Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Right to Debate: Has Our Minds Been Sodomized?


The above link is about the relevancy of debate in Malaysia political system. Before the 2013 election, the opposition pack "Pakatan Rakyat" had challenged the "Barisan Nasional" for a debate pertaining to national issues such as rising cots of living, oil royalties, Internal Security Acts, etc. This issues are dearly close to the Malaysian people and it is an important issue to dealt with.

What is a debate? According to Wikipedia, debate is " contention in argument; dispute, controversydiscussion; especially the discussion of questions of public interest in Parliament or in any assembly.

So why is a debate not part of our political culture?

According to one Malaysian Minister, debating is a western culture whereby Malaysia has a multi-racial ethnicity and the West do not have this diversity. Is this a logic statement?

Well, debates has been going on for many years, even during the time of Ancient Greece. In Cambridge University, there is a debating society called St Andrews Debating Society that was formed in 1794. Cambridge University is one of the best university in the world until today. 

There are many forms of debating, including Parliamentary debate, debate between candidates for high office, competitive debate, etc. Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy and even Afghanistan have all indulge in a debating process during their presidential or public elections. 

                                                               US Presidential Debate

Debate is not a culture, it is a form of intellectual engagement between two parties or more. Even in Asia, United Asian Debating Championship is the biggest debating tournament in Asia, where teams from all over Asia with eastern cultures and values come to debate.

                                                               Afghan Presidential Debate

In conclusion, debate is important as a part of political maturity in a developed country like Malaysia. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reigniting professionalism in Malaysian diplomacy

SHORTFALLS IN STATECRAFT: Government must establish whether training provided for diplomats is comprehensive enough

IN the decades following the achievement of sovereign independence, Malaysia had reasons to stand tall among the international community of nations for the high calibre of her diplomats in conducting the country's external relations.

The sophistication and excellence by which Malaysian diplomacy unfolded won the respect and admiration of not just our neighbours and Third World countries but of the far bigger and more powerful developed nations as well.

Fortunately, this high watermark in the performance of our pioneering generation of diplomats was consolidated as a result of the early realisation among our leaders of the importance of ensuring professionalism in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy, and in conducting international relations.

They recognised early in the life of the nation of the imperatives of improving the knowledge and work skills of public officers, both those serving at home and in our overseas diplomatic missions, whose task is to promote and develop mutually beneficial political, economic, trade, social, cultural, scientific and technological relations with the global community of nations.

Such proactive thinking aimed at ensuring professionalism in handling international affairs was uncommon among newly independent countries. Small and developing states, in particular, had tended to place little attention on improving professional skills in diplomacy and international relations. Some simply sidestepped this important state responsibility that followed on the heels of becoming a sovereign independent nation.

Against this international backdrop, Malaysia stood out as an exception to the somewhat laissez faire attitude. Despite various handicaps encountered, the government responded positively to demands and challenges of professional training in this significant area of statecraft.

It demonstrably met this responsibility and requirement in the bureaucracy, inter alia, by instituting policies and initiating concrete measures, and most important of all, committing the resources to this end.

This manifested in the landmark decision of the government to set up a Centre for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) in the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan), which was the precursor of the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR).

I was posted to Intan on a secondment and entrusted with the unenviable task of setting up the CIRSS in 1978. There were, as it was to be expected, many teething problems and shortcomings in the processes involved to establish and consolidate the centre, as well as in developing and conducting the professional training programmes.

However, the shortfalls encountered by the nascent training outfit do not detract from the contention that the government deserves credit for its positive response to the challenge of professionalism in this sector of statecraft.

In viewing from hindsight the formative years of the CIRSS, one could without exaggeration state that the Malaysian experience serves as a valid and interesting study of the institutional framework and administrative systems that are required for developing, conducting and managing training in international relations and diplomacy.

Several factors are identifiable that made the difference for Malaysia. Among the more significant are the country's long and rich historical heritage of foreign contacts and of having an extensive network of relations with the outside world, its ever-expanding and entrenched interests in the international arena, the unprecedented and dramatic expansion of its diplomacy and diplomatic machinery virtually upon the country's birth, and the enlightened and dynamic leadership role of the nation's founding fathers.

In this regard, the impact of the country's second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, is a fact of cardinal importance that made the difference for Malaysia to ingrain professionalism in the bureaucracy in conducting Malaysia's international relations and diplomacy.

Thus, in comparison to most other newly independent developing countries, Malaysia enjoyed a head start in terms of ensuring professionalism in conducting its foreign relations and diplomacy.

But somewhere along the line, Wisma Putra seems to have lost its way and has not been able to sustain the high professional standards that the country had earlier garnered.

It is an irony of sorts that Malaysia had a head start over most other newly independent nations in meeting the challenges of professionalism in international relations and diplomacy by providing professional training.

This means that we should justifiably expect a sustainable crop of competent diplomats to serve the country for generations to come.

Yet, rather oddly, our present generation of diplomats has fallen short of such an expectation envisioned at the time of setting up the CIRSS.

The irony begs the question: where have we gone wrong in terms of ensuring professionalism among our present generation of diplomats? This brings us to two pertinent issues pertaining to professional training. The first is for the government to establish whether the training provided for our diplomats is comprehensive enough. An equally important issue is to establish whether the professional training is effective, especially in terms of the soft skills needed for our officers to perform as a pakar (expert) diplomat.

Read more: Reigniting professionalism in Malaysian diplomacy - Columnist - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnist/reigniting-professionalism-in-malaysian-diplomacy-1.474080#ixzz2sGtbxrN4

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dua Pegawai Kanan Wisma Putra Ditahan SPRM

Dua Pegawai Kanan Wisma Putra Ditahan SPRM

Suruhanjaya Pencegahan Rasuah Malaysia (SPRM) telah menahan dua pegawai kanan Kementerian Luar bagi membantu siasatan berkaitan tuntutan palsu penggunaan kenderaan dan urusan logistik semasa Sidang Kemuncak APEC 2011 di Hawaii, Amerika Syarikat.

Nilai tuntutan dianggarkan AS$126,000 (RM378,000.00).

Dua pegawai berusia lingkungan 40-an itu ditahan di Ibu Pejabat SPRM, Putrajaya jam 3.30 petang hari ini bagi membantu siasatan membabitkan kesalahan di bawah Akta Penggubahan Wang Haram dan Pembiayaan Keganasan 2001.

Kesalahan dilakukan oleh kedua-dua mereka ketika bertugas di Kedutaan Malaysia di Washington.

Penahanan mereka disahkan oleh Pengarah Siasatan SPRM, Pesuruhjaya Datuk Mustafar Ali.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Wisma Putra's dilemma

IT was noted in one of my earlier articles outlining Wisma Putra's conduct of the country's international relations and diplomacy in recent years of perceived shortcomings and shortfalls in the performance of our diplomats.

Criticism has been particularly severe in the local dailies and in the Internet that implored urgent measures, even a revamp of Wisma Putra, in order to redress the situation.

A factor often pinpointed was the perceptible decline in leadership. The performance of secretary-generals of latter years came under severe treatment. The contention was that poor leadership had resulted in the lack of purpose, indifference to professional application and an absence of vision and direction among our diplomats.

This, in turn, had manifested in gross lapses in the processes entailed in conducting Malaysia's international relations and diplomacy and incoherent responses towards safeguarding and promoting Malaysia's national interests.

To drive home the dilemma confronting Wisma Putra, the present unsatisfactory scenario was pitted against the contrastingly robust and highly successful diplomacy under the leadership of Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie that enjoyed striking visibility nationally as well as internationally
The flak by blogger Din Merican was telling. It is worthy to note that he was one of our earlier generations of diplomats. He asserted, inter alia, that the consensus of his readers is that, "our diplomacy is ineffective because we lack diplomats who can represent our country on the world stage and command the respect of the rest of the international community for our consistency and clarity of purpose in projecting our national interest".

In response to the harsh chastisement over Wisma Putra's disappointing performance, Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abdul Rahman, who was secretary-general at the ministry at that point in time, apportioned blame to the dire lack of resources.

He pleaded that the rapid increase in the number of our overseas diplomatic missions and the vast expansion in the scope of responsibilities that Wisma Putra had to assume in the wake of the heightened pace of diplomacy in the contemporary international environment had exacerbated the ministry's plight.

Significantly, a common thread that ran through the heap of criticism was cronyism that has fast become endemic of the management style of Wisma Putra. It must be recognised that in comparison with other public agencies, management in Wisma Putra is highly susceptible to cronyism. Inter-personal relations between superiors and subordinates as well as among officers of the same grade are not confined to the work cut-out for individual officers.

The nature of work is such that officers spend considerable time with their superiors outside the confines of the office environment thereby rendering socialisation an integral element of a diplomatic career.

The point to note here is that inter-personal relationships that are forged often are totally unrelated to an officer's competency and commitment to giving his best effort in carrying out his duties and responsibilities.

For a variety of reasons and circumstances, when it comes to overseas diplomatic missions, the socialisation factor takes on a more dominant role.

Extra-curricular activities totally unrelated to an officer's work can readily assume a paramount importance in the inter-personal equation between superiors and subordinates. Thus, the tendency for officers to aspire to worm themselves into the good books of their superiors by becoming golf buddies, drinking kakis and partners in nocturnal activities. Forging of such relationships with superiors prove highly rewarding, particularly in ensuring one's promotion and for securing good diplomatic postings.

As a matter of fact, not only are officers caught in the competitive web of cultivating close inter-personal rapport with the superiors, almost invariably the socialisation factor among spouses and children becomes a significant determinant of tangible and intangible fringe benefits.

Officers are quick to recognise this Achilles' heel in the management and leadership style in Wisma Putra. The average officer would rather invest time, energy and monies in currying favours with their superior officers and their spouses than opt to establish his or her professional excellence. As a consequence mediocrity comes to roost.

In all fairness, it must be pointed out in summation that while there are sound grounds to berate the leadership of cronyism and mediocrity instead of promoting the more productive culture of meritocracy, this malaise is not one that is peculiar to Wisma Putra.

Many a critic has bemoaned that cronyism are embedded in the nation's body politics and willy nilly has crept into all sectors of government and administration.

The malady of cronyism is afflicting all sectors of national endeavour and not just the conduct of Malaysia's international relations and management of its foreign affairs and diplomacy.

A culture of professional excellence has to replace cronyism and mediocrity if we are to envision a good breed of diplomats. This is to be reinforced, among other prerequisites, through meticulous selection and professional training.
The rapid increase in the number of overseas diplomatic missions and the vast expansion in the scope of responsibilities that Wisma Putra has to assume in the wake of the heightened pace of diplomacy in the contemporary international environment had exacerbated the ministry’s plight.

Read more: Wisma Putra's dilemma - Columnist - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnist/wisma-putra-s-dilemma-1.438898#ixzz2o09TqHVr

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ex-PKR man named Jakarta envoy



PUTRAJAYA: Former Bayan Baru MP Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohamed Has­him (pic) has been named as Malaysia’s next ambassador to Indo­nesia, says Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.
He said Zahrain was selected as he was the best person for the task.

“Zahrain’s previous political affiliation and background is not a concern for the Government. As far as Wisma Putra is concerned, we try to source the best person available for a particular country and among all the candidates, one of them is him,” he said at the Foreign Ministry’s Hari Raya open house at Wisma Putra here yesterday.

Anifah said he would not hesitate to recommend someone deserving and who supported the Govern­ment’s aspirations.

“After all, there is no reason for me to send someone as ambassador only (for him or her) to criticise the country and the Government,” he said.

The current Malaysian ambas­sador to Indonesia Datuk Syed Munshe Afdza­ruddin Syed Hassan was posted there in January 2010.

Zahrain won the Bayan Baru seat on a PKR ticket in 2008, but quit the party to become an independent MP in 2010. He rejoined Umno in December last year.

Zahrain, a former Tanjong Umno division head, was appointed as the state PKR head in 2004 after he quit Umno and joined the Opposition.

On another matter, Anifah said Malaysia-US bilateral relations would not be affected should the United States go ahead with its plans to strike Syria.

While Malaysia had objected to the plans, he said this would not affect President Barack Obama’s visit here next month.

Friday, June 7, 2013

State of current affairs in Wisma Putra

Friday June 7, 2013

State of current affairs in Wisma Putra


Professional direction in the Foreign Ministry is a far cry from the golden years of Malaysian diplomacy.

SEVENTEEN years. That’s how long it took for Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar to release his memoirs after retiring as Wisma Putra’s secretary-general.

It is definitely well worth the wait.

Even more memorable when one of his good friends, Malacca Governor Tun Khalil Yaacob launched the book. His former boss, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, also attended the event.

In Growing Up With The Nation, Kamil wrote about his childhood years in Kulim, going to school in Bukit Mertajam and Kuala Kangsar and eventually continuing his studies at Universiti Malaya.

It was during his years at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar that he formed a strong bond with a few friends including Malaysia’s former permanent representative to the United Nations Tan Sri Razali Ismail and Khalil.

After graduating in the 60s and much persuasion from Razali, Kamil joined the External Affairs Ministry, then led by Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie.

Kamil gave a glimpse of the legendary Ghazali’s legendary “whipping” – his description of the on-the-spot training. Ghazali was known for striking fear among his officers and even journalists then.

His first serious brush with the law (you need to read the book) got him his first posting abroad – Thailand – where he witnessed the peace treaty between Malaysia and Indonesia in 1966 after the “Konfrantasi” years.

The young Kamil described the actual signing of the treaty as almost banal with everybody crammed in a small room to witness the event. Only brief statements were made.

With Malaysia undergoing peaceful separation with Singapore a year earlier, the fledgling country started to be more aware of its own national interests and concerns in the conduct of international relations and diplomacy.

Malaysian diplomacy moved from anti communist, pro Western stance to one that was more neutral.
It is a memoir that will take readers on a journey through time to Bosnia Herzegovina, North Korea and growth of Asean among others.

One interesting chapter is when Kamil spoke of working with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Wisma Putra’s secretary-general for more than seven years.

Dr Mahathir’s deep involvement in foreign policy kept the ministry virtually on its toes all-year round.

This was the beginning of Malaysia’s growing diplomatic profile and that bred confidence, even among diplomatic officers.

Kamil may have physically left Wisma Putra but he is still aware of the goings-on in the ministry.

“That is why I am saddened when I now hear disturbing stories of our diplomats’ lack of professional direction. And worse, I also hear stories of a hiatus between political and professional leadership,” he wrote in the book’s preface.

It is pertinent to note that Kamil has retired as secretary-general for nearly 20 years. He still compares Wisma Putra with days gone by.

But then again he is not alone.

Keen observers also lament the lack of intellectual thought and strategic planning in formulating sound foreign policy.

Serving diplomats, however, lay the blame on previous administrations for the structural problems facing the ministry now.

“True, those were the golden years but for us in the ministry now, we question their failure to plan for the future of the ministry especially on human resources development. We are inheriting the problems as a result of lack of foresight by previous leaderships.

“During Dr Mahathir’s time we were opening up missions everywhere that we faced an acute shortage of personnel when not enough hiring was done.

“When we keep on posting officers overseas, we can hardly spare people to keep up with the increasing workload and send people for training.

“We are really stretching our human resources, and with whatever limited annual allocation Wisma Putra gets, how do you improve on quality? Politicians come and go but professionals stay on.”

Another diplomat said while Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak provided clear political direction for foreign policy, the problem lies with the lack of quality professionals to implement and see it to fruition.

“The world 20 years ago was different, Dr Mahathir could get away with almost anything. The world today is much more complicated that you have to make adjustments.

“There is diffusion of power between China and the United States. You have to manage this carefully. During Dr Mahathir’s time, getting foreign investments was a lot easier but now getting FDIs is much more competitive,” he added.

He admitted though that a little bit of tweaking can be done to improve the way things are done.

“Maybe we should have regular pre- and post-Cabinet meetings or we do not take too much time to make decisions. Perhaps the media too should be better informed on the latest developments on issues Malaysia is involved in,” said the officer,

Among the media fraternity, Wisma Putra is well known as an unfriendly ministry.

Said a Putrajaya-based senior correspondent: “Of course we have been receiving statements via e-mail from the ministry, but who are these people behind the e-mails.

“Do they bother contacting us? Maybe their standards are too high. Officials from other ministries will call us for a follow-up but not this ministry.

“If it is difficult for us to get in touch with the officers to check on news breaks, what more the minister. Maybe their term for being friendly is when they invite us for ‘buka puasa’ and open house events.”

Officials from other agencies also question when diplomats do go for postings, how much value do they put in their work including interacting with other Malaysian agencies.

There has been talk about closing some missions but it remains just that.

A little change in how the ministry does things will do good for Wisma Putra and its officers.

Otherwise, it is just a matter of time before the whole country suffers in the realm of international relations and global affairs.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's all in the selection and training

It's all in the selection and training

COMPLEX AND SPECIALISED: Diplomacy requires a wide range of skills

Datuk Dr Ananda KumaraseriDIPLOMACY refers to negotiations conducted between two or more sovereign independent states which conventionally has been the vocation of career diplomats.
In the modern day context, this includes a country's relations with international organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The professional mode and methods observed in fulfilling this vocation, developed over centuries of conducting inter-state relations, constitute an integral and distinct pre-requisite of the diplomatic profession.
In executing their task, diplomats are to function in accordance with instructions received from the government and carry themselves in a manner which is in keeping with the long-established standards and exalted prestige of the noble profession.
What this calls for is not only specialised knowledge and skills on the part of our diplomats, but also a familiarity with the wherewithal of diplomacy. It requires our diplomats to possess the art and craft of conducting the country's external relations.
The vocation of our diplomats is to encompass the technique of state action to protect and advance Malaysia's interests in the international environment. This is to be realised through our diplomatic machinery and the method and means of promoting and safeguarding such interests.
This entails the acquisition of expert knowledge on diplomatic procedure and practice as well as the skills necessary for the proper conduct of international relations by our diplomats and numerous key public officials.
This is where the issue of professionalism keeps popping up consistently for Wisma Putra. There is no precise definition of professionalism in the body of literature on international relations regarding the vocation of a diplomat similar to that understood in the medical, engineering, accountancy and other technically orientated professions.
However, there is a general understanding and notion in the literature as well as in the practice of statecraft, of certain established methods, means and machinery, developed since early civilisations, in conducting diplomacy.
The notion of an organised and professional craft of diplomacy developed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Europe. This arose out of the need for European states to negotiate constantly against a backdrop of frequent conflicts, power rivalries and changing alliances. The unsettled environment resulted in the emergence of a sophisticated diplomatic profession.
The diplomatic vocation then was essentially confined to conducting and monitoring the nature and state of political relations between and among nation states. With the agricultural and industrial revolutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the arrival of steamship navigation, relations among states expanded in pace and scope. Diplomacy branched out from the confines of its traditional functions of negotiation, representation, reporting and its essentially political motive and motivation, to include a whole range of activities and transactions in economics, trade, social, cultural, religious and other diverse fields.
Dramatic changes in the international environment underwent after World War II brought about a profound impact on diplomacy. The advancement of communication resulted in the diplomat coming under closer scrutiny and control. However, although the diplomat now did not have the authority and latitude as enjoyed by their European predecessors, he or she nevertheless assumed a wider and more demanding range of responsibilities, functions and role.
Indeed, the drastic changes in the character of the modern international political system rendered the diplomatic profession more complex and challenging. New elements as well as diplomatic methods and techniques were introduced in the scope and heightened pace of diplomatic activity, proliferation of multilateral diplomacy and the increasing involvement of almost every arm of the bureaucracy and even the general public in international relations. Traditional qualities of tact, negotiation skills, communication skills (both written and oral), an ability to understand and appreciate other societies and cultures, knowledge of statecraft, sociability and the power of persuasion are personal qualities that are vital as ever for our diplomats and public officials.
The profession demands expertise on a wide range of subject-matters relating to international relations, the possession of specialised work skills and a positive attitude towards cross-cultural interaction which often appear wanting among our diplomats and public officials.
Our leaders should appreciate that these professional qualities are realised through thorough planning of important processes. Proper selection, training in professionalism, learning the ropes and acquiring professional expertise while engaging with zest in the challenging career in Wisma Putra are not to be overlooked.