Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do The Right Things - by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

I see the Ministry of Information has taken out full page advertisements in the major Malay newspapers to argue that Kelantan has no right to oil payments under the Petroleum Development Act because the oil resources in question lie outside the 3 nautical mile limit that delimits state versus federal jurisdictions.

The advertisement fails to point out that almost all the oil found in Malaysia is located more than 3 nautical miles offshore, and Petronas has nevertheless been making oil payments to the states.
By the argument deployed in the advertisement, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak too are not entitled to the "cash payments" of 5% of profit oil (commonly and a little inaccurately referred to as "oil royalties").

Yet last year, according to its annual report, Petronas paid out RM6.2 Billion in petroleum cash payments, with RM 3Billion to Terengganu, RM2.3Billion to Sarawak and RM0.9Billion to Sabah. One wonders what basis this payment was made on since none of this was for petroleum found within 3 nautical miles offshore of these states.

The argument for depriving Kelantan of 5% cash payments on the basis of its petroleum resources being found beyond 3 nautical miles is an insult to the intelligence.

The government's advertisement also alleged that I once denied that Terengganu had any right to the 5% cash payment. I said no such thing. If the government media is to be believed I also once converted to Christianity by wearing Kadazan headgear just in time to be exposed amidst a General Election campaign.

In fact, as a BN backbencher at the time I opposed the Federal Government's intervention to prevent Petronas from making oil payments to Terengganu and the move to channel those funds instead into "wang ihsan".

Between the 2000 and 2009, 15.8 Billion was paid out through the legal black hole of wang ihsan, not to the rightful party as specified under the Petroleum Development Act, which is the state government's consolidated fund, but to agencies more amenable to vested interests linked to the central government.

The outcome of that spending is the Monsoon Cup, a Crystal Mosque in which it is impossible to pray, a leaking swimming pool, a collapsed bridge and a collapsed stadium. The people of Terengganu remain poor while Billions have been paid out in their name.

The device we used was a Vesting Deed by which the states vested, in perpetuity, all their petroleum resources to Petronas, onshore and offshore. In return for this Petronas guaranteed the cash payment of 5% from oil found anywhere, offshore or onshore, of the state. This rendered any consideration of federal/state boundaries whether at 3 or 12 nautical miles or whatever irrelevant for the purpose of reckoning the payment.

I traversed the country to sign this agreement with each Chief Minister of each state government. Tun Razak was driven by the nation-building concern that these poorer east coast states, with their predominantly Malay population, should benefit directly from offshore oil, and I drafted the Petroleum Development Act to reflect that concern.

The arguments used in yesterday's newspaper advertisement undercut the rights of all the states in respect of a natural resource which is theirs as a sovereign right. It violates a contract between Petronas and the states, denies the Petroleum Development Act, denies the raison d'etre of Petronas (which was in the first place formed to ensure the integrtiy of the federation by way of an equitable sharing of this valuable resource) and sets the Federal Government in contravention of an Act of Parliament.

One immediate implication of the argument laid out in yesterday's official clarification from the Ministry of Information is that Terengganu is also ineligible for the oil payments. This means that after cutting off oil payments when Terengganu fell into Opposition hands in 1999 and replacing it with "compassionate payment" there is absolutely no basis for the government's promise to now resume cash payments to Terengganu. All of Terengganu's oil is found far offshore.

Written by razaleighhamzah February 22, 2010 at 10:21 am

TUNKU'S VISION

Tunku Abdul Rahman was the founder of Malaysia. That has been obscured by an intervening period in which his memory has been brushed out of our national consciousness.

Part of the reason our collective memory of Tunku has faded, and that Tunku would not recognise today's Malaysia, is that Tunku and his generation built institutions that empowered the people rather than cults of personality to concentrate power and wealth in themselves. They reached instinctively for democratic decision-making. The concepts and precepts of constitutional democracy were part of their natural vocabulary and instinctive reactions. They knew who the country belonged to, and that they lived to serve.

The day of Tunku's funeral was not even declared a national holiday. It is no accident that the erasure of his memory has gone hand in hand with the erosion of our institutions. Tunku built up a system of good civil service in which ordinary citizens did not need to see so-and-so to get things done. This has been replaced by a domineering style of leadership in which what you get done depends on who you know.

Ordinary Malaysians are disenfranchised of their rights. They are then patronised by leaders whose idea of public service is to go around like Father Christmas doling out gifts of resources which are really the property of the people. This turns citizens into supplicants.

There has been, over the years since his passing, a quite deliberate erasure of our memory of Tunku. This should come as no surprise. He saw the wrong turn we were taking and he opposed it. He and several other leaders were excluded from UMNO Baru.

If any one of us was tempted to imagine that Malaysia had outgrown the sordid events of 1997, the government's newspapers bring to our breakfast tables each day Sodomy 2, to remind us that after another decade of sloganeering, we have come full circle to find ourselves back at the doorstep of our debased institutions and a Constitution that is increasingly inoperative.

The progress of the trial of the leader of the Opposition, the government's apparent ignorance of the sovereign rights of the states and the way in which we have allowed religious issues to be manipulated, point to that conclusion. The constitutional crisis in Perak, in which a government has been installed by illegal means, the failure to implement two royal commissions of inquiry findings, point to that conclusion.

The barbarous political culture promoted by the establishment media brings us full circle, and drives home the point: our system of government is still in 1997. We are still in the after-wash of a wave of bad taste, authoritarianism and arbitrary power that destroyed our practice of parliamentary democracy, compromised our judiciary and police, and disenfranchised our people.

Our penchant for slogans is a reflection of our dislocation from the living reality of constitutional and parliamentary democracy. We don't need slogans. We need our Constitution back.

This, then, is the context in which IDEAS has adopted its noble purpose. The efforts of idealistic young people, attuned to the principles of parliamentary democracy and to our real history, and equipped with a plan to effect that purpose, are exactly what we need at this time. We need this and other such efforts from the young. They should not let their repugnance at the ugliness of our political system turn them away from it. It is precisely because we have a broken political system that it is so ugly. It is precisely because our main political parties are bound to infantile ethnic politics that we are now stagnant and declining as a country. Instead, I hope they see the mindlessness and ugliness of our present politics as a call to service.

I urge young people to rise to the task of changing our political system. We have left it to "the deranged" for too long. To expect change from the incumbents is to expect, in the Malay saying, the mice to repair the gourd.

Written by razaleighhamzah February 8, 2010 at 1:48 am

ANWAR IBRAHIM

Certain features of the trial of Dato' Sri Anwar Ibrahim pose a serious challenge to public confidence in the government. Public confidence is essential to the basic functioning of government.

1) The trial is being conducted in an overwhelmingly politicized environment. Part of its context is the earlier trial of Anwar on the same charge, a trial which was perceived worldwide as politically motivated. We do not longer live in an insulated world.

2) Pre-trial publicity by the local mainstream media has been so blatantly unbalanced as to convey the impression that the media are pursuing a political agenda. Since the local mainstream media is either government owned or tightly controlled, this translates into the impression that the government itself has an interest in its outcome.

3) Many Malaysians believe that sections of the executive and political establishment have an interest in this trial. There does not seem to have been any attempt to remove this suspicion.

Written by razaleighhamzah February 5, 2010 at 9:40 am

STATE RIGHTS

The larger issue is State rights. Malaysia is a Federation of sovereign states. The Federal government has no rights over any petroleum resources except where these have been assigned to the Federal Government by the respective state governments. The novel mechanism we created for this assignment was Petronas.

The states vested all their rights in their petroleum resources in perpetuity to this entity incorporated under the Companies Act. In return Petronas bound itself to pay the respective state 5% of the profit oil from any oil found on or offshore of the state. I signed those undertakings with the Menteri Besar of each of the states.

Petronas is all about the Federation of Malaysia. It was formed to strengthen and protect the Federation. In founding it we intended to strike a balance which ensured that while respecting the sovereign rights of the individual states over their oil resources, all the citizens of the country, no matter what state they lived in, had some part in the bounty of oil.

Sarawak and Sabah shared their oil bounty in the spirit of strengthening the Federation. The arrangement struck with those states was extended to all the other states on the principle of kesaksamaan, or fairness.

By ignoring both the letter and the spirit of those agreements, the Federal government sets aside the very purpose of Petronas. More importantly there is a failure to understand the origin of Federal powers over state resources. We have forgotten that the states existed prior to the Federation. The Federation only exists because the states were willing to vest their rights in it, such as their rights in oil.

Not the other way around. The Federation itself rests on the principle of fairness to all the states, and to all our citizens, wherever they live. When the government of the day ignores this principle, it is ignoring a basic principle holding our country together.

There has been too much centralization of power in the federal government. Powers functions and rights that belong to the states must be restored to them.

Written by razaleighhamzah January 28, 2010 at 6:40 pm

THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF INSTITUTIONS

There are some good things about our country which we do not acknowledge either because are too obvious or because it is politically incorrect to do so. One of these is the role played by British institutions in our country.

The best of what we already had, come 1957 and 1963, were a set of viable modern institutions practices and skills: the Westminster model of Parliamentary democracy, civil law grounded in a Constitution, a capable and independent civil service, including an excellent teaching service, armed forces and police, good schools, sophisticated trade practices and markets, financial markets, and modern methods of management such as those applied in our plantation sector.

We were already a functioning country integrated into global markets. The challenges of development and nation-building were serious, but we faced them with an independent judiciary, a professional civil service and a well-defined set of relationships between a Federal Government and our individually sovereign states. Indeed we were able to face these challenges because these institutions functioned well.

Institutionally, we had a good start as a nation. Why is it important to recall this?

For one it makes sense of the feeling among many Malaysians and international friends who have observed Malaysia over a longer period that Malaysia has seen better days. There is a feeling of wasted promise, of having lost our way, or declined beyond the point of no return.

This feeling is too sharp, and too pervasive to be put down to the nostalgia of always finding "the good old days best." The illusion of nostalgia doesn't explain why we are losing our best and brightest.

Those who can stay away and settle overseas do so, with the encouragement of their parents. Their parents tell them to remain where they are, there is nothing for them here. The illusion of nostalgia does not explain why parents fight to send their children to private and international schools rather than the national schools they themselves went to.

The very same politicians who recite nationalist slogans about our national schools and turn the curriculum into an ideological hammer send their own children to international schools here or in Australia and Britain. They know better than anyone else the shape our schools are in. It is no illusion that people do not have the faith in our judiciary and police that they once had.

Malaysians are losing faith in their future despite the evidence of material progress around us, despite being a relatively successful country. We have lots of infrastructure. Lots of malls and highways. Especially toll highways. It is not for want of physical infrastructure, dubious as some of it is, that we feel we languish.

It is a sense that we are losing the institutional infrastructure of civilized society.

That infrastructure, whether indigenous or acquired, was already in place at independence. Having secured our political independence through a consultative and deliberative process, we were well placed to build upon this foundation.

We had a complex system of laws, conventions and practices but crucially we had the people capable of understanding and administering such a system. We had a civil service and a political class trained and socialized into the practices of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Core principles of accountability, check and balance and independence were lodged in the habits, thought patterns and behaviour of our civil servants and judges.

It is time we shed the crude nationalism which refuses to acknowledge things "not invented here". This country had a great start in life because we had inherited a system of laws, rights and conventions that had been refined over more than seven hundred years. We inherited a civil service that for all its woes continues to keep the ship of state afloat despite the sometimes irresponsible actions of politicians. We inherited the English language, and with that a strong set of links to the English speaking world. The eminence of tonight's assembly testifies to the great value of our educational ties to Britain.

We acknowledge and celebrate our ties to British education and British institutions not out of sentimentality but out of an understanding that these are foundational influences that have had much to do with stability and competitiveness as a nation. British educational, administrative, legal and cultural institutions continue to be of vital importance to us as Malaysians.

We need to affirm these links without political blinkers, understand their cultural, political and economic importance to us, and build on them. One result of such a change of attitude should be a rethinking of our attitude to the English language. By now it is also a Malaysian language. It would be sheer hypocrisy to deny its value and centrality to us as Malaysians. Do we continue to deny in political rhetoric what we practice in reality, or do we grasp the situation and come up with better policies for the teaching and adoption of the language?

Rather than indulge in grand schemes of cultural "import substitution" we should appreciate the extent of these influences and links and explore ways to develop them further.

We should acknowledge that by the time of Independence we already had a string of excellent schools in major towns across the country. These include Penang Free School, The Royal Military College, The Malay College, St John's Institution, Victoria Institution, Muar High School and my alma mater Anderson High School.

These schools nurtured a generation of multiracial leaders who were completely at home with each other despite coming from different backgrounds. This comfort with each other was the basis of their ability to work with one another. We have let these schools become mediocre, at great cost to the quality of our leadership and in a way that imperils our unity. It is time to restore them to their former eminence.

The world has not stayed still. We should look at matters such as Parliamentary reform and the reform of the civil service with an eye to what is going on in Britain as it faces the challenges of European integration and its transformation into an increasingly multicultural society.

At both the institutional and people to people level, we should connect with Britain as it is today, a fast changing society facing many of the same problems we do, rather than recycle stale colonial era stereotypes.

*Speech delivered at British Graduates Association 22nd Anniversary Dinner
Nov 1, 2009, Berjaya Times Square Hotel, Kuala Lumpur