A lecturer must try to teach his students well, though if he doesn’t, it won’t be illegal. Society needs ethics as much as laws to function well.

A politician should think a hundred times before forging business deals with people with whom there might be a future conflict of interest, and a million times before they accept any substantial favors. Favours usually oblige one to return them, and if that means hurting the interests of people that put you in that position, the effects can be devastating. Sharizat’s husband’s foolish greed, and the other family members’ tacit approval, has cost Sharizat her ministership. The cost will also be in terms of reputation and esteem. Wise people know these are priceless and far more valuable than anything quoted in ringgit.

BY: T. S. Subramanian

Discovery has opened new chapter in understanding maritime trade of Indian Ocean countries, say historians

A Tamil-Brahmi script inscribed on a potsherd, which was found at the Khor Rori area in Oman, has come to light now. The script reads “nantai kiran” and it can be dated to first century CE, that is, 1900 years before the present. The discovery in the ancient city of Sumhuram has opened a new chapter in understanding the maritime trade of the Indian Ocean countries, according to specialists in history.

It was by chance that the potsherd was sighted. Alexia Pavan, an Italian archaeologist, had displayed the potsherd during an international ceramic workshop on “The Indian Ocean Trade and the Archaeology of Technology at Pattanam in Kerala” held in September in Kochi. P.J. Cherian, Director, Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR), and Roberta Tomber of the British Museum, London, had jointly organised the workshop. Pottery from several Indian Ocean countries was on display during the workshop. K. Rajan, Professor, Department of History, Pondicherry University, D. Dayalan, Regional Director, Archaeological Survey of India, and V. Selvakumar, Head of the Department of Epigraphy and Archaeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur, spotted the potsherd displayed by Dr. Pavan.

The Italian Mission to Oman (IMTO) had found this potsherd during its second archaeological excavation in 2006 in the Khor Rori area. The Director of the excavation was Alessandra Avanzini and Dr. Pavan was part of the team. Since 1997, the Mission of University of Pisa, forming part of the IMTO, has been working in Oman in two sites: Sumhuram in Khor Rori and Salut in Nizwa.

Personal name

The potsherd was found in a residential area of Sumhuram city. Dr. Pavan said it was part of a lid made by reusing the shoulder of an amphora. Soot traces visible along the external ridge suggest the use of the lid for a cooking pot. The sherd was discovered in a layer mixed with a few pottery pieces and animal bones, “which [layer] corresponds to one of the most important constructional phase of the city, to be dated to the first century CE,” she said. So the sherd could be dated to first century CE or a little earlier. There was so much of Indian material, including beads, coins and pottery, discovered during the excavation that it was important to show the relationship between India and the southern coast of Oman, she added.

The script “nantai kiran,” signifying a personal name, has two components, Dr. Rajan said. The first part “[n] antai” is an honorific suffix to the name of an elderly person. For instance, “kulantai-campan,” “antai asutan,” “korrantai” and so on found in Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions could be cited. The second component “Kiran” also stands for a personal name. More than 20 poets of the Tamil Sangam age [circa third century BCE to third century CE] have “kiran” as part of their personal names. “Thus, the broken piece of the pot carries the personal name of an important trader who commanded a high regard in the trading community,” Dr. Rajan argued.

It was generally believed that India’s contact with the Mediterranean world began with the Roman trade and much of the studies were concentrated on the Red Sea ports such as Quseir al-Qadim and Berenike, both in Egypt. While the excavation at Quseir al-Qadim yielded potsherds with the Tamil-Brahmi texts reading “kanan,” “catan” and “panai ori,” the one found at Berenike was engraved with the Tamil-Brahmi script “korrapuman.” The latest discovery in Oman was significant as it opened a new avenue in understanding the impact of the Indian Ocean trade, particularly on the west coast of the peninsular India, Dr. Rajan said. The region was known for frankincense and there was a possibility that trade in horses could also have taken place in these ports. (Frankincense is an aromatic gum resin used for burning as incense).

“Excavations by the University of Pisa have confirmed Sumhuram’s link with the ancient frankincense route and its cultural links with the frankincense-based kingdoms in southern Arabia,” Dr. Rajan said.

In the context of the advanced scholarship available on Tamil-Brahmi, estimated Dr. Cherian, this epigraphic evidence from Khor Rori had a great significance. “To the best of my knowledge, Khor Rori is the first South Arabian site to yield epigraphic evidence of the early historic phase [that is, when written records began].” Earlier, in the Mediterranean maritime trade network, only Myos Hormos and Berenike (on the Red Sea coast of Egypt) and a few sites in Sri Lanka had produced Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions outside India.

The importance of Khor Rori rested on the fact that it was an important pre-Islamic port-city in the ancient Indian Ocean exchanges between the Mediterranean region and India, Dr. Cherian said. The port of Sumhuram could be dated to circa third century BCE to fourth century ACE. This site could be crucial in tracing the maritime history of the Red Sea, the South Arabian and the Mesopotamian coasts and their hinterlands which could have played a pivotal role in the long-distance maritime trade between Tamilakam and the Mediterranean between the first century BCE and the fourth century CE, he added.

“It is unfortunate that the geographical and the cultural significance of the South Arabian region and its links with ancient south India has not been properly studied for various reasons,” said Dr. Cherian, who recently did field studies in Oman including at Sumhuram (Khor Rori) and the nearby Al Baleed sites. The Euro-centric perspectives that became dominant after the Roman Empire seem to have erased more history than they probably produced anew. In the absence of textual evidence for the early historic period, he said, archaeological evidence and to some extent, anthropological sources such as myths were the available means to retrieve such lost histories.

Dr. Cherian added: “This artefact with a post-firing Tamil-Brahmi script is, therefore, a find with a dual significance both as material and textual evidence. The challenge now is to seek associated archaeological finds from elsewhere, especially peninsular India.”

Brisk trade activity

The substantial quantity — the largest-ever assemblage from any Indian site — of 3,384 torpedo jar fragments and 1,720 turquoise glazed pottery from Pattanam suggested the brisk trade activity between Tamilakam and the South Arabian regions. (The KCHR, in association with other agencies has been excavating the Pattanam site, near Ernakulam, from 2007. Archaeologists feel that Pattanam could be Muziris/Muciri, which was a flourishing port on the west coast during the Tamil Sangam age, which coincided with the classical period in the West). “The presence of frankincense crumbs in almost all trenches at Pattanam is yet another indication of the site’s connection with South Arabia, including Khor Rori and the Al Baleed region, famed as the ‘land of incense’,” Dr. Cherian said.

(President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida on Monday.)

By Narayan Lakshman from The Hindu

In what was quickly billed as the weakest of the three presidential debates held in the run-up to the November 6 elections, the third and final encounter between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney saw mostly acquiescence by the former Massachusetts Governor on a number of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions.

With a CBS post-debate poll of uncommitted voters giving the President a winning score of 53 per cent, Mr. Romney 23 per cent and 24 per cent considering the event a tie, it was clear that Mr. Obama’s aggressive performance and his repeated allusion to his experience as Commander-in-Chief went some way in establishing his foreign policy credentials with observers. A second poll of uncommitted voters by CNN gave Mr. Obama 48 per cent and Mr. Romney 40 per cent after the debate in Boca Raton, Florida.

Yet both men appeared keen to limit the debate to their respective talking points, which not only resulted in the debate often being pulled back into arguments over domestic issues such as the economy, it also led to a vast swathe of nations, allies and foes of U.S. alike, being entirely ignored. India and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, did not feature in the debate at all, and the European Union and Latin America were only given passing mentions.

Both were however effusive in their remarks on their support for Israel, repeatedly asserting their commitment to protecting the U.S. ally from threats emanating from Iran, Egypt and other parts of West Asia. The Palestine question was notable for its absence.

When Mr. Romney accused Mr. Obama of going on an “apology tour” criticising the U.S. while visiting other nations, the President retorted, “When I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself [of] the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”

A memorable moment in the debate came when Mr. Obama, striking a note of sarcasm on Mr. Romney’s allegation that the President planned to cut military spending by one trillion dollars, said, “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

While Mr. Romney may have surprised some within his own party by some of his agreement with Mr. Obama, for example that all U.S, troops ought to be drawn down from Afghanistan by 2014, he seemed to tone down the aggressive streak that he displayed in the previous two debates, possibly in an effort to appear cool-headed and presidential.

Two of India’s neighbours, Pakistan and China, however came up on several occasions during the debate. On Pakistan, moderator and CBS anchor Bob Schieffer came close to making a gaffe when he said that Pakistan had “arrested the doctor who helped us catch Obama’s bin Laden.” Regarding the hunt for bin Laden the President responded, “If we had asked Pakistan for permission, we would not have gotten it him.”

Referencing the U.S.’ troubled relationship with Pakistan in the context of the Afghanistan strategy Mr. Romney admitted that it was “not time to divorce a nation on earth that has a hundred nuclear weapons and is on the way to double that at some point, a nation that has serious threats from terrorist groups within its nation — the Taliban, Haqqani network.” He added that while Pakistan was “technically an ally,” it was not acting very much like an ally, “but we have some work to do.” Especially because Pakistan did not have a civilian leadership calling the shots, Mr. Romney noted, if the nation fell apart and became a failed state, terrorists could get their hands on nuclear weapons.

On China, the only other nation from Israel that dominated the candidates’ time on air, there was even less dissonance in terms of the men’s policies. Surprisingly it was Mr. Obama who took up Mr. Romney’s war-cry of calling out “cheaters” from among China’s economic competitors.

Mr. Romney, contrarily, struck a conciliatory note, arguing, “China has an interest that’s very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don’t want war. They don’t want to see protectionism.”

Pointing out that the country had about 20 million people coming out of the farms every year, seeking jobs in the cities, he noted, “We don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form… We can collaborate with them if they’re willing to be responsible.”

Sabah opposition is, for all practical purposes, a collection of four main parties, DAP, PKR, Sabah Star and SAPP including newly formed but not registered Angkatan Perubahan Sabah (APS) headed by Wilfred Bumburing and Pakatan Perubahan Sabah (PPS) headed by Lajim Okin. USNO Baru is also in the fray mobilising support using founder Tun Mustapha’s name, but, its yet to be registered and very unlikely that it ever will.

There is a remark attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Dr Jeffrey Kitingan to the effect that most Sabah politics is mathematics, a number game. As political analysis goes, this remark proves insightful. Sabah politics is, in this view, not driven by ideology or charisma. It is constituted by the mundane activity of stitching together narrow interest-driven coalitions. And electoral fortunes, for the most part, do not turn on massive changes induced by immense persuasiveness of candidates. They turn on small swings, and contingent management of interests.

But if this political analysis is taken too literally, it can become spectacularly self-defeating. It can make politics a passive waiting game. As opposition parties in Sabah prepare to met and strategise, or assuming they ever will, a plan to commit to  one-to-one fights against the Barisan National in the coming 13th General Elections brews.

Pakatan Rakyat in Sabah headed by Anwar Ibrahim has little presence here but it has done well in other PKR states from 2008. Since the last election, it has not expanded its presence in Sabah although the DAP has its footing in the urban areas.

Lest we forget, elections are ultimately about the ability to project credibility.

On the economy, the Pakatan Rakyat states have done well so far. It has given an alternative to old-fashioned UMNO/BN politics, concocting better versions to solutions. In Parliament sessions it had the rulling coalition on the mat for the many economic mess-ups in the last four years.

The most polished personalities in the Sabah opposition scene, Dr Jeffrey Kitingan and Yong Teck Lee, don’t seem to show that they have what it takes to run the state economy like the way Musa Aman has, but has only seem to be harping on the Sabah Rights vis a vis the Malaysia Agreement 1963. They are also simply waiting for the Barisan National Sabah to make more errors to give them a lift. To make matters worse, internally, the Sabah opposition itself is faced with a series of simultaneous equations it cannot solve. The main one is of course the mistrust between Malaya based Pakatan Rakyat and Borneo based Star Sabah and SAPP.

Most commentators assume that the Sabah opposition’s central dilemma is between Sabah Rights and a more centrist position. But, arguably, this is not its biggest dilemma. It will never be able to persuade die-hard antagonists who think that Sabah joining the Federation in 1963 to form Malaysia is a mistake. Regrettable as it might be, it can probably get away with a game of calculated ambiguity, so long as it is not deeply polarising. Its central dilemma is that Malaya does not understand what federalism means for Sabah politics.

If politics has become genuinely federal, then there are implications for how political parties are organised. In an ideal situation, like what we see now in the Musa Aman Government, state-level leaders and units have to believe that there is a symbiotic relationship between them and the leadership in Putrajaya. Association with the Putrajaya leadership enhances the prospects of local units and that’s why we see so much positivity coming from the Musa Aman government today. But if the Putrajaya leadership does not significantly add to the state units’ prospects, or worse still, becomes a liability ( like during the PBS days) then the central high command has little authority over the state. On the other hand, a party composed entirely of state units can have no coherence at the centre, and cannot project itself as a national party, like in Sarawak. This is the basic structural dilemma faced by the Sabah opposition.

It is, for all practical purposes, a collection of four parties; DAP and PKR, (Malaya based), Sabah Star and SAPP (Borneo based). Except for Jeffrey Kitingan and Yong Teck Lee who can be considered local leaders, PKR and DAP does not have anyone except Anwar Ibrahim who isn’t local himself. So the question of who is going to lead the Sabah opposition becomes an issue. To complicate matters, PKR in Sabah is undergoing a leadership crisis. Anwar and his cronies have meddled and presented Azmin Ali, also an outsider, as a solution to a headless PKR in Sabah. Clearly, the Sabah opposition’s problem is that it has no charismatic local leader of any kind to take reign, althogether failing to see that the the average age of its cadres does not reflect new Sabah.

Since Yong Teck Lee’s myopic misjudgment in Bati Sapi Parliamentary by-elections, the Sabah Opposition has been groping in dark for a leader. There is a great clamour for Lajim Okin now however, even if we grant him administrative acumen (not slot-machine acumen!), his ability to give the Sabah opposition a direction is limited. Despite Lajim giving up his RM30,000 salary as a Federal Deputy Minister and resigning as Umno Supreme Council member, Beaufort Umno Division chief and Beaufort BN chairman, justifying his actions by way of an epiphany (Lajim claims, after 18 years, to have come to a realisation that Umno/BN had not done anything for the welfare of Sabahans) still makes him a polarising figure. Lajim has got too much political baggage. He will have to come up with some spectacularly convincing gesture of contrition to be acceptable to Pakatan Rakyat and Pakatan Rakyat’s potential allies in Sabah. There is also a curious and potentially fatal omission in his strategy to make himself acceptable. Sabahans still see him as  an UMNO member and Lajim has not made any special initiative to campaign in Sabah. If he is a potential chief minister, his energies would have been directed to mass engagement across the state. He remains a question mark in everyone mind.

The only long-term solution for the Sabah opposition front is to have a serious institutional reform on how they are run. But no incumbent leader wants this and there is the paradox that a leader must first acquire authority to do this within current institutional rules. It is said, with some justification, that any party that wins in Sabah will look a bit like the Barisan National. But the real issue is, which Barisan National: the idea or its debased version?

At the moment, the Sabah opposition is looking more like the debased version: it matches the Barisan National’s petty-mindedness with its own display of small egos. We can debate structural issues to death. The Sabah opposition will get a lot of advice from its faithful on what to do. But the harder issue to come to terms with is this: there is a kind of inchoate lack of will that characterises the Sabah opposition parties, it is as if it is not sincere. Much of its leadership is doing what it does, not because it sees a point to it, but because it does not have anything else to do. This is an ultimate kind of nihilism, politics as casual play, increasingly disconnected with everything around it especially the economy. They are unable to show that if they capture the state they could run it prudently and efficiently like how Sabah’s coffers have grown by nearly RM3.3 billion in cash reserves under Musa Aman. And even the state budget is getting bigger and bigger to a tune of RM4 billion a new record, which was never heard of before Musa Aman came to the scene.


The Hindu

Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker, glides on Zen awareness just as his 2007 Man Booker longlisted debut The Gift of Rain did. Like Gift, Garden is a luminous, imagistic and affecting narrative of conflict and intrigue — Malaya during the Japanese Occupation and Emergency — with characters that rip your heart not just in their loss or ache but in the choi ces they must make to survive, in their fierce steadiness when the world as they know it is shifting. They read as koans about how one can live with conscience and clarity when everything seems broken and bloodied, truth is elusive; even remembrance.

“If one steps out of time, what does one have? Why, the past of course, gradually being worn away by the years as a pebble halted on a riverbed is eroded by the passage of water.” (Gift)

Exploring flawed characters

I catch Twan in “a quiet place” while he is touring with his book in the U.K. and discuss these novels that try understand evil, look for humanity in wartime. “Moments in time when the world is changing bring out the best and worst in people. A character who doesn’t have hard choices to make doesn’t appeal to me as a writer and a reader,” says Twan. “I’m interested in exploring realistic and flawed characters. I don’t set out to judge or to preach morality, but to convey what all of us have to confront daily — our own flaws, our own weaknesses and strengths. If my books feel ambiguous, it’s because life is ambiguous. Nothing is in black and white, and this is what makes writing so fascinating and challenging. I’ve always wondered what I would do, if faced with certain alternatives: would I have the courage and the strength to make the right decision? I’m still looking for the answer.”

Gift, the coming-of-age of Philip Arminius Khoo-Hutton — a motherless Anglo-Chinese boy in Penang who trains in aikijutsu with a Japanese diplomat and learns about the Way of the Tao from his Pai-Mei Chinese grandfather — was a story of integration and fluidity. Suffused with the grace of rain as by Chinese brush painting, aikido and the fleeting magic of fireflies, Gift affirmed love, friendship and honour at their most fragile.

In Garden, perhaps a harsher book, you might find the courage for equanimity and the freedom of letting go as Judge Teoh Yun Ling, the lone survivor of an internment camp who becomes a war crimes prosecutor in Malaya, reconstructs the past falteringly in the ‘stillness of the mountains’ where she was once held prisoner and, later, where she began her reluctant apprenticeship in gardening in memory of her sister, under Nakamura Aritomo, once a gardener of the Emperor of Japan. If in Gift, “… the one impression that remains now is of rain, falling from a bank of low-floating clouds, smearing the landscape into a Chinese brush painting. Sometimes it rained so often I wondered why the colours around me never faded, were never washed away, leaving the world in moldy hues”; in Garden, even when questions go unanswered, “The hollow of the valley reminds me of the open palms of a monk, cupped to receive the day’s blessing.” Such awareness of the natural world, says Twan who was born in Penang, is “shaped more by the time I’ve been spending in South Africa, where nature is such a strong presence in people’s lives. The lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur is very city-oriented, but I love that too.”


Could not resist uploading this beautiful Arab love song by Zaid Rahbani. In Arabic this song is call “Bala Wala Shi” which means “Without Anything Else”. The words are so meaningful.

Without anything else
Without anything else, I love you.
And there is no money in this love,
And it’s impossible for lands to come in its way
Or any jewellery

Come, let’s sit in the shade
This shade belongs to nobody
Love me, and think a little

Without anything else, just you
Without anything else
Without any types of clothes you own
Without any decorative accessories
Without any of my friends.. Or your friends
The annoying ones, and the likeable ones
Come, let’s sit in the shade, this shade is for nobody
Love me, and think a little.

Come, let’s sit, come let’s sit…

Without your mother and father’s choirs
Without eyelashes or mascara
Without all the women’s weaving [of stories]
Without all this mockery…

Come let’s sit in the shade, this shade is for nobody
Love me, and think a little
Without anything else