The Dangerous Thinking That Threatens EU-ASEAN Trade Deal

This article appeared in European Views

By Nik Nazmi, MP of Malaysia

Dangerous scientific thinking may endanger a European Union deal with its third-largest trading partner – the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Worse still, it may increase climate change that will have a significant impact on future generations. Recognition of new scientific studies could reduce deforestation, which drives climate change. However, the EU at present remains committed to a policy of seeing palm oil biofuels as a problem – not a solution to its biofuel woes.

European Union and ASEAN diplomats have been working diligently for over a decade on a trade deal. Such an agreement would bring important economic, environmental, and social benefits to a combined population of over 1.1 billion people. Those plans took another step forward in June with the agreement of a new trade deal between the EU and Vietnam and an agreement with Singapore earlier this year. As the EU works toward a broader agreement with the ASEAN, a difference of opinion on the palm oil remains a major sticking point.

As a member of parliament for Malaysia, the third-largest economy in ASEAN, I support the goal of a free trade agreement which will benefit all of us. However, today, the European Union has adopted a hostility toward palm oil as a source of biofuel which has misrepresented the actual environmental stakes in this question. Agriculture investors with much to gain have supported this distorted science with much to gain if the EU meets its biofuel mandates from rapeseed and soybeans.

There is no doubt that forests play a stabilizing role regarding our climate. However, studies have shown a retreat from palm fuels will drive deforestation around the globe. That’s because to meet EU biofuel mandates rapeseed oil and soybean production will have to be increased.

These alternative crops require even more land (indeed four or ten times more depending on local conditions) according to a report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact, such findings stretch back several years.

Deforestation caused by beef and soybean production (primarily in Latin America) account for well over half of carbon emissions from deforestation worldwide — according to a study from Global Environmental Change released last year.

In Malaysia we are deeply concerned about the issue of deforestation and have mandated that 50% of our landmass must remain under forest cover. Some in the current government, including myself are pushing for further mandates on to limit areas of palm oil production.

Rather than slamming the door to palm oil, regulating the industry has a better chance of succeeding if the EU and ASEAN work together. The EU should drop its outright opposition to palm oil and instead work with ASEAN to find regulatory solutions to existing issues. Such a solution will have a significant impact on the global struggle against climate change. One that our grandchildren may thank us for.

The FoodPanda Issue: The Plight Of ‘Gig Economy’ Workers Must Be Given Attention

The decision by Foodpanda to maintain its new wage mechanism despite the government’s call for them to reinstate the previous scheme is unfortunate.

As noted in media reports, significant segments of its riders have expressed concern and unhappiness over the new scheme. Members of the public have also come out in support of them.

It is hence regrettable that a solution for this issue agreeable to all parties could not be found.

It is important—and possible—for workers in the so-called “gig economy” to be paid living wages while such firms to continue to thrive.

Tech companies in Malaysia should hence not be impervious to the needs of its riders—or public opinion.

I hope that all parties concerned will continue to communicate frankly and openly on this matter to ensure that fairness prevails.

On a wider scale, this incident reveals that Malaysia needs to do more to prepare itself for the rise of the gig-economy.

We must be equally concerned with ensuring that talent at all levels in this sector are properly compensated as with how to stimulate and incentivise its development.

The US state of California has recently passed landmark legislation to require businesses—including ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft—to hire drivers as employees rather than independent contractors in most circumstances.

This will mean that such workers will receive labour protections and benefits like unemployment insurance, overtime, minimum wages and the right to unionise, among other things.

It is perhaps time for Malaysia to consider passing similar legislation; although the views of both labour and employers should of course be considered.

Indeed, I understand that the Human Resources Ministry is considering amending laws to include who can be defined as an employee—this can certainly be looked into.

Other possible measures that could be adopted include the introduction of an hourly minimum wage, which would be of great help to gig workers, provided they meet certain standards of productivity.

All parties should realise that keeping wages low does nobody any good in the long-run. Malaysia have suppressed wages for far too long. The 2018 Bank Negara found that Malaysian workers pay still lag behind other benchmark economies, even after taking into account productivity.

Rather, what is needed are wise policies as well as cooperation on all sides to ensure that working Malaysians are both properly paid and productive. This is something the government must take into account moving forward.

Meanwhile, efforts must be continued to ensure a just resolution to the Foodpanda rider issue.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN CHIEF ORGANISING SECRETARY
KEADILAN CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER
SETIAWANGSA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

What Did Hishamuddin Do To Address The Problems Of LTAT During His Time?

WHAT DID HISHAMUDDIN DO TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS OF LTAT DURING HIS TIME?

The lowest-ever dividend of 2% announced by the Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT) is disappointing but an unfortunate consequence of years of alleged mismanagement and irregularities.

The problems it faces are not a recent phenomenon, but rather the result of the omissions and malfeasance of the past.

What is needed are concrete measures to strengthen the LTAT and hence the welfare of our heroic armed forces personnel.

It is hence extremely disappointing that the Sembrong MP and former Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein is playing politics by blaming the Pakatan Harapan Federal Government for the lower dividends.

He has inexplicably chosen to ignore the results of an audit by Ernst & Young which found, among other things, that LTAT’s earnings were affected by the overpayment of dividends in previous years. Indeed, its five-year asset returns from the financial years 2014 to 2018 (after excluding one-off gains) were lower than the declared dividend rates.

In effect, the LTAT had been paying dividends at higher rates than it could afford.
There’s no point for the previous administration’s defenders and enablers to crow about the supposed higher dividends of the past when they actually hurt the future of the LTAT as well as other funds.

The audit also found that LTAT had 88 condominium units worth RM45 million that had been unsold despite having been completed in 2015. Also, since 2014, LTAT was said to have become over-reliant on Boustead Holdings Bhd and its quoted subsidiaries (BHB Group). Indeed, it was alleged that LTAT’s exposure to BHB Group increased almost 50% from RM2.1 billion to RM3.1 billion.

The fact is that Hishammuddin was Minister of Defence from 2013 to 2018. These alleged irregularities and weaknesses—which significantly contributed to the LTAT’s current poor performance—happened under his watch as the Cabinet Minister tasked with administering of our Armed Forces.

What was he doing all those years?

Why had he done nothing to address the problems facing the LTAT?

And yet, he seeks to blame others for his own failures and shortcomings. What is worse is that he seeks to use the fate of Malaysia’s soldiers, sailors and airmen to give him political cover.

He should consider his own responsibility for the parlous state of the LTAT and the country as a whole before seeking to blame his successor, Mohamad Sabu.
In that period, Rafizi Ramli, the Pandan MP then had constantly warned the public about the problems facing the LTAT. He did so under great personal risk and cost.

This included exposing, in March 2016, a document classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), on the LTAT’s controversial dealings with the now-discredited 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The fact that the LTAT had in May 2018 withdrawn a lawsuit it had filed against Rafizi is proof that the concerns he had raised about the Board at the time were justified and indeed, vindicated.

The current management of the LTAT must continue the reforms it has proposed as well as work closely with the Federal Government to better ensure the wellbeing of our Armed Forces personnel.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN CHIEF ORGANISING SECRETARY
KEADILAN CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER
SETIAWANGSA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

Moving Forward Together Progressively

A decade ago, PKR politician Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad wrote his book, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st, because he felt his community’s future was best assured with progressive politics.

He alIso believed that the fate of such progressive politics in Malaysia was in the hands of the Malays.

At that time, Nik Nazmi was (and is still) pushing for a more progressive paradigm where Malaysians would be at ease with their country’s diversity.

His book, Moving Forward, argued that the state of mind of the Malays was crucial if any change in Malaysia is to be sustainable.

Malays are by sheer number the biggest community in the country; we are also the fastest growing. Constitutionally, historically and culturally, we occupy a special position in Malaysia, ” he wrote in the preface of the updated edition of Moving Forward published this year.

Ten years after the publication of the book, the author observed on WhatsApp groups, Facebook page and mamak shops that the Malay community across all segments have become more worried.

“The issues of LGBT rights and child marriage exposed the deep divide in Malaysian society. This came to a head when the government spoke of ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) – a convention ratified by all Muslim majority countries except for Malaysia and Brunei – resulting in a massive rally combining PAS, Umno and right-wing NGOs, ” he wrote.

“In light of these events, Moving Forward is just as relevant today as it was in 2009. While the content remains largely the same as it was when it was first published.”

On Thursday, I interviewed the Setiawangsa MP at his service centre in Kuala Lumpur to get his insight on his community, their challenges and political future:

> How should the Malays move forward?

We are talking Malay equity being little. The New Economic Policy (NEP) has succeeded in creating a Malay middle class. There’s no question about that.

But if you look at the numbers deeper – there are books like Muhammed Abdul Khalid’s The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia – the NEP has created a gap which it can’t overcome. We see a large gap between rich Malays and poor Malays.

What we need to look at is how to solve the issue. But we need to address the problems that are affecting the B40 (bottom 40% households) which is mostly Malay Bumiputra.

But if we purely apply a race orientated approach, which many of our policies are based on today, the ones who benefit will be rich Malays – the Taman Tun Malays, the Damansara Malays. Whereas the Felda planters, paddy farmers, fishermen, the urban poor will not get the benefit.

What I’m saying is that it creates a gap between the rich and poor Malays. It also creates other issues – the poor Malays have been given this illusion that their problems happen because of the non-Malays. I accept that there are problems with private sector discrimination and all that because our system is a zero-sum game.

But at the end of the day, they will look for a bogeyman to blame. These issues are played up by the elites in a way for them to continue to get the power and to continue to get this preferential treatment.

> What’s the difference between 2009 when your book was published and 2019?

What happened in GE14 is historic. But there is a great sense of insecurity. Malay political identity has various parties representing the community. You have Umno practically splitting up into Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and you have PAS splitting into Amanah.

But at the same time, you see PAS and Umno – the original Malay parties – getting closer and closer. So, in the short term, it makes sense for them. They look at what’s happening on WhatsApp, the likes they get on Facebook, and it’s easy to be carried away with that.

But for the future of this country, where do the non-Malays, which still consists of a huge proportion of the country, stand?

Umno’s strength has always been traditionally with Barisan National. PAS’ biggest gain was when it joined Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (which had a loose coalition with Gagasan Rakyat), Barisan Alternatif and Pakatan Rakyat.

The implication is when Umno and PAS get closer whether it can win power, and if it wins power, at what cost?

Now Umno has nothing to lose, in a sense for them, they can try to win power at all cost. Previously, they were leading the government. They were very reliant on the (non-Malays) at a certain extent. Now they feel that it doesn’t matter.

This is bad for the country as a whole.

> Why is the Khat, Zakir Naik and boycott non-Muslim products controversy happening now?

It is the result of political insecurity. As I said, the strategy that Umno and PAS are choosing now is to play up race and religion. This is not the PAS of (party spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat). This is not the 1Malaysia which (former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak) used to talk about. In a way, you can understand where they are coming from. They need to think we need to win first, and if the nation burns, then the nation burns.

With Zakir Naik, some Malays think that they are giving up their identity because it is a DAP-dominated government. That is the narrative created. It stems from their insecurity… this cultural insecurity that religion and race are under threat.

Plus, as I said, fundamentally it is from economic insecurity, so they are looking for who to blame – Chinese bosses or the Pakatan government? And Pakatan government and Chinese bosses tend to overlap.

> Pakatan is getting an average of 30% of the total Malay votes, how can the coalition go beyond that?

We did well in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor. We did badly in Perak, Kedah and we lost Perlis and Pahang. We didn’t win a single seat in Terengganu and Kelantan.

My take is Umno and PAS are always traditionally present in Malay society. From birth to marriage to death, their interactions are with the ketua kampung who is usually appointed by Umno and the imam who is generally from PAS.

But on the flip side, the society is changing. There are more Malays in urban areas, and Umno and PAS do not influence their life.

Umno represents race and royalty while PAS represents religion. Between the two parties they already got the 3Rs which are traditional in Malay politics. It is something comforting and easier to stomach compared to complex ideals like multiracialism and all that.

And simply because they have been there forever. Umno has been around since the 1940s and PAS since the 1950s whereas the Pakatan parties are new.

> In GE15, how can Pakatan maintain the Malay seats it won or win more seats from the community?

How far Umno and PAS unity will take place is also a question. A marriage is always nice at the dating period, which is where they are now. And then who pays how much of the bills – which means who gets the seat and all that?

Najib tried to do it before GE14 but there was a revolt in Umno in Kelantan.

I agree we cannot look at it lightly. If it doesn’t happen, it’s a bonus. But if it happens, how do we face it?

We have to work harder. And I think all efforts should be on the economy. It doesn’t have to be race-oriented. The moment we are talking about helping people at the bottom and the middle of society, the bulk would be the Malays, without leaving behind the Indians, the non-Muslim Bumiputra and some Chinese who were in that category.

I don’t think a Malay who can afford (to buy) a bungalow for RM5mil should get a discount whatsoever. But a working-class Malaysian, who is predominantly Malay, earning RM2,000 to RM3000, should be assisted to afford a house.

Ultimately, we need to address economic issues – bread and butter.

I think GST had a bigger role in Najib’s defeat than 1MDB. 1MDB, of course, provided a nice narrative – ‘Where did our money go? To the super yacht? To the young, pudgy boy? To the diamond?’

But do you think people would care if the economy was doing well?

Do Not Belittle The Role Of The Armed Forces

I am in complete agreement with the 13 August 2019 statement by the Deputy Minister of Defence, YB Senator Liew Chin Tong on the role of Malaysia’s Armed Forces.
As I have stressed on many occasions, the one and only job of Malaysia’s serving men and women should be to defend our country and its people.
It is also certainly not true, as some have allegedly claimed,
The statement by Koon Yew Yin that that our military personnel are “…doing nothing except eating and sleeping,” does not only belittle the role of our soldiers but is entirely untrue.
I take note of his statement of apology.
Proposals to use our military for political or extraneous purposes should be firmly rejected.
The country does not need unsolicited, hare-brained ideas on how to utilise its armed forces.
Rather, what is needed is wise policies and public support to maintain and upgrade their professionalism; as well as to ensure the welfare of the men and women who keep our nation safe.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN CHIEF ORGANISING SECRETARY
KEADILAN CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER
SETIAWANGSA MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

The Malaysian Stand On The Rohingya Must Be Respected

There have been reports that the Government of Myanmar has summoned the Malaysian Ambassador to that country on 31 July 2019 in relation to remarks made by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the plight of the Rohingya people.
For the record, Dr Mahathir had recently called for the Rohingya to either be treated as nationals by Myanmar or given territory to form their own state. This is part of the Malaysian government’s entirely correct, consistent and just stance on the Rakhine crisis, of which I am in complete agreement with.
A bloody, genocidal campaign waged by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, in the state since 2017 has resulted in more than 750,000 Rohingya fleeing the country, as well as credible allegations of mass killings and rape. According to the United Nations, one million Rohingya are now virtually stranded as refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the government of Myanmar would object to the Dr Mahathir’s comments. Nevertheless, their actions betray how completely in denial, indeed, delusional they are regarding the catastrophe the Tatmadaw—who are the true rulers of the Union—have deliberately engineered within their own borders.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that the Prime Minister’s remarks go against ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. The Ministry however is either wilfully ignorant or blind to the fact that the ASEAN Charter and the principle of non-interference does not give its members carte blanche to commit human rights abuses or engage in acts of gross impunity.
Indeed, Article 2 (2) (i) of the of the Charter mandates that ASEAN and its member states shall act according to the principles of “…respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice”.
The Yangon regime under its so-called State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi should also realise that the Tatmadaw’s crimes in Rakhine have sparked a humanitarian crisis that has had negative ramifications for the Southeast as well as South Asian regions and beyond. The plight of the Rohingya is no longer an internal issue of Myanmar’s but a regional and indeed global tragedy in the making should urgent action not be taken.
Should Myanmar wish to end the international opprobrium that it has so rightly been subject to, then it should rein in the out-of-control Tatmadaw, punish the preparators of the atrocities in the Rakhine and ensure that all the Rohingya are returned to their homes as well as given their rights as citizens of the Union.

NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD
KEADILAN CHIEF ORGANISING SECRETARY
KEADILAN CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL MEMBER
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT SETIAWANGSA