A letter to our friends on the passing of our President, S.M. Mohamed Idris

Dear friends,

It is with deep sorrow that we inform you that our President, S.M. Mohamed Idris has passed away after a brief illness on 17 May 2019.

Mr Idris lived full and very active life, up to the end of his 93 years. He was invited to be President of CAP (Consumers’ Association of Penang) when it was established in 1969. Before that, he had been a member of the Municipal Council in Penang and was already a prominent community leader. He had been involved in the Independence movement.

For 50 years he led CAP, bringing to it and to the public his unique and incomparable blend of understanding of society, history, philosophy, spiritualism and Nature as well as practical action, mobilisation and interaction between civil society and government. Under his leadership, CAP championed the rights and interests of consumers, poor communities including farmers, fishermen, workers, house and land tenants, squatters and indigenous people.

With his deep interest in all matters, from the seemingly small to the biggest, CAP was to take up many issues, including fraud and unethical marketing practices, the safety of food and other products, pollution and destruction of forests and natural resources.

Idris believed that fulfilling the basic and human needs of people are the most important priority and that many mega projects of both the public and private sector can damage the environment and divert precious resources from fulfilling people’s needs.

He also believed in developing and maintaining long-lasting relations with individuals, public interest groups and organisations not only in Malaysia but throughout the world, in a mutual battle to change unjust structures and systems and to create a better world.

The Council and staff of CAP have vowed to continue the work of Mr. Idris. CAP is also very touched by the many messages of condolences and promises to carry on the work pioneered by Mr. Idris. We are thus confident that his great deed will live on in the hearts and minds and in the actions of the many people he inspired.

We thank you for the friendship, care and cooperation that you, his friends, have shown through the years to Mr Idris nd to CAP, and we hope this will continue and strengthen in the years to come.

CLICK HERE to find a tribute to Mr Idris by a close associate of his.

Mohideen Abdul Kader
Vice President
on behalf of The Council of the Consumers’ Association of Penang

Consumer rights champion

by MARTIN KHOR*

Honorary Secretary, Consumers’ Association of Penang

Advisor, Third World Network

SM Mohamed Idris was one of a kind. He was a force of nature. And in more ways than one. His passing away on May 17 was the passing of an era. I doubt we will be so fortunate to have someone like him again.

He had such an incredible mind, with an insatiable thirst for information on all kinds of issues, from the most minute to the largest. He could process and synthesise all that information and see the links between them. And then translate them into points for concrete actions and policies.

He put this intellect, creativity and knowledge of practical action into constant use, day after day, from his adolescence till the last day of his 93 years of life. Family and friends told him to take it easy, especially in the last few months. But he could not. He was driven by passion to right the wrongs in the local community, the country, and the world.

He could not bear to read of children going hungry when so much food is wasted. He would be incensed by the chopping down of trees, whether in cities or on the hills and in forests. He could not stand that Malaysians’ health was being threatened by unsafe food, occupational hazards, road accidents, polluted air, when all these could be prevented.

“Complain!” became one of the popular slogans of the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP), which he founded in 1970 and led for almost half a century.

If you are cheated, if the house you just bought has holes or cracks in the wall, if your workplace is harming your health, if the forest you go hiking in is being felled, don’t just take it or grumble to yourself. Make an official complaint, mobilise your friends and neighbours, assert your rights, and fight back!

Idris’ rallying call became CAP’s guiding philosophy. He transformed the objectives of the consumer movement. Instead of focusing on which brand of camera or motorcar to buy (the traditional main issue of consumer organisations), he changed the focus and looked at whether citizens’ basic needs for food, health, education and housing were being met.

By steering CAP in this direction, Idris opened the path for citizens not only in Malaysia but also many other countries, to broaden the scope of the issues that consumers can and should take up.

CAP operated in its earlier years under difficult conditions, when the government was very sensitive to public criticism, let alone protests.

I remember when returning from overseas studies in the mid-1970s I read an issue of CAP’s Utusan Konsumer with a front page photo of huge casuarina trees with their roots exposed by erosion on George Town’s Gurney Drive beach, and the headline, “The death of Penang’s trees”.

“Aren’t you afraid of being arrested and CAP being closed down?” I asked Idris. His answer: “We just have to highlight this problem.”

This incident reveals how scared ordinary Malaysians were at that time, how restrained the media was then and how Idris saw CAP’s role as being one entity that could speak up when no one else was willing to.

Through the annual CAP seminars – usually involving 50 speakers and papers on all aspects of a specific topic like the state of health, education or rural development, the economy and even the administration of law and justice – CAP pushed the envelope to assert that all these were legitimate issues to take up.

“We pay the taxes that finance the government’s operations ” Idris would say. “We thus have the right to give the government our views on how the ministries and agencies are performing and how to improve.”

The environment was a large part of Idris’ concern.

CAP organised its first forum on the environment in 1971 and held a large symposium on Crisis in the Malaysian Environment in 1978. In 1982, the new Environment Minister Datuk Amar Stephen Yong visited CAP and told us this was among his first acts because it was CAP’s work that led to the ministry being formed.

The environment became so important an area that Idris initiated another organisation to deal with it. Thus was born Sahabat Alam Malaysia, which Idris also led for 40 years.

In the early 1980s, Idris discussed with us the need to expand CAP’s work internationally as the source of many problems lies in the global system.

So the CAP conference of 1984 was on the development crisis in the Third World. Experts, journalists and activists from all over the world took part. They urged CAP to set up a network to tackle the problems faced by developing countries in the imbalanced world system. Thus was established the Third World Network.

Idris was well-known internationally. When I visited the office of the famous American consumer icon Ralph Nader and said I was honoured to meet him, he surprised me by saying: “The honour is mine. I have heard all about Mohamed Idris and CAP. He is the world’s consumer rights champion.”

The renowned public health activist from South Africa, Prof David Saunders, was impressed after visiting Idris and CAP: “You have set up a whole effective machinery for citizens to know and fight for their rights.”

Idris was far ahead of the curve on many issues. He started an anti-sugar campaign three decades ago when few knew the full extent of the dangers of excessive sugar intake. CAP took up the climate change issue long before governments recognised it as the biggest threat to the world’s survival.

The antibiotic resistance issue, now seen as the biggest global health problem, was taken up by CAP in the 1980s.

Twenty years ago, Idris became excited about the need to protect micro-organisms in the soil; two years ago, the FAO publicised its report on how crucial these micro-organisms are and how they are now being threatened.

Many laws have been changed or created because of Idris’ memoranda and discussions with various government ministers and officials. And many planned projects that he viewed as being wasteful or damaging to people’s interests or to the environment have been cancelled or modified.

For example, CAP successfully campaigned with other NGOs to save Penang Hill from a massive development project in the early 1990s.

Idris cared deeply for the poor and downtrodden. He got CAP and SAM to
priorise supporng the rights and welfare of shermen, farmers and
smallholders, estate and factory workers, squa”ers, land and house tenants,
the naves of Sarawak, the Orang Asli, the foreign workers. And this started
decades before the “Bo”om 40%” or B40 became a popular term.

Idris was against the US-Malaysia free trade agreement negotiations (which were cancelled in the early 2000s), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and its new form CPTPP (Comprehen­sive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership). In his view, these would cause Malaysia to give up many of its important present policies and compromise the country’s sovereignty. He met personally with the then International Trade Minister to press his points, and sent a series of letters and memos to numerous other ministers.

His last big battle was against the RM45bil Penang transport master plan, which he was convinced would ruin Penang’s environment and way of life. In recent months, he personally led two protests, including one near the site of the planned three-islands reclamation project in South Penang.

Idris was a simple man, who always wore a white kurta (Indian-style long collarless shirt) and sarong. He was not one to chase after awards. The only two he accepted was the Tun Razak Award, and the International Islamic University’s inaugural Ibni Khaldun award last November (though he insisted the award be given to CAP and not himself).

He was not one who rested on his laurels either. On the contrary. Despite so many achievements, Idris was always frustrated that there were so many injustices in the world, and that Mother Nature was facing the worst ever crisis. So he drove himself and others to continue the work started so long ago.

When I last met him at his Rose Avenue, George Town, home two Sundays ago, he was full of energy, reminding me to get CAP to take up all the many unresolved issues. Even after his death, his daughter Fatima told me her father, while in hospital, wanted her to convey to me to research why reducing food waste would also lower food prices.

I started by saying Idris was a force of nature. Such a force is someone who does not follow the normal ways of the world but charts his own way, creating a path that others follow. As for Nature, he had the rare gift of seeing the interconnectedness of things, and the central importance of protecting the environment.

Rest in peace, Mohamed Idris, one of the very finest sons Malaysia has ever produced, and a true champion of the rakyat’s interests and of the environment. Rest assured that many in the country and around the world will carry on the work you devoted your life to.

 

*The author: MARTIN KHOR is the Honorary Secretary of the Consumers’
Association of Penang, and Advisor to the Third World Network, two of the
organisations that S.M. Mohamed Idris founded and led.

 

5 reasons why PTMP is a white elephant master plan

by Roger Teoh

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow pointing at the PIL1 highway alignment on a map of Penang.

Over the past three years, various concerns regarding the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) have been raised. However, the Penang government has not, and is unlikely to, provide evidence-based answers to clear the air. Instead, the Penang chief minister has continued brush off various concerns raised by concerned citizens and civil societies.

This article compiles existing data and analysis that is freely available in the public domain to raise five highly critical statements on the PTMP backed by quantitative evidence.

1. The population density in the reclaimed islands is projected to be higher than many metropolitan cities around the world.

The South Reclamation Scheme has been pitched as a necessary project to fund the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) highway and the Penang LRT. However, questionable population projections were used to justify that there will be sufficient demand for the sale of land in these reclaimed islands.

According to data from Chow Kon Yeow’s media statement, the three reclaimed islands (with a land area of 16.98 sq km) are projected to have a population of 367,379 in the year 2030. This translates to a population density of 21,636 people per sq km in the reclaimed islands, which will be higher than many metropolitan cities around the world.

Is such a population (and density) justifiable? What is so interesting in or around the reclaimed islands to the point that population density is projected to be higher than the city centres of London and Paris? Why would 367,379 Penangites choose to squeeze themselves in these islands by 2030 when there are less dense areas available elsewhere in the state?

2. The PIL1 will be one of the most expensive transport infrastructures in Malaysia.

The projected cost for the PIL1 highway (RM9.6 billion) will be one of the most expensive transport infrastructures in Malaysia, and only the KL Sungai Buloh-Putrajaya (SSP) MRT2 (which serves a larger population base and involves a more complex construction environment in an urban conurbation) is more expensive in terms of the cost per km.

Perhaps shockingly, the cost per km for the PIL1 highway is 56% higher than the KL-Singapore high-speed rail (which has now been deferred due to high construction costs), and around 7.5 times higher relative to the revised price tag of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL). Even the Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex), which was said to be the most expensive highway in Malaysia but was cancelled and never built, costs 67% lower on a per km basis.

While the federal government has reiterated the commitment to reduce the high debt levels of the country by scrapping or re-negotiating projects that were inherited by the previous administration, Penang continues to spend lavishly without batting an eye.

Somehow the rules set by the federal government do not apply to Penang and calls for a holistic review on the feasibility and concerns of the PTMP continue to fall on deaf ears.

3. The economic benefits of the Penang LRT are artificially inflated.

A highly exaggerated annual ridership of 42 million trips (within one year after the Penang LRT is operational) is assumed, likely to artificially inflate the economic benefits and justify the high construction costs (RM9 billion).

To put this into perspective, this projected annual ridership is significantly higher than most MRT lines in London, Singapore and KL on a per capita basis.

For an absolute comparison, despite KL having a larger population, the Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) MRT only managed to achieve an annual ridership of 22.25 million (or 11.1 annual passenger journeys per capita) in its first year, 48% lower than the forecasted annual ridership for the Penang LRT.

Of course, the proposed LRT is great but can Penang afford it? The financial viability of the LRT project and the state’s financial health could be threatened if a more realistic ridership projection is used. Not only would the projected economic benefits be significantly lower, but the loss in ticket revenues could also cost at least RM120m per year (equivalent to 24% of the estimated revenue for the Penang state budget in 2019).

What about the opportunity costs of foregoing alternative public transport systems that are shown to be cheaper to build, operate and maintain, and could significantly expand the public transport catchment area?

4. Traffic congestion in Penang is here to stay and will only get worse unless there is a paradigm shift.

While more highways are expected to relieve traffic congestion between inter-urban trips (green lines on the map), local traffic problems within an urban area (red circles) will continue to worsen.

Transport studies have shown that a two-lane highway to a city centre typically adds around 10,000 additional vehicles a day to the surface streets, and around 80% of vehicular traffic in a city centre can be associated with drivers looking for a parking space.

However, due to land constraints, it is no longer feasible to expand local roads and parking space within urban centres in Penang to cater to the increased traffic from the PIL1.

Independent studies from local universities and NGOs have also estimated that free-flowing traffic in the PIL1 can only be maintained for around seven years after it is operational. Beyond that, Penang is expected to return to square one of experiencing worsening traffic congestion, despite spending RM 9.6 billion on a single highway which is clearly an expensive, inefficient and short-term solution.

While proponents of the PTMP will argue that I have neglected the potential benefits of the LRT in reducing traffic congestion, the next subsection will show that this benefit will be unlikely to materialise.

5. The Penang government’s goal of achieving a 40% public transport modal share target by 2030 will be missed by a wide margin.

There is irrefutable scientific evidence warning that more highways are strongly correlated to the increase in car modal share and dependence in a city while relying on new public transport infrastructure in isolation (such as the LRT) in encouraging commuters to shift from cars to public transport only has a limited effect.

Phase one of the PTMP aims to construct only one LRT line (30km) but significantly, more roads and highways (totalling 70km, including the PIL1, 3 Zenith paired roads, Gurney Expressway and undersea tunnel). This is in violation (or ignoring) the cause-effect relationships in reducing the car modal share in a city.

Investments in public transport must be implemented in synergy with other policies (i.e. improving city walkability, station accessibility, public transport coverage and integration and safety).

Note that London, despite introducing various car restraint policies such as congestion charging and removing road capacity, only managed to reduce its car modal share from 49% (1995) to 37% (2016), while a car-dependent city such as Phoenix (USA) took 17 years to reduce its car modal share marginally from 94% (1995) to 84% (2012).

Given these case studies and the policy approaches outlined in PTMP, there appears to be a lack of political will from the Penang government to achieve its 40% public transport modal share target by 2030. Modelling results suggest that, despite the high capital expenditure incurred by the LRT, the public transport modal share is likely to be in the range of 10% in 2030, only a marginal increase from current levels of 3.2%.

Considering the fact that road transport is responsible for 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions in a city, these policies are also in contradiction with the goal of reducing Malaysia’s carbon intensity by 35% by 2030, set by the energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry.

A white elephant master plan

On the whole, the quantitative evidence summarised above shows that the extremely high costs of the PTMP cannot be justified. We are entering a dangerous precedent, especially when politicians can get away with ignoring hard scientific evidence in favour of rhetoric and the whims of certain interest groups.

Given the large sums involved, it is likely that the future government in power will no longer have the financial flexibility to turn things around should the PTMP run into financial trouble, as explained here

There will be no turning back once the agreement is signed and work commenced.

Roger Teoh is a PhD postgraduate studying at the Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College London.

The opinion of the author is expressed from a neutral standpoint, and he is not a member or affiliate of any political party or NGOs in Malaysia.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Acceptance Speech by the Recipient of Ibn Khaldun Merit Award

The Consumers’ Association of Penang is extremely honoured to be awarded the Ibn Khaldun Merit Award and I would like to thank International Islamic University of Malaysia for selecting CAP to be the first recipient of this award. Jazak Allahu Khayran.

The vision, mission and activities of the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) has been directed towards the transformation of our society in order to free ourselves from the shackles of imperialism, to rediscover our culture, tradition and values, and to create a just and fair society. Colonialism destroyed or marginalized our traditional economy, skills, social organisations and religion, and, in its place, created a colonial state to control our people and exploit our resources. 

The police force was organized to suppress any popular uprising and to ensure our people submit to colonial laws. Schools were opened to create an educated and disciplined workforce for the economy, and to programme our minds to accept the Western worldview and its ‘superiority’ over others. Hospitals were built to ensure that workers are healthy to keep the economy and administration functioning efficiently. Roads, bridges and railways were constructed to transport the wealth in the colonies to metropolitan centers. Large tracts of virgin tropical forests were destroyed to give way to rubber plantations and tin mines to provide raw materials for the industries in the Western states. Today we are providing cheap labour to foreign multi-national corporations to produce products largely for export.

Achieving independence meant only a transfer of political power to the local Western-educated elite and not the transformation of the philosophical and ideological basis of the state and its institutions. The Federal Constitution was drawn up by a commission appointed by the British government and headed by a British judge in consultation with the local secular elite who had very shallow roots in their religious history, culture, tradition and civilisation.  The institutions – civil service, judiciary, police, the armed forces, schools, universities – which served, protected and defended the colonial order continued after independence with minor changes.   

Our political elite and policy makers suffered from a sense of inferiority as a result of Western education locally or overseas in Ivy League universities. They had very little, or no, exposure to traditional civilisations prior to the conquest of colonialism.  For example, if we look at the Islamic tradition, for over twelve centuries the Sharia was the supreme moral and legal force regulating both society and government. Politics, trade, family matters, international relations and the environment were governed by the Sharia and, by all historical accounts, it worked well. 

Colonial hegemony marginalized it to dealing with only family matters and, hence, it could not evolve to meet the challenges coming from Western modernity. Instead of studying the well-tested Sharia principles and applying them in our institutions, our policymakers opted for copying the alien Western model and perpetuated Sharia’s limited role as during the colonial period.  

The Western state was born from the womb of its historical process and the colonial, and post-colonial, states are its replications. They are artificial transplants, with no organic links to our traditional societies. The Western state is based on secularism, individualism, materialism, liberal democracy and market capitalism, and the imperialist project has been to export it to other parts of the world to create a universal civilisation. It sets the universal standards for – free trade, democracy, human rights, gender relations, culture – and every one must follow them for otherwise you would face threats of coercion in the form of sanctions or cruise missiles. 

Moral consideration plays an insignificant role in the Western materialist worldview. Religion has no role in law, public policy, governance and administration and has to remain a private affair.  The moral imperative has been divorced from law, science, economics, commerce and public administration. Nature is material, a commodity to be exploited, and devoid of any spiritual significance. It is to be conquered and subjugated to satisfy the greed of man. In the traditional perspective, man is trustee and steward of nature and must not do anything that would upset the existing balance and harmony. 

European civilisation, detached from the moral imperative, is heading towards a collapse as predicted by many experts. It has spawned serious crises – political, economic, social, moral, spiritual and environmental – on a local and global level for which there appears to be no solutions.  

Ecological Crisis

Ecological crisis poses the greatest threat to the survival of this planet and its inhabitants.  Environmental protection has been on the global agenda for more than four  decades, ever since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Since then, there have been numerous conferences including the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2017 Paris conference on climate change but the situation is getting worse with extremely hot temperatures, frequent floods, degradation of ecosystem services, and extinction of certain species of plants, animals and microorganisms. 

The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, authored by the world’s leading climate change scientists, has warned that there is only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. A half-degree increase would see the corals eradicated, more people would be exposed to water-stress, millions affected by sea-level rise, and serious depletion of marine fisheries .A 2010 NASA study identified the automobiles as the largest contributor of climate change pollution in the world. 

The world’s oceans are dying with only 13% remaining untouched by the damage caused by human activity. Dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950. Climate change is the cause of large-scale deoxygenation because warmer waters hold less oxygen. Most sea creatures cannot survive and face extinction. The oceans feed more than 500 million people, especially in poorer nations, and provide jobs for 350 million people.

According to a United Nations-backed study, land degradation has reached “critical” levels across the world as 75 percent of land is already degraded and projections show that such degradation will increase to over 90 percent by 2050. An area half the size of the European Union is degraded every year by farming, city expansion, and deforestation. The U.N Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) reported that the global economy will lose a staggering USD23 trillion by 2050 because of land degradation. Soils are the basis of life, with 95% of our food coming from there.

Water scarcity has been aggravated by climate change. More than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and more than 4 billion lack access to safe sanitation. Freshwater ecosystems are degrading at an alarming rate – around 71 per cent of the natural wetland area worldwide has been lost due to human activity in the last century. The Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Around 400 million people live in this region.

While almost a billion people go hungry, one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted yearly. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. Recent estimates of European food waste levels reveal that 70% of food waste arises in the household, food service and retail sectors, with production and processing sectors contributing the remaining 30%. The land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in the food chain are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society. Food waste, going into municipal landfills, generates methane, one of the gasses responsible for global warming.

Inequality

The rich are getting richer and the inequality crisis is getting worse. Oxfam reported that 82 percent of the wealth created last year went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity got nothing. Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in just 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over.

The capitalist system empowers a small elite to expropriate the wealth created by the workers, farmers and other working people. A recent study Giants: The Global Power Elite by Professor Philips identifies the world’s top seventeen asset management firms as the ‘Giants’ of world capitalism. They collectively manage more than $US41.1 trillion in a self-invested network of interlocking capital that spans the globe, and are the central institutions of the financial capital that powers the global economic system. 

Transnational institutions like the World bank, IMF, WTO and others serve as institutional mechanisms for consensus building within the transnational capitalist class, and power elite policy formulation and implementation. These international institutions serve the interests of the global financial Giants by supporting policies and regulations that seek to protect the free, unrestricted flow of capital and debt collection worldwide.

The elite is largely united in support of the US/NATO military empire that prosecutes a repressive war against resisting groups – typically labeled ‘terrorists’ – around the world. The real purpose of ‘the war on terror’ is defense of transnational globalization, the unimpeded flow of financial capital around the world, dollar hegemony and access to oil; it has nothing to do with repressing terrorism which it generates, perpetuates and finances to provide cover for its real agenda. This is why the United States has a long history of CIA and military interventions around the world ostensibly in defense of ‘national interests’. 

The concentration of capital in the small elite has resulted in ‘further pauperization of the bottom half of the world’s population and an unrelenting downward spiral of wages for 80 percent of the world. The world is facing economic crisis, and the neoliberal solution is to spend less on human needs and more on security. It is a world of financial institutions run amok, where the answer to economic collapse is to print more money through quantitative easing, flooding the population with trillions of new inflation-producing dollars. It is a world of permanent war, whereby spending for destruction requires further spending to rebuild, a cycle that profits the Giants and global networks of economic power. It is a world of drone killings, extrajudicial assassinations, death, and destruction, at home and abroad.’

Technology and Alienation

The technological revolution has led to disintegration of society, feeling of isolation, unhappiness, emptiness, and lack of freedom and autonomy. Personal interaction has been sacrificed at the altar of efficiency and profit maximization. Workplace interaction is limited with employer’s control of workers using monitors at computer terminals. Self-check-out stations in supermarkets has eliminated talking to the salespersons. Instead of face to face conversation with friends and family members, we do so in cyberspace. 

Researchers have found that technology has robbed humans of their natural abilities and capacities and has caused poor health, depression, isolation, and obesity among many people. More people spend less and less time together with families, friends, neighbors and colleagues and more and more on consuming technology. Although the creation of internet has been positive in some aspects of people’s life, its dependency has already led to many depressions, suicide, divorce, and separations. 

Social media has become a tool for shaping public opinion and manipulating voters’ choices through deliberate lies and misrepresentations. President Trump, a philanderer and proven liar, with no experience in public administration, was elected President of the most powerful nation in the world through a campaign in the social media playing on the fears of White voters. 

Jair Bolosonoro, a pro-torture, dictatorship-praising populist, was elected president of Brazil recently. He had no policies to offer to the electorate except to demonise the Workers’ Party and defame its candidate, Haddad. A group of Brazilian capitalists bankrolled a multi-million dollar campaign to inundate Brazilian voters with untruths and inventions, by simultaneously firing off hundreds of millions of WhatsApp messages.

 In Europe white nationalist parties have come to power through social media campaigns instilling fear and hatred in white voters towards immigrants and Muslims. Democracy, not anchored in morality, will inevitably bring to power the Trumps, Netanyahus and Bolosonoros. 

Conclusion

The solution to the destruction of the organic community, family, and environment requires a radical transformation in our worldview. Religion must play a central role in society, its governance, laws and institutions. Morality based on universal and eternal principles of truth and justice must guide human actions. 

We need to regard the natural environment, with all its flora and fauna, as sacred and a gift from God. We bear a trust which we must discharge with responsibility towards all creations. We have only rights of stewardship, and not proprietorship, over nature. Nature is not to be treated as a commodity to be exploited for the sole interest of man but to be managed with care so that it will provide food, shelter and enjoyment to all; not only to the present generation but also to the generations to come.  This ethic must be enshrined in us from young so that it becomes the guiding principle in our relationship with nature and humankind.

The present economic system based on unlimited growth, private capital accumulation, profit maximization and concentration of economic power in large corporations is  the root cause of, not only the economic crisis, but also, gross inequality, environmental destruction, social crisis, alienation wars and conflicts. It is responsible for overproduction, hyper consumption, indebtedness of ordinary people, pollution and depletion of earth’s resources. It is an amoral system benefiting the rich and has come under severe criticism from economists and the Pope. We need to develop an economy based on the moral imperative.  

Decolonistion of our education, content and pedagogy, inherited from the West, is urgently needed. There are initiatives in many parts of the world to question the knowledge taught in universities and to develop syllabus based on local history, culture, and tradition. A South African university has introduced a decolonization programme in several faculties, including law and medicine.  

Knowledge taught in the universities is, often, irrelevant to the reality outside. An economics graduate will not be able to explain how a small elite centered in the West is able to manipulate the world economy for the benefit of a wealthy minority. Or why is there such global inequality and disparity in wealth? What geo-political interest drove Britain to create Israel and Saudi Arabia after the First World War and how is it relevant for understanding the conflicts in West Asia today?

Paulo Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed advances useful and practical ideas for decolonizing education and pedagogy. The key to liberation is the awakening of critical awareness and the thinking process in the individual. A new type of education is needed based on a partnership between teacher and student and empowering the student to enter into a dialogue. Critical consciousness and the resulting synthesis of thought and action is the way to reclaim humanity, to become humanized. Thought must go together with action.

Freire criticizes the conventional relationship of teacher and student as being dysfunctional and oppressive with the teacher feeding information while the student is expected to be a passive, unthinking, follower. He proposes problem-posing education as the successful alternative to conventional education. Problem-posing education is structured to encourage thinking in students. The solutions must not be predetermined by the teacher, but instead must come during the process of dialogue. The teacher and students learn from each other.

The International Islamic University of Malaysia has an important role to play in promoting the needed social transformation. Its proclaimed vision is to restore the dynamic and progressive role of the Muslim Ummah in all branches of knowledge and intellectual discourse. One of the mission objectives is Islamisation. The university was established in 1987, and, in its thirty five years of existence, thousands of students have graduated and many are successful lawyers, businessmen and occupying important posts in government and academia. It is time the university authorities carried out an evaluation as to what extent it has progressed in realizing its vision and mission. Investing enormous resources and producing graduates to become cogs in the capitalist machine is not the objective of the university, which is Islamisation of society.   

In line with its stated mission, the university should direct its resources towards research and producing policy proposals for bringing about social transformation with the moral imperative rooted in religion. It should attract the best scholars from East and West who are working in this field and have produced path-breaking works on bringing the moral requirement into politics, economy, law, business, environment, and other areas of human endeavour. 

Wa billahi al-tawfiq wa al-hidyah

   

SM Mohamed Idris, President, Consumers’ Association of Penang

CAP receives Ibn Khaldun Merit Award from International Islamic University Malaysia

On 10 November 2018, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) was conferred the inaugural Ibn Khaldun Award for Global Social Transformation by the Minister of Education, YAB Dr. Maszlee Malik, who is also the President of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).

The award was given to CAP for its contribution to the Malaysian society in championing consumer rights, interests of underprivileged and marginalised members in the community and promotion of sustainable development for almost 50 years.

IIUM Rector Prof. Emeritus Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak said that this is the first time the university conferred an award to an organisation.

The award was received by Mr SM Mohd Idris President of CAP at the 34th IIUM Convocation ceremony.

Below we reproduce the citation of the Award for CAP.

CAP President SM Mohd Idris receives the award from the Minister of Education YAB Dr Maszlee Malik. On the right is Tan Sri Prof Emeritus Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Rector of IIUM.

IBN KHALDUN MERIT AWARD FOR GLOBAL SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION

Inspired by the universal stature of Ibn Khaldun and his ideas about kinship, solidarity and the relationship between culture and environment, the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) introduced the Ibn Khaldun Merit Award to honour his scholarly legacy. This Award is intended to highlight the value of organisations within the community and promote its achievements as positive role models for both the government and non-governmental organisations in delivering community service. The Award recognises those who promote sustainable development in the community and endeavour either directly or indirectly to render service to the community.

Recipient of the Inaugural Ibn Khaldun Merit Award 2018

The recipient of the Inaugural Ibn Khaldun Merit Award 2018 is the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP). CAP The Consumers Association of Penang is chosen to receive the Ibn Khaldun Merit Award in recognition of its contributions in championing consumer rights, interests of underprivileged and marginalised members in the community and promotion of sustainable development for almost 50 years.

CAP’s efforts towards promoting sustainable development through participation, advocacy, demonstration campaigns, monitoring and research, as well as cooperation and networking with other NGOs and government departments have brought various benefits to Malaysian society as a whole, and also globally.

In recent years, the range of activities undertaken by CAP has broadened. They now undertake a much wider range of activities than simply raising consumer and environmental protection awareness and or acting as pressure groups. Their activities now include environmental monitoring; promoting environmental education, training and capacity-building; implementing demonstration; conducting advocacy work in partnership with other agencies; and the promotion of regional and international cooperation on consumer rights and environmental protection. CAP’s involvement in the practical management of conservation areas, has been able to promote community or individual action and campaign for greater accountability on the part of the government and corporate sector.

History of Establishment and Contributions of CAP

Since its establishment in 1970, CAP has championed the rights and interests of Malaysians from all walks of life especially the underprivileged and marginalised members of society. It has undertaken the responsibility to solve innumerable problems faced by individuals, communities and the natural environment.

The motto ‘giving a voice to the little people’ is very apt for this non-profit, independent organisation, where the main concern is ensuring the right of consumers to food, housing, health care, sanitation facilities, public transport, education and a clean environment. This is at a time when such awareness was still very low.

CAP carries out research in various areas to collect evidence to support claims and to provide information to policy makers in formulating consumer policies as well as to make informed decisions, conduct awareness programmes to educate the public.

CAP manages between 3,000 to 4,000 complaints from the public annually ranging from issues of poor quality consumer products and food adulteration, delivery of services and affordable and quality housing. It has successfully managed to resolve nearly 100,000 cases since its establishment and this is not an ordinary feat especially for an NGO with limited funding. It has more than 300 affiliated members. One of its affiliate Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is established with the principal objective of protecting the environment.

CAP. in serving the cause of the consumers in Malaysia, has managed to create awareness on consumer protection and has been carrying out this task professionally at par with the international consumer protection standards. CAP, in addressing the globalised and digitalised changes at the global level, is committed to ensuring that the voice of consumers is as powerful as the governments and corporations they interact with. Achieving this will ensure that everyone can realise the benefits of our increasingly globalised and digital world. At a time when companies often have huge global reach, CAP educates the consumers in the need to think big and act together to ensure the consumer protection is not outpaced.

CAP’s dynamic team of 35 staff members is led by Haji S.M Mohammad Idris, a 92-year-old outspoken veteran who is devoted to upholding the need to promote educational reforms to build national unity and reduction of poverty, disparity and polarisation. CAP with its affiliates, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Third World Network are dedicated to work together to create a vibrant, dynamic, fair and just society by urging the creation of relevant policies and institutions rooted in the diverse traditions, values, cultures and beliefs of Malaysian society. Building on this foundation, CAP has made immense contributions through the fight for consumer rights, social justice and environmental integrity which it has helped to pioneer in recent Malaysian history.

CAP produces bi-monthly editions of Utusan Konsumer in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. Utusan Konsumer has been an important tool for disseminating valuable information based on research and evidences to all members of society throughout Malaysia. Some of the notable achievements of CAP are:

  • Since its establishment, helped raise consumer awareness and the importance of their rights to quality products and make informed choices in purchasing consumer products.
  • 1975 onwards assisted the fishing communities whose livelihood were affected by the encroachment and pollution near Kuala Juru.
  • In 1982, CAP’s constant exposure of the environmental degradation issues led to the establishment of the Ministry of Environment to focus on managing pollution and promoting environmental quality in Malaysia.
  • Assisted in improving social benefits, welfare and working conditions of workers in the country.
  • Since the 1980s, conducted studies to expose 20 types of hazardous drugs that have been marketed in Malaysia that was ultimately banned by the Ministry of Health.
  • In the 1990s, launched the Save Penang Hill campaign together with other civil society groups and saved the Penang Hill from indiscriminate development and thus helped conserve the environment.
  • In 1994, established the Penang Inshore Fishermen’s Network (PIFWA) to defend the welfare and interests of the inshore fishing community.
  • CAP continuously work with schools in various parts of Malaysia to establish Consumer Clubs to ensure an early start in consumer and environmental awareness education for the Malaysians.
  • Successfully lobbied the Government to introduce new laws to protect consumers, house-buyers, tenants and the environment; and to reform and enforce outdated law culminated in the amendment to the Specific Relief Act in 1992 to protect the tenant from being evicted by the landlord without a court order.
  • Continuously promoting awareness by organising campaigns on numerous issues affecting public health, including safety of food, products, the price of medicine and anti-smoking.
  • Provided continuous support to residents threatened by indiscriminate and hillslope developments threatening their property and life.
  • Organised Conference on Decolonising University in the attempt to reshape a more relevant institution of learning for the future to promote interaction with the society which is now termed as “Quadruple Helix” in the academia.
  • Sahabat Alam Malaysia submitted evidences to the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment (MESTECC) to expedite the investigations into the operations of Lynas Corporation Bhd located in Gebeng, Pahang and to take all measures to close the plant and remove all the wastes, including the products made from the wastes which are hazardous to public health and the environment.

CAP has been honoured with the Right Livelihood Award, an international award to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing mankid. The prize was established in 1980 by German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, and is presented to those who have made contributions to environmental protection, human rights, sustainable development, health, education, and peace. In 2014, CAP’s president Haji S.M Mohammad Idris was bestowed with the prestigious Tun Abdul Razak Award in recognition of the services by CAP to the community.

CAP’s Commitment to the Community

Despite having achieved many accolades of success, in consumer protection, CAP is committed to creating awareness of consumer protection, increasing the existing avenues to resolve consumer grievances, promoting and protecting consumer rights as well as championing environmental rights; to continuing their noble mission in, managing consumer complaints to seek redress for their rights that are violated; assisting residents and communities facing problems arising from indiscriminate pollution, indiscriminate deforestation and hillslope development; supporting families, schools and associations in growing organic vegetables and fruits adopting CAP’s organic farming model. It has continued the conservation activities of Penang Hill and natural environment, protection of the beaches, water sources and coastal resources, and simultaneously preserving the cultural heritage.

It seeks to develop plans for ensuring food security, improved health services and cheaper medication and health services; expand the role in monitoring the inflation and unscrupulous commercial behaviour that impacts the increase in pricing of consumer products; assist and support workers’ organisations, farmers’ and fishermen community, residents’ associations and environmental protection organisations in pursuing their rights that have been affected; establish active networking and collaboration with other civil society organisations to promote active and effective participation in the review of the Penang Structure Plan, Transport Master Plan, Sea reclamation projects, Local plans and various other plans; promote public interest action litigation by enforcing existing laws and introducing new laws to protect consumers and the environment.

CAP is committed to touching the lives of Malaysians from various walks of life beyond consumer rights and protection to promoting Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030). Indeed, it has been instrumental in shaping the idea since its inception as a contribution to the future of humanity.