Why merit isn’t about merit

I had a discussion recently regarding the topic of meritocracy and affirmative action, and how the two can go hand in hand or end up all balls up wrong.

After multiple shots of coffee and even a few sessions 3-metres away, this question comes up from one of my friends.

“So, if we go by merit, then the person with a first class degree regardless of whichever university should be considered of the same level, should they not?”

It’s an obvious question, so I nod my head and take another puff.

“So if I put two candidates in front of you, one from Universiti Malaya, and another from let’s say UCLA, which would you choose?”

I kept my mouth shut, of course. Primarily because I am wondering why the hell anyone graduating from UCLA would end up working in Malaysia.

“Or how about we take one from Juilliard compared to another from Aswara?”

I gulp.

“Or let’s take one from London School of Economics and compare that with…Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. They all have the same degree, same qualification, and even the same results, probably even spoke well in their respective interviews. Which would you choose?”

And this is the point he made – that it was no longer about merit, now it was about prestige. Thus, if we were truly in a meritocratic society, why does the prestige of a school play a role in hiring?

That right there is the problem with the so-called mentality of those touting “meritocracy”. The fact that in the end, it goes down to hiring the person who might have had enough connections and money to go to a better ranked university or school, for the prestige.

This is the same problem we get here in Malaysia when people insist on just touting merit – and looking at affirmative action as “racist” or “unfair” because it discredits this ideology of prestige in hiring.

Well at least, 30 percent of the hiring anyway here in Malaysia.

Thus, when yet another businessman and renowned engineer believes Malaysia can only advance due to merit, I disagree. For the simple fact that corporate Malaysia on many levels have confused the concept of merit and prestige for a very, very long time.

In fact, I would not be surprised if the prestige of the school overtook the very merit of others, even if the prestigious candidate took a course that had no link whatsoever to the job he/she applied for. But with such a mismatch, lies another tale.

There are plenty of discriminatory acts in hiring in Malaysia these days, and if we really do want to venture down the line of basing it purely on “merit”, then we should have an AI to vet through all applications without any discrimination.

And even then, the discrimination would turn up during the interview process, where the interviewer will have a pick for their suited gender, race, and even age depending on what they are looking for.

This, in turn, will lead to continued spiralling of good candidates not getting hired as more and more candidates go for prestigious colleges and such names, while letting the others without such avenues go for lesser jobs.

So, unless you can tell me you would hire a UM first class degree grad over a second class upper Harvard grad who both have the same communicating skills and aptitude, let us not even bother talking about what you define as “merit”.

Because if you did hire the Harvard grad, you made yourself a hypocrite for prestige.

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Malaysia and Sedition

It was a running joke a few years back that anything bad said about Najib Razak and his entire cabinet could lead to a Sedition Act charge. With the so-called election of a “New Malaysia” government, the calls are already out regarding the disappointment for this law still existing.

With 4 cases now under the Sedition Act regarding the recent resignation/abdication of the Yang DiPertuan Agong (YDPA) as well as one arrested for accusing the government of covering up the death of a fireman killed subsequently during the Seafield Temple Riots, outrage over this existing law is heated.

Meanwhile, employers are also getting shorn by two sides of the argument for suspending, firing or even accepting the resignations of those who went on social media and voiced their personal opinions regarding the YDPA’s resignation/abdication.

Of course, the one piece of missing information from all of this is that the media will not highlight what each and every case said in verbatim because…well, then the media would be charged with Sedition.

And in this sense, Malaysiakini had a stroke of luck when the day the YDPA resigned and the news was published just so happen to coincide with “technical issues” that barred its subscribers with anonymous names (so many Anons you’d think it’s Shakespeare) to comment freely and openly as they do.

It led to one subscriber writing a letter to voice out his ire. And one Jocelyn going to each and every commentable news piece on that day to voice her frustration of “Malaysiakini disallowing comments”.

Thank God for “technical issues” then. If not, the Sedition act would have compelled Kini to out their commenters via their payment records, which would lead to an even larger group of Malaysians getting fined or the gaol.

Although perhaps, having not faced “technical issues”, the comments would have led to a critical mass situation which would have then triggered the Sedition Act to not be used at all?

However, with the Malay Mail openly explaining of a “doxxing” movement on social media for those criticising the King to be reported to PDRM for sedition, it would be pressure on the police in both acting or not acting out.

Unfortunately, the only solace granted was that the PM will define what is seditious to the police, and the Law Minister saying that even if there is a repeal of the Sedition Act, a new law will be compiled to protect the royal institution from criticism.

But is the problem here, with sedition and criticising royalty, simply that? You can’t criticise royalty or the government, and this is seditious?

Perhaps it is something more than that. Perhaps it has to deal with Malaysians and their inability to gauge how something should be said. Perhaps it is because Malaysians believe that anonymity and social media means they can be tactless and vulgar in how they say things to anyone without restraint.

And perhaps Sedition has more to do with how you say something rather than what you said, especially since it depends on whether what was said had an element of incitement.

What does that mean, you might ask?

It’s pretty much the whole “are you sorry or are you not sorry but saying sorry just because it’s a reflex?” kind of situation. Someone bumps into you on a sidewalk and says sorry.

Are they really saying they’re sorry, or are they just saying it as a reflex?

Similarly with the enforcing of the Sedition Act – are the people saying seditious things like talking about the YDPA’s personal habits and actions from a point of fact, or just to be vulgar, tactless, scornful mockery and narcissistically thinking they can get away for being rude?

This is where we differ with other nations, because we are closer to Thailand when it comes to speaking about royalty, in which we promote minding our tongues and fingers.

However, there is a growing population who believe they should be able to speak about Malaysian royalty as rudely, abrasively and vulgarly as they would the person on the street or, to put it in a clear context – like how Malaysiakini’s commenters comment about anyone and anything.

Although to be fair, Kini seems to be filtering out comments recently.

Why Khalid Samad is right about closing nightspots on time

If you haven’t read or heard, Federal Territory Minister Khalid Samad has been pushing for nightspots to close according to their licensed closing hours in Kuala Lumpur.

This was earlier met by brickbats by certain activists and even the industry. But honestly, if you bought a license that allows you to operate only up to 1AM, then you should adhere by it.

If nightclubs and nightspots wish to open later up to 3AM, 4AM and even 5AM as Khalid said there are such spots, then by all means apply for such a license.

This is not some religious issue or even some agenda to Islamicise the nightspots. It is about Kuala Lumpur City Hall enforcing their regulations in order to make sure that owners of such institutions pay up their licensing fees for opening later or shut down on time.

If anything, it reminds me of hanging out with David Wu in Greenwich last year and having a waiter tell us that they would be closing the outside seating areas at 7PM due to their “license”.

We didn’t even know that London had licenses for alfresco seating up to a certain hour. And perhaps, in a move for DBKL to look into, they should consider how to look at the licenses for entertainment and eateries when it comes to after hours (midnight and beyond) as well as outside seating areas.

By hook or by crook politics of patronage

Patronage politics is not new. It has been going on for some time, particularly if we look at rural areas of the predominantly Malay diaspora. You can even draw the scene to be similar to that seen in “The Art of Killing” – an Indonesian documentary regarding those who carried out the anti-communist purge in the country ages ago.

That said, is it right to advocate doing exactly that for a Malay political party, openly, during their annual general meeting?

Or, should we let this reality continue to be cloaked behind closed doors and just ignore it?

The first question we have to ask ourselves is why does patronage politics or political bribery pretty much exist even now?

Is it because the population does not know any better? Do people not know that accepting cash for their votes is wrong and unethical?

Or perhaps because they are poor and believe – rationally or irrationally, that they deserve the bribe money they receive, that it is owed to them anyway?

The only way to deal with any of these questions, of course, is to look into political and electoral expenditure laws and regulations.

This is where it is important to enforce two parts when it comes to bribery – the ones who offer, and the ones who take it. Unfortunately, the focus continues to be on those who offer rather than the ones who receive.

But then again, would you really like to see hundreds of people in a kampung be sent to jail for accepting RM150 or even RM200 in exchange for their votes?

Plus, how would you prove that they even voted as they were bribed to do so, since votes are secret with no way to trace it, or even with it being a breach of privacy?

Or even more so, how would you look at candidates offering cash, without a single idea of what to add on to regulations in the long run?

Can there be an immediate disqualification and appeal process during the campaigning period, or do you have to wait until they win as what we saw in Cameron Highlands?

On top of this, how long will it be until those who have not filed their electoral expenditure are declared to void their seats, rather than just a fine and a police report as highlighted by the Electoral Commissioner?

Shouldn’t the election be voided, rather than just a fine and a police report?

Furthermore, are personal donations and monies collected from the public accounted for into the campaign funding for a single candidate, or does it just go directly to the political party? Is this dealing transparent and open for public scrutiny?

Why not?

The only reason patronage, by hook or by crook politics work is because there is no transparency whatsoever when it comes to political donations and expenditure, nor is there any move to push for the accounts of each individual politician to be scrutinised either by parliament or having an avenue for such information to be accessed by the public.

Or to make it short – where is the Freedom of Information Act that would allow the public access to each individual politician’s accounts?

The moment this comes into play, where a Freedom of Information Act would compel regulators like the Registrar of Societies, Parliament and even individual politicians and linked companies to disclose the information involved, it would end the ability of politicians to play patron.

Political party divisions, branches and even ministries and government linked agencies would all have to disclose whatever is requested for public scrutiny, and with a thriving media platform, harp on whatever is seen as excessive, or even news worthy.

How do you “public transport” a place like Penang?

Gosh. What a loaded question.

If you’ve been reading the news (read: Free Malaysia Today), you would notice that there has been a lot of back and forth between those who want the Penang LRT and those who believe the focus should be on existing public transport.

Both have good points – Penang Island has limited land for more roads, or even widening the roads. Penang Island is crowded enough to cater for the passengers.

For naysayers, an LRT won’t make sense if you can’t get the ridership – even in Kuala Lumpur where you have 10 million people surrounding it, the ridership has only breached 600,000 passengers daily after 20 years of existing. There should be focus on already existing public transport instead – which is true – is there actually a bus that goes to the Penang International Airport?

But then again, having a bus that goes to the airport, coupled with the traffic in the area, would be a no-brainer.

For myself, an LRT for Penang would make sense, if it connected a few areas – the airport to the heritage area, the heritage area to the tourism beach area of Batu Feringghi, Batu Feringghi to Balik Pulau, Balik Pulau to Bayan Lepas airport, and all of this, to the mainland and hopefully link up to Penang Sentral where commuters can then take the ETS at Butterworth station or an express bus.

But then again, if you actually did this, why would you need the SkyCab?

So, perhaps the LRT can stick to the Island, linked to the ferry terminal which will have the SkyCab, and from there take the link to the mainland?

It has to cover such areas and link up with all public transport and people hubs, and that is the largest challenge of all. Unless you link it to the mainland, which can then lower the need for people to cross the bridge on the ferries (which is timely) or even the buses (which depends on congestion), then the LRT won’t make a big impact.

Things Malaysia gets wrong about the smoking ban

A family dinner last weekend coined a new phrase – “heading three metres out” – a term now used for going out for a smoke. For those not in the know, Malaysia has now banned smoking at all eateries altogether, open air or indoors, even roadside stalls.

The distance highlighted in the regulations now pulled into effect is 3 metres from any such establishment – which is quite odd, really.

That said, there is a lot that Malaysia is getting wrong about this ban, so here’s a list.

  1. No designated smoking areas
    1. Biggest problem of all, really. While restaurateurs have in fact abided by the non-smoking law set by the Ministry of Health, there are no designated smoking areas anywhere before the ban was established.
    2. In fact, the recent announcement by Minister Zuraidah Kamaruddin that the government is looking to implement a similar system as Japan, just makes it odder.
    3. Japan allows smokers to smoke indoors at restaurants, even allows restaurants to designate smoking areas or have the entire area indoors allowing smoking – particularly if you go to izakayas.
  2. You can still smoke indoors at home, or even in cars
    1. Smoking in cars has been banned in the UK, because it puts passengers at risk in a confined space.
    2. For some reason, Malaysia still allows this and also to smoke indoors at homes, something you will find hard to do in the UK due to the smoke detectors
  3. You can still smoke in pubs
    1. A medical association actually pointed out that you can no longer smoke in pubs and eateries in the UK. This is actually wrong. You cannot smoke indoors at pubs and eateries in the UK.
    2. In fact, pubs and eateries have since had outdoor areas where you can light up as you wish, in beer gardens or even dining alfresco at a Pret A Manger.
    3. Thus, if this Malaysian medical association has doctors, perhaps you should go seek second opinions to avoid omissions in your diagnoses.
    4. In Malaysia, you can still light up in eateries registered as pubs.
    5. So, maybe, this will lead to more Malaysians opting to dine at pubs with their families and friends? Perhaps.
  4. No ashtrays, nowhere
    1. The biggest problem with the Malaysian smoking ban is that you will not find an ashtray anywhere, not even on a trash can.
    2. Thus, what this leads to is an issue of littering – people are not going to seek out an ashtray to stub out just because they need to.
    3. With that in mind, and the fact that those going to restaurants will now have no outlet to smoke, expect the drainage system and roads to have to deal with the added littering.

If anything, it is clear that the Malaysian government did not think this matter through. What they should clearly have done were the following.

  1. Ban smoking indoors, which would include homes and cars
  2. Allow smoking outdoors, which would have been easier to enforce
  3. Push restaurateurs to close up – no more of this open air nonsense, and have designated areas for non-smokers and smokers alike which are well insulated, well ventilated and regulated.
  4. Provide public designated smoking zones – for everyone, with ashtrays to designate the 3-metre distance if they have to.

Honestly, the Malaysian government needs to keep check on its Ministry of Health, because it seems to be catering to what can only be termed as “Health Nazis” and fearmongers who believe they have to protect their child from cigarette smoke while out to eat, but exposing them at homes and in cars are no big deal.


UEC – Two scenarios

The debate for Malaysia to recognise the United Examination Certificate (UEC) has gone on for some time – probably for the past four years or more. Those proposing that the nation recognise this certificate are mostly from the Malaysian ethnic Chinese communities, from the education collective to non-Malay majority political parties, particularly the MCA and DAP.

Those against, are mostly the Malaysian ethnic Malays – the most recent reason given by the prime minister is that UEC will only be recognised when socioeconomics allow it. Or directly from the prime minister, “when all sensitivities are considered”.

This phrase seems rather…cryptic, does it not?

Proponents of the UEC says that it is widely accepted in foreign universities, on the same level as the Malaysian government’s STPM or translated to the Malaysian High Education Examination.

At the same time, it is also considered on par with the acceptance of the British A Levels or American SATs worldwide, which is recognised by the Malaysian education system for university degrees, both public and private.

Thus, what is the approval of yet another internationally recognised certificate when it comes to university admittance? It isn’t.

So, what is the major concern?

In a utopian society without barriers, it wouldn’t – but let us take the scenario that Malaysia is not utopian and rather racist. After all, we had a Chindian young man being rejected from renting apartments in Penang for being “mixed race” rather than pure Chinese.

Taking that mentality into a scenario, the objection against the UEC is not against allowing it to be accepted for entrances into universities or even to be given scholarships to go overseas.

Instead, it is the concern that this will impact the job market.

Let us be rather frank – there is a rather racist job market in Malaysia, and the scenario is that allowing the UEC will impact hiring for the Malay community with only SPM and STPM level education.

And this is where the Malays against it see the highest impact – that employers will then overlook Malaysian certificate bearers and prioritise the UEC for hiring employees.

With it being an issue to even get an executive level job these days, there is a need for the government to consider whether there is equality in hiring, or is merit being made an excuse.

A similar scenario happened when it came to the new Pakatan Harapan cabinet, in which 30 percent were supposed to be women and this failed to be achieved.

While some women (read: Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz) believed that merit should be looked at instead of gender, I disagree. After all, there are enough women in politics with the same merit to become minister, unlike the age when said woman was a minister.

Similarly, a scenario allowing the UEC to be accepted for employment along with the SPTM, will impact the private sector most of all because if there is a racial bias, it will put the Malay community majority from public schools at an even further disadvantage.

Is it a believable, relevant and even a serious concern?

I think that is up to everyone to decide.

For myself, like I said, it is two scenarios based on perception.

If the perception is that the job market is racially biased, and the mentality of people is still stuck in tribalism on all sides, then having it recognised and official through an exam certificate seems to be a step backwards, not forwards.

Unless, the UEC is then taken by Malays at large and in high numbers, then perhaps we can remove this fear of it being a Chinese bias issue. Until then, it will be hard to convince anyone fighting for so-called Malay rights that this isn’t just another way to push the Malay community out of the running for a job using an exam cert.

The second utopian scenario is that nobody bothers and the job market puts the STPM, UEC and A Levels at the same level without bias. That the best candidate goes through a number of interviews to show that they are the best candidate for jobs, and that employers are not racially biased, gender biased, and threat all including foreign workers at the same level as locals.

It would be the two schizophrenic mindsets well implanted in all Malaysians, even if they won’t admit it.

Temple fracas: Not new for Selangor, but…

The supposed temple issue in Selangor is not a new one. In fact, ever since a Pakatan Harapan government took root in the state under Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, there have been continued issues with the relocation of Hindu temples.

 

Case in point, the temple move in Shah Alam early in the days of the new government in 2008 almost reached a boiling point when a public hearing almost led to chair throwing. It was the same time that Khalid Samad had his picture trampled in the grounds of the state mosque. It was the same period as the cow head protest march towards the State Secretariat (SUK) building.

 

So in this sense, nothing new.

 

Even on the basis of having instigators paid for to march, it isn’t new – refer back to the cow head march a decade ago.

 

What is new, however, is the fact that this time around, there was damage to private property. What is new, is that the instigators are allegedly from a law firm based in Malaysia, paid for by the company who wants to take the land away.

 

What is also new, is that the government has now detained 30 people to assist with the investigation, a member of the Malaysian Fire Department was critically injured, and that the temple had received RM1.5 million in compensation and is now refusing to move.

 

The Selangor state was right in considering the Mid Valley Solution, where the temple continued to remain on the grounds of the development. However, when the developer has legally settled the issue with a payout and the temple committee backs out of the deal without offering to return the money, we definitely have a problem.

 

So, perhaps a few things need to happen here – the temple needs to return the money, the developer needs to reconsider a Mid Valley Solution, and everything else is just irrelevant if the two issues are settled.

 

If neither side believes in returning back to the negotiation table, then there will continue to be an issue of unrest just waiting to happen.

 

Since the courts have ruled for the developer, there really is no legal basis for the temple to remain there other than a mob defending it. What happens when they decide to just go ahead and demolish it?

 

Is the government going to continue to post police right near the temple to maintain the emotional mob even then?

 

And while Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed has announced that future houses of worship will require local council approval – does he understand what he is asking?

 

Consider Malaysian Christian shoplot churches or Chinese roadside shrines – are you truly going to now tell them that they need to go and file a document with the local council on whether they can do so or not?

 

And what if they don’t? Will they then see their worship under threat, closed down by local authorities, play the injured martyr and subsequently have the rule of law make an exception over and over again?

 

Then why bother with the registration at all?

 

The problem with half baked thoughts made into regulations and laws which in the end, end up being enforced and subsequently ignored, is that Malaysia has plenty of them. Thus a different solution needs to present itself to ensure the local community and the worshippers of whichever deity or religion are secured.

 

One way to handle this is not to have a registration with local councils, but also to make it mandatory for any house of worship to hold a public hearing for the community within the area particularly the residential associations.

 

While some may argue this will put the right to freedom of religion at threat, it does no such thing. All it does is ensure that local communities have a say and are informed of the establishment of religious institutions and raise their concerns while removing the threat of later issues.

 

The second thing to do will be a bit technical and would require the government to intercede. The government needs to establish a land trust for all religious institutions – particularly temples.

 

The issue with such establishments, particularly temples and suraus, is that it is established by communities without proper land titles or any protection from developers. Having it placed under a trust would allow the government to intercede with the issue of temples, churches, and even suraus and mosques built by local communities to be protected.

 

When government reconsiders and understands that worship is organic, usually by the demands of the community at one point in time which later on either thrives or withers, it allows the issuance of measures to ensure whether or not the established house of worship needs to move, or will remain protected.

 

And this will later on ensure that the government (either state or federal) gets a handle on dealing with the matter before it blows up to window breaking and midnight marches torching cars.

Stick with it!

Yet another person came up and said that they were disappointed with the way Pakatan Harapan is running the country. And yes, these are people who openly admit they voted for Pakatan Harapan.

Which I think is odd, seeing as how the new government has only been in power for…86 or 87 days, at the time of writing this?

It seems that there are those who miraculously thought that a change in government would lead to some form of certain revolutionary change taking place as soon as possible.

Then again, we are in the age where a thought is shared every second, every waking hour and people being more connected than ever before in history. News used to come daily, is now updated at the minute on social media, and on average every 15 minutes by the media.

That being said, to those who are voicing out their disappointments – chill.

Yes, there are things they promised to be implemented in 100 days, and they are in the midst of doing it or finding new impediments to their thoughts.

Yes, more hereditary issues are being brought up with the need for urgent solutions.

And yes, they are talking about really dumb things in the midst of getting work done as well, particularly as a diversion as to how slow government and public policy works.

More than that, they are facing real issues in hiring their workers and political appointees, with the Public Service Department highlighting where the process has been slowed down.

Yes, there are hiccups in implementing policy in terms of the EPF deductions for wives because they didn’t read the law before coming up with a proper framework.

Yes, they really should be talking about real education reform rather than be bitching about wanting black shoes so that students can “read more books” – though I personally think it’ll just free up more time to be spent gaming or on social media.

But more than that, there are good ideas, bad ideas, good reforms, and of course the same old, same old thing happening in certain areas.

This is what government is, if you haven’t noticed throughout your entire life span. It is a machine run on red tape, with legal jargon to read and a lot of “what ifs” to cover in coming up with policy and reforms, lest you break the entire system or create legally grey areas all around.

That being said, the decision towards open tenders is admirable, but it will instead create longer timespans in getting work done – I do hope the government and the people know this much especially when they’re calling for urgency in reformation.

This is the sacrifice you make when wanting transparent government.

Similarly, there has been very little word on legal reforms, particularly a focus on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill that should be passed to encourage transparent government.

Also, with the Social Security Act (Sosma) now becoming 50-50 with some ministers saying it should be maintained while others want to keep the promise of abolishing it, there is a need for some clarity on the matter.

All in all, they are doing what you voted them to do, even if you are not happy with the urgency they are working on it – but that just shows how much and how fast you expect transitions to take place. This is admirable, but folly.

After all, this is the first government transition in a nation that has never seen such a change. Keep that in mind, and expect things to move slower than you think it should.