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How will the “hudud bill” play out?

For those not in the know, there is a private members bill called RUU 355 currently brought up by the Islamic conservative party (PAS) in Malaysia’s parliament.

It raises the stature of the Sharia Court to be on the same level as the Malaysian civil courts with regards to the level of punishment it is able to dole out. 100 lashes, RM500,000 fine, and also 30 years in jail.

This bill, raised by PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, has now been deferred from being debated to the next parliamentary session in March 2017.

The bill has faced brickbats from both government and opposition lawmakers – in particular, the non-Muslim lawmakers whereas Muslim lawmakers have hedged themselves into being non-committal on direct answer to the point that Schrödinger would be proud.

Continue reading “How will the “hudud bill” play out?”

The Heat Malaysia column – Malaysia’s shrinking media scene 

A news piece in a local portal caught my eye, detailing the plight of the media sector, particularly journalists.
If you have yet to notice, there has definitely been a shrinking media industry in Malaysia. In fact, this trend will not be turning around anytime soon, and it did not start with The Malaysian Insider.
In fact, I believe this trend started in 2014, with The NutGraph shutting down.
The now defunct portal launched in 2008 went through the donation path, collecting RM41,503.83 by January 2010 to keep it running an entire year, after losing its investors. And then it was basically running on fumes for four years till it shut down.
We also saw the shutting down of The Heat (later The Heat Online), The Rakyat Post (and return), and also Malaysiakini’s business news portal, KiniBiz. The Heat Online was relaunched as The Heat Malaysia. What lies ahead?
On top of that, news channels for television also shrunk – which includes ABN News and also Bloomberg Malaysia.
At the same time, it seems that even the pro-government media are facing the same problem.
Case in point – Utusan Malaysia has gone on the record through the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) asking for its owners to let it go if payments are delayed.
There have also been rumours that even the official government media channels – Bernama, Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and even listed Media Prima Bhd are having trouble retaining, let alone recruiting staff.
September 2016 saw even the English daily New Straits Times rumoured to be going fully digital.
Unfortunately, with the growing ability to cut out media as the middle guy in advertising through social media which is less (much less) of a cost centre, money is hard to come by.
There are models that work. I’m sure Astro is in fact keeping its Awani News in check. Other than that, only ones still keeping in the black thus far are The Star and Malaysiakini.
The latter due to its subscription based pay wall, the former due to being able to be funded largely through advertising.
But this is honestly a worldwide trend that even affects the US and even the UK.
In the US, paywalls are being erected in an effort to get people to pay for sustainable news organisations. The Boston Globe – made famous through Oscar winning movie Spotlight – has a five free stories a day limit before asking people to subscribe.
At the same time, you have the New York Times also moving towards subscriptions, while papers such as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) have kept themselves exclusively by subscription only.
Meanwhile in the UK, The Independent decided to go fully digital as well and have stopped publishing paper. As much as it is a way for news agencies to “go green”, I doubt that this was the case.
So, how do other countries maintain a thriving media industry? Shall we look at Denmark for a bit?
According to their Ministry of Culture website, there is in fact a “main and supplementary scheme as well as a three-year transition fund for media that obtain less in total aid from the production aid scheme than under the previous distribution of aid scheme”.
How much is this, in total?
Oh, €52 million over a period of three years, but not amounting to more than 35 per cent of the editorial cost.
See, other parts of the world see media as an industry worth supporting in its infancy – which is why I don’t blame Malaysiakini getting funds from the Open Society Foundations (OSF).
Journalism and news aren’t cheap, but it ensures an informed public. An informed public makes informed decisions. Thus, it is branded the Fourth Estate – for its ability to influence the general public.
It should in fact be part of our culture to have a thriving media industry, but with no assistance from the government (in fact, our government is a hindrance), the media industry will continue languishing and remaining dependent on others for income – case in point, political parties in some cases.
And that makes it a culture of one-sided information that will eventually lead to disinformation and in the end – total bias and bad decisions.
The Danes rightfully point out: “Media policy is thus regarded as an integral part of Danish cultural policy.”
Malaysians need to ask themselves – what is our culture when it comes to media?

On superheroes, power and boundaries

The column below was rejected by The Heat Malaysia on the grounds that it is too sensitive for public consumption. Oh well.

Anyone who has read or watched the Spider-Man comics and movies would know the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” spiel by heart. But what most forget is the conflict of superheroes to set their own boundaries when wielding absolute or near absolute power – and how it relates in real life.

Those reading the comics would see this scenario in a few examples – Superman and the DC Universe in the Injustice series, Marvel’s Civil War arc, and even the situation with Marvel’s World War Hulk. These series do have some lessons imparted in real life.

Should government play a role in limiting the powers of superheroes, or leave them to self-regulation? In all these examples put forward, possibilities are highlighted, challenged and even show, in intimate detail, how it affects the rest of humanity and the citizenry of a nation. Continue reading “On superheroes, power and boundaries”

So, who got money from Soros in 2014?

While Bersih is now being defensive about accepting funds a rather long time ago from an association linked to Soros, DC Leaks actually highlighted something even more current. 

A spreadsheet from DC Leaks on Soros details a huge bunch of Southeast Asian NGOs which were listed out as finalists to get funding for 2014. 

Among the popular Malaysian non-government entities listed as finalists include Penang Institute, Malaysian Bar Council, Suaram, Komas, Citizen Journalists of Sabah, Lawyers For Liberty, C4 Malaysia and even Tenaganita. 

Oh, and not forgetting Kini.TV

I’ll let the press go ahead and ask if these finalists actually got any funds from the SEAI. 

More importantly, I don’t really care where civil societies and even political parties get their money from. 

But they should have been very, very transparent about it, especially as advocates of transparency. 

Is a woman’s worth determined by her cooking?

I’ve no idea how this one came about but let us discuss it anyways. 

In any Muslim marriage, there will be a dowry paid by the groom and this is determined by the family of the soon to be wife. 

Now, the price could be heavily inflated by the will of the bridegroom’s family, in order to show just how serious the man is about the marriage as a whole. 

A lot of stories are in circulation particularly on social media detailing that the beidegroom’s family setting the dowry far too high – in fact, it is noted that some do ask for  as much as RM10,000 or even higher. 

But the fact is, this cash is held by the future wife and spent at her own discretion, not her family, nor does the husband have the right to somehow see it as a rebate when she finally marries him. 

And yet, some grooms go so far as to look for entitlement for a discount from such a huge dowry. One most popular excuse is her inability to cook. 

Thus, the title. 

Is a woman’s worth in terms of her dowry paid by the husband to be, truly determined by her ability to cook?

First off, let’s zoom out and look at history. Malaysian women started joining the workforce at the same time as men, and thus therefore are not facing the same issues as other nations. 

One of the reasons this idea of women not being able to cook lowering her status isn’t even an Eastern thought – it is Western. 

The US particularly had this mindset entrenched due to advertising. Women were kept in the kitchen to market appliances and food, which men were supposed to buy for them while they sat at home and tinkered away with ovens, toasters, even simple step recipes. 

The birth of a two income household triggered by women joining the workforce during World War II and beyond, led to the undoing of this mindset. 

And in our country, the two income household is in fact the staple to an average household income statistics run by the government. 

In Malaysia, however, we seem to have gotten stuck somewhere in this limbo idea that women must not only work, but must also be Nigella Lawson’s in their respective kitchens. 

Let us start by bursting the biggest bubble when it comes to cooking – it is now men who dominate the kitchens on a worldwide scale. 

At the same time, men and women are now earning almost equally in terms of salaries here in Malaysia. 

(DISCLAIMER: Single divorced women make less than single unmarried women)

Now, if a woman makes the same amount of cash, we can infer that she does the same amount of work. On top of that, more men have become role models in the kitchen then women. 

So why is this bias that women must be good in the kitchen to justify her dowry still existing?

Is there still a cultural basis these days to say that a woman’s place is in the kitchen? 

Or is this a fallacy of sexist thinking brought back from during the days of Western advertising and television saying so, and further derived from today’s television here in Malaysia?

Migrants and citizenship

It was quite awkward to see Malaysians be negative about migrant populations, mostly because we are in fact a nation historically founded by migrants, asylum seekers and even refugees. 

Melaka was started by a refugee – well, not exactly. He did lead a coup to try and take over Temasek. 

However, unless you’ve got the Orang Asal’s in your respective family history and bloodline, or even tracing back to Old Kedah, GanggaNegara and such ancient city states, you’re most probably a migrant too. 

Personally, I am a product of migrants – Indonesian (Langkat), Malay (Perak), Indian and Chinese – all traceable through four generations. 

I am certain that there are families here in Malaysia with even more diverse bloodlines and longer heritage here in Malaysia. Thus, I question why people are pissed. 

I don’t mind 50,000 foreigners becoming Malaysian citizens. It’s a good sign. Someone has to do labour intensive work which our own citizens are not doing, sometimes at risk to their very lives. 
Plus, a migrant population is a sign of a metropolitan society. To deny the rights of foreigner to join the Malaysian society, is akin to the West and their continuous efforts to halt migration which they deem economic but is certainly just racism. 

At the same time, with national growth rates stunting, we need migrants to maintain it.
What I do question, however, is the inability of the NRD to grant the same for Malaysians who have been here more than decades applying for the same. 
Why are those who have married Malaysians been denied citizenship when requested for it for years?
There must be a reason behind all this, perhaps preferential treatment or maybe an unofficial point system to grant citizenship, I’m not in the know. 
But to deny those who have called Malaysia their home for so long, access to their fundamental rights of citizenship and beyond, is a travesty that requires urgent correction.

Budget 2017 Part 1: The good

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Image courtesy of Perak Today and RTM

Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak has already unveiled the nation’s budget for the next year. And hopefully this time, there won’t be supplementaries and even sudden amendments to it in the middle of the year.

And as expected for a government wanting to maintain power, there are a lot of dishing out in the budget. Similarly, there is a cut in tax deductions – or more or rather, a grouping that will benefit some above others.

So let’s start with the good points first. Continue reading “Budget 2017 Part 1: The good”

Auntie Anne’s can’t get halal certification over “pretzel dog”?

It is a given that in the Malaysian food and beverage market, you need a halal certificate for you to sell. 

Thus, an absence of such a license could lead to some horrendous public relations issues. Unfortunately for the sector, the licensing comes under the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim). 

Today, news came out of the blogosphere that Auntie Anne’s Malaysia was non-halal. Well expecting a PR blitz from the conservative Muslim population, they issued a post on their Facebook page

In their explanation, the Quality Analysis (QA) executive explains that a halal license has been applied for all 45 branches of the franchise and it needed to instead certify the central kitchens instead of the individual products. 

She adds that these require auditing by zones and will take time, a similar situation that happened with Japanese franchise Sushi King here as well. 

However, it was her third point that got me wondering just how ridiculous Jakim can get. 

“The name ‘pretzel dog’ needs to be changed to something more suitable,” she says. 

Awkward. Jakim has a problem with food names which have the word ‘dog’?

Does A&W face similar issues with its coney dog? What about Ayamas and its hot dogs piled up in supermarket freezers?

Lawmakers, government are also a wastage in public resources, Nur Jazlan

I refer to Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Nur Jazlan’s words that using the authorities to maintain public order in a street protest is a waste of funds. 

It is rather ironic, considering the number of ridiculous investigations being conducted by the authorities which includes how raising a middle finger is now being investigated for “outraging someone’s modesty”. 
But more to the point, if we are talking about a waste of funds in governance and such, there is a lot to talk about in terms of both public and private institutions. Let us start with the most obvious.
According to the compilation published on iMoney.my, public is paying RM16,000 in salaries, RM1,200 for a drivers allowance, RM1,500 for entertainment allowances, RM1,500 for travel allowances, RM900 for telephone allowances and RM200 a day for each of the 222 lawmakers in our current government. 
The prime minister gets an add-on of close to RM23,000 a month, deputy prime minister gets RM18,000 monthly, and the head of opposition close to an additional RM4,000 respectively. All of which is above and beyond the allowances and salaries they already get. 
Considering the costs above, isn’t it considered a waste of public resources for the obvious redundancies? For example, why does everyone get a RM200 allowance for coming to parliament and doing their jobs? 
Plus, why do they need a car if they’re based in Kuala Lumpur when they can use public transport like the rest of us?
Furthermore, isn’t traveling also part and parcel of a lawmakers duty? On top of that, do we really have to fund MPs phones?
In addition to all of this, parliament sessions in Malaysia have been less than 100 days. This is even highlighted on Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong’s blog, dated November 14, 2014. He had asked for more days for parliamentary debates in 2015, from a mere 61 days to 80 days. 
You read that right, our lawmakers are sitting in parliament and debating less than a third of a year, and God knows what else they do with their high monthly salaries and allowances when they aren’t yelling at each other in the Dewan Rakyat. 
As a result, the entire process of lawmaking has been delayed to the point that even now we have yet to have any amendments regarding anti corruption, the use of the AES system, and even the vaping regulations.
In fact, with only so few days to debate acts of law, how exactly is the government going to amend 18 laws for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) by this year end, as mentioned by Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, earlier this year in March?
To cut it short, since lawmakers and ministers are all inefficient and not working to actually make laws as a measure for “wasting public resources”, should we not in the same mindset just shut down our government?
Of course not.
This is because value in having a democratic government, just like the freedom of expression through street protests, that cannot and should not quantified. 
You cannot measure it in man hours, productivity figures, contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) or even the gross national income (GNI).
So if Nur Jazlan truly wishes to talk about the wasting of public funds and start measuring matters relating to governance and efficiency in government, then he should do so to the utmost importance without bias.
And if we do so, then I am certain such a feasibility study will show that our entire lawmaking process, the civil service and even the multiple government agencies would all rationally be said to be wasting public resources, which we can do without. 
Thus, perhaps he should look to his own cabinet ministers and even the government as a whole. Start by cutting the bloat from there while raising the salaries for the cops who have done their duties admirably, instead of looking to stifle democratic rights over cost concerns.