Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trade Union(3) : Should it be independent of party politics? Government wants it, what do workers want?

In my continued search for the history of the trade union in Malaysia, and for more information about this person, John Alfred Brazier, it seems that this Brazier was a 'government man' or a 'pro-government person'. His intention was to re-create trade unions - not necessarily for the benefit of workers. His intention seem to be to pull out the fangs of the worker movement, so that the 'new' unions would be more acceptable to the government. 

The Englishman, who was with the British Trade Union Council, was sent to Malaya to advise trade union leaders to eschew militant unionism and move, instead, towards moderation and create unions amenable to the government. 
Maybe, the time has come for the worker movement in Malaysia to stop wanting to stay 'amenable' to the government, and start fighting for worker rights. Not only do Malaysian workers still not have minimum wages, but they have also lost their right to secure direct employment until retirement. As days go by, their rights are further being withered away. 
Maybe, we should stop wasting time with all these closed-door consultations between trade union leaders and government, and bring the fight to the workers...It is sad that MTUC and/or the worker movement still do not have a regular weekly worker magazine/newspaper for Malaysian workers.

See also earlier posts:


Monday, September 17, 2001 The Star
Union of discord

THE National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), the sole national union for plantation workers in Malaysia today, was born of a merger between state-based unions. Needless to say, it was a birth accompanied by severe labour pains. A combination of factors with roots in colonial history, the post-World War II labour policy of the colonial government, and the need to contain the spread of communism in general and militant left-wing trade unions in particular helped create this awkward child.

In June 1954, five plantation state-based unions amalgamated to form the National Union of Plantation Workers. They were the Plantation Workers Union of Malaya (formerly Negeri Sembilan Indian Labour Union), Malayan Estate Workers Union (formerly Perak Estate Employees Union), Johor State Plantation Workers Union (formerly North Johor Indian Labour Union), Malacca Estate Workers Union and Alor Gajah Labour Union (in Malacca).

A moderate trade union such as the NUPW could not have developed in the charged atmosphere of the Emergency (declared by the British in June 1948 to battle communist insurgency) without guidance from the Trade Union Adviser of Malaya, John Brazier. The Englishman, who was with the British Trade Union Council, was sent to Malaya to advise trade union leaders to eschew militant unionism and move, instead, towards moderation and create unions amenable to the government.

The declaration of the Emergency provided a convenient platform for his office to identify pro-British union leaders who would be amenable to the employers’ and government’s points of view on industrial matters. In this respect, the close relationship between the adviser and some noted union leaders played a significant part in the evolution of post-war colonial labour policy. The policy in essence was the containment of left-wing union activities through a combination of repressive and responsive initiatives that influenced the trade union movement to pursue objectives that were “moderate” and “reasonable”.

Thus, in the course of his work, Brazier – with the help of the Special Branch – was able to identify union leaders who were anti-communist, of middle-class origins, who could speak English and, most importantly, who would work together with the government in building a trade union movement without left-wing tendencies. A few years after the declaration of the Emergency, Brazier succeeded in identifying and nurturing good personal relationships with leaders such as P. P. Narayanan (Plantation Workers Union of Malaya), John Emmanuel (Malayan Estate Employees Union), Govindan Nair (Johor State Plantation Workers Union), one Dawood (Alor Gajah Labour Union) and Subbiah (Malacca Estate Workers Union). It was these leaders who eventually played a key role in the formation of the NUPW.

Although Brazier identified these leaders, he had to insure there was nobody in these unions who would be sympathetic to the radical and left-wing unions. Archival records show clearly how Brazier used the Special Branch to intimidate leaders who did not follow his dictates. For instance, Rayal Jose and K.P.C. Menon, who were opposed to Narayanan’s close accommodation with the British authorities, were removed from the trade union scene through threats, Special Branch intimidation and other methods that eventually worked to the advantage of Brazier and his main ally, Narayanan.

Forming a single union for plantation workers was important for a number of reasons. First, the plantation industry was strategic in view of the significant amount of revenue generated. Second, this sector had a large number of unions and could serve as a model for the trade union movement in Malaya. Third, Brazier had the most contact with plantation trade unionists compared with other sectors; thus, the plantation sector provided the most convenient platform for shaping the direction of the trade union movement in the post-war period.

Before the integration of the five unions took place, an impression was created that the merger would assume the form of an amalgamation. When the integration process gained momentum, however, it became clear that the objective was not so much amalgamation but a full integration where member unions would lose their identity. Despite the opposition of some of the member unions, integration could not be halted.

The colonial government’s support for the merger, the backing of the influential International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the need for workers’ solidarity to deal with wage cuts, and the close alliance between Narayanan and Brazier and others ensured that the integration of the five unions into one union was beyond challenge.

But then, in the 1960s, as result of the ineffective representation of plantation labour by the NUPW, a rival union, the United Malayan Estate Workers Union, was formed in Seremban to take up the cause of estate workers. It was short-lived as it was banned by the government on the grounds that it was the front for the Communist Party of Malaya. A number of trade activists associated with this union were detained under the Internal Security Act.

With the banning of this alternative union, the NUPW emerged as the sole union for plantation workers in the country. Thus, in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the union closely accommodated with employers and the state in ensuring that plantation labour would not adopt radical measures to challenge the status quo. The union sought to seek representation by placing emphasis on collective bargaining, tripartite negotiations, and obtaining piecemeal concessions from employers. Thus, the union could not provide effective representation for labour in plantations.

Whether the NUPW can really champion the rights of plantation workers today remains doubtful. Urbanisation and commercialisation in the last two decades suggest that the country’s plantation industry might not last too long as higher labour costs and loss of land force employers to relocate to other areas. If this is going to be the likely trend in years to come, then the union might have problems in terms of recruitment and representation.

Dr P. Ramasamy is a professor of political economy at the Political Science Department, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; he is currently researching conditions of plantation labour in Sumatra, poverty among former plantation workers, and the impact of the Asean Free Trade Agreement on trade unions in Asean. Among his publications on these subjects is Plantation Labour, Unions, Capital and the State in Peninsular Malaysia (Oxford University Press, 1994).

Trade Union(2) : Should it be independent of party politics? Government wants it, what do workers want?

Well, continuing our earlier discussion, another article that appeared in Malaysiakini that may be of interest.

I doubt the political parties the leaders of MTUC belonged to made any difference when it came to this current UMNO-led BN government when it comes to worker rights. I believe that the leaders before Syed Shahir were from BN (or pro-BN) but still there was no gains made by the trade union movement. 
MTUC and the Malaysian Trade Union movement may have just become 'toothless tigers' and this pro-employer/big businesses government is not just interested in worker welfare. Knowing that about 30% of Malaysian workers are earning below poverty line wages, this government has continued to increase cost of living by price hikes, removal of subsidies, goods and services tax(GST), etc...Maybe, it is time for workers and their unions to stand up and exert they fight for their rights. 

No government will bother about MTUC 1 Jan | சிறப்பு செய்தி.

Malaysiakini 29 12 10

COMMENT- The 61-year-old British-fathered Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is still bogged down on the question of whether it is right for its leaders to be active in political parties (especially opposition parties).

Or whether it should continue to remain “free, independent, democratic and responsible” as its British father John Alfred Brazier had preached way back in the late 1940s.

A few candidates vying for various positions in today’s MTUC elections have so far stated only their personal preferences and have not moved any motion to bar MTUC from political involvement.

Should MTUC enter politics (especially the opposition politics) or not has been the essential question haunting its leaders from the day of its inception.

If the present leadership is serious about barring the MTUC and its leaders from entering politics, then the right thing to do is to seek the decision of the delegates to that effect during its ongoing annual general meeting. What matters is the decision of the delegates, not the personal preferences of the contestants.
The fact that there is no such motion makes one to think that all this talk of “no politics” is aimed at only 

getting rid of candidates who are aligned with PKR.

The incumbent president Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud (right), who is going for another term, is an active member of PKR.

His challenger Mohd Khalid Atan is a protégé of the outgoing secretary-general G Rajasekaran, and had been preaching the gospel of John Brazier that he would “endeavour to restore the image of MTUC as an independent and apolitical workers organisation”.

In supporting Atan’s proposal for an apolitical workers organisation, Rajasekaran also contended that if the MTUC entered politics, the government would use race to further divide and weaken the workers’ federation.

Solomon’s political leanings no secret

One of the candidates for the post of secretary-general, Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid, is already the Hulu Langat MP and PKR member. The other candidate is J Solomon of the National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE).

Solomon had been open about his support for former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and had said that he supported Najib’s 1Malaysia. So, his political leanings are no secret and he readily agreed with Rajasekaran that the MTUC leadership should work closely with the government to bring benefits to the workers.

The third candidate for the post is the incumbent deputy secretary-general, Abdul Halim Mansor, who is backed by Rajasekaran.
Rajasekaran (left) appears to be having nightmares about the two PKR men holding the two top posts of president and secretary-general, saying it would “compromise the congress on the decisions it makes”.

His argument is that because some of the past MTUC leaders were in the opposition parties, the government regarded the congress as anti-government and that “the incoming council should eradicate this perception (of being anti-government) and sincerely work with the government to achieve substantial benefits for the members”.

So, to come out of the 61-year-old malaise that has turned the MTUC into an anti-governmental organisation and to be on a buddy-buddy basis with the government in order to bring substantial benefits to the members of the unions affiliated to the MTUC, Rajasekaran, who has been the secretary-general of MTUC for 17 years, has himself, and through his supporters, put forward one simple proposition to the delegates voting today: Do not allow the two PKR strongmen to occupy the two top posts in MTUC.

If the two PKR men were stopped in their quest for the two topmost posts, Najib might invite the leaders for a 1Malaysia dinner. But, would the MTUC leaders get what they have been waiting for the last 61 years?

‘Indian influence predominating’

A peep into the past of MTUC would leave no one in doubt as to the purpose for which it was created.
Back in the mid 1940s, the Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU) had emerged as a serious threat to the British political and economic interests in Malaya. In June 1948, the Emergency was declared and the PMFTU was outlawed and its president, SA Ganapathay, was hanged.

To fill the “dangerous vacuum” left by the disappearance of the PMFTU, Brazier and his staff moved around and picked some English educated trade unionists who, according Brazier himself, had “no intimate contact with the large majority of non-English speaking workers… few are aggressively champions of workers and too many of them rely ultimately upon government support for their positions”.

Some of these trade unionists, like Ooi Thiam Siew of Penang MTUC, were sent overseas, including to Ruskin College, Oxford, to study “responsible unionism”. A few were appointed to the Federal Legislative Council and the Labour Advisory Board.

After the training at Ruskin, Ooi asked, “What do we prefer to have in Malaya… a fighting union with all its attendant evils to workers, employers, the public and the government or a responsible union with necessary encouragement and cooperation, not only from the government, but sympathy and bond of friendship extended by all employers?”

With this type of new responsible trade union leaders “thoroughly re-educated”, British High Commissioner Henry Gurney was ready to form a central organisation for workers in Malaya. He told the colonial secretary in his despatch dated April, 25, 1949, that it would be “something akin” to the British TUC “with the Indian influence predominating”.

Thus was born the MTUC of today, complete with measures to divide and rule the Malayan workers. The trade union leaders, who had been handpicked by John Brazier, pledged themselves to practise “free, independent, democratic and responsible unionism” and remain loyal to the colonial government.

Now, 61 years later, we have Mohd Khalid (right) promising to return to the pledge made then. Rajasekaran and Soloman are the current versions of Ooi Tiam Siew.

At the 1950 conference, PP Narayanan was elected the first president of MTUC. As far as the workers were concerned, his election was anything but democratic. He was first “selected” and approved by the Malayan colonial government, the employers and the colonial office, before he was “elected” at the conference.

The conference was held under the watchful eye of Brazier, who was the adviser to the conference, where and it was even proposed that “Mr John A Brazier, MBE” be appointed an honorary president of the council.
Of the 43 motions debated at the conference, two are of relevance today. One called on the government to take early steps to provide machinery for the determination of a minimum wage. The other one asked that the minimum wage for daily-paid workers be fixed at $2.30. MTUC appears to be still where it started!

Loyalty to government never in question

Unlike the leaders of the PMFTU, whose commitment to the cause of labour was beyond question, which was even acknowledged by Brazier, MTUC leaders chosen by him were to pledge their loyalty to the government. Brazier made sure of that.

At the delegates conference held in 1950, the chairman of the conference, MP Rajagopal, in declaring MTUC’s loyalty to the government said, “We are solidly behind the government in its efforts to end the present emergency.” In due course, similar pledges of loyalty to the Alliance government were also made.

Even in the 1960s, when the MTUC was confronted with serious problems arising from the various amendments to the various labour legislation and came under pressure to take political action, it declared in February 1964, “The MTUC is politically non-aligned… It desires to remain free to criticise the government of the day… It is the determination of the MTUC to remain and retain its identity as a free, independent, democratic and responsible national trade union centre”. This Brazieren tenet still rules the roost.

Worst still. The then Minister of Labour V Manickavasagam, who was the least cooperative of all the ministers, sought to become president of the International Labour Organisation. MTUC did campaign actively to defeat his rival from the Philippines. And the MTUC felt very proud of its achievement.

In the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, Lim Ah Lek, then minister of human resources, did all he could to create in-house unions and set up a counter national trade union centre called Malaysian Labour Organisation. Yet, MTUC cooperated with him in the matter of submitting a joint country report to the ILO annual session.

MTUC has remained steadfast in its commitment to support the government during the last 61 years. It is the government and prime ministers like Abdullah Ahmad who have treated the MTUC with contempt. Did not Abdullah tell the MTUC, “you can picket 100 times, the decision of no stays”?

 MTUC leaders have been in politics all the time

Even if the MTUC shuns politics, others want it in party politics. It is one of the largest organisations in the country. Onn Jaafar and Tan Cheng Loke were the earliest to woo it.

Narayanan was a member of the Kuala Lumpur branch of Onn’s Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), along with John Brazier. In fact, that was the first incident that caused Tunku Abdul Rahman to doubt the MTUC’s loyalty to his government!

Further, Narayanan’s involvement with IMP stood in the way of the MTUC joining forces with the Labour Party.

NUBE’s president Yeoh Teck Chye was a prominent president of the MTUC from 1965 to1974 and he was also the MP for Bukit Bintang. He was a leading member of Gerakan, and later Pekemas.

The other notable one is Zainal Rampak. He was wherever V David was. But, later, he moved out from DAP to Semengat 46 and from there to Umno, and was later made a Senator.

Now, it is is Syed Shahir, a member of PKR.

Of all the MTUC secretaries-general, the most prominent politician was David. To him politics was life.
The other secretary-general, who was a member of Pekemas, was SJH Zaidi. Yeoh and Zaidi were holding office as president and secretary-general respectively at the same time. Even John Gurusamay, the deputy secretary-general, was a member of Pekemas. They never compromised the interests of the MTUC. There 
was not even an allegation of such compromise.

So, why now the complaint that Syed Shahir and Abdullah Sani (right), in the event they become president and secretary-general respectively, might compromise the interests of the MTUC?
It must also be noted that in all its 61 years, the MTUC had twice come close to formally entering the political arena. One, the move to join forces with the Labour Party, as referred to above.

In May 1965, a special delegates conference of the MTUC authorised it to involve itself in politics. As usual, there was a move to give the government some time to favourably consider its proposals in respect of its amendments to the various labour laws.

Since the government did not respond as expected, the 18th annual delegates conference adopted the committee’s report to look into the question of the MTUC’s involvement in politics.

Why did the MTUC do this? Zaidi says, “…while the MTUC had for about 20 years avoided taking part directly in politics, there was little choice in the matter by 1969 and this was because it felt that politics was perhaps the only course of action to bring an appreciable change in the government attitude toward labour and labour problems”. But nothing followed this decision.

So the MTUC just cannot say that it would remain an apolitical organisation no matter what happened to the workers. It should be borne mind that none of the present leaders of the MTUC is personally that close to the government leaders as were the earlier leaders. Yet, they were forced by the situation confronting them to take a stand.

The MTUC must always be prepared to do what is required to defend the rights of the workers it represents, including the removal of the government of the day.

MTUC is never neutral

Recently, the minister of human resources complained that the MTUC had lost its neutrality. Some MTUC leaders and affiliates think that the MTUC must be neutral, but that it can support the BN government. No trade union federation anywhere in the world is neutral. The MTUC was given the duty to be loyal to the government.

Britain’s TUC, the mother of all TUCs in the world, has never been neutral. It set up the Labour Party, which in 1945 unseated the ruling Conservative-Liberal coalition government.

In India, Jawaharlal Nehru was at one time president of both the Congress Party and the National Trade Union Congress. James Bob Hawk of Australia was the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions as well the president of the Australian Labour Party and went straight on to become prime minister.

The government and ruling parties prefer MTUC to remain apolitical because they know what an angry working class can do to them.

But the MTUC of today is not in a position to flex its muscles. It is, in terms of numerical strength, very weak. It cannot even assemble enough workers to have a great May Day parade.

In 1948, 66.6 per cent of the total workforce of Malaya was organised into trade unions, according to the ILO Report. That accounted for the power of the PMFTU.

In 2010, MTUC represents only about 10 per cent of the Malaysian workers. No government, whether BN or Pakatan Rakyat, is going to bother about the MTUC, whether it is political or apolitical.

The MTUC leaders must also bear in mind that no government is going to listen to its demands and order the employers to comply. It works the other way round. This was pointed out way back in 1776 by Adam Smith: “Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and servants, the counsellors are always the masters.” - Malaysiakini, 29/12/2010, No government will bother about MTUC

Trade Union : Should it be independent of party politics? Government wants it, what do workers want?

Government's,  like our Malaysian UMNO-led BN government tried to weaken movements, including student movements, workers movements/unions, professional movements  by trying to artificially separate them from party politics - hence the provisions in law that disallows persons holding office in political parties from holding positions in trade unions, Bar Council, etc. For students, it is even worse -as Malaysian students are expected not to be involved in political parties...and/or even sympathize with  political parties.

Not that these 'restrictions' are imposed by law - not by members of the movement themselves...And after a certain number of years, many just begin to accept that artificial division and start treating it as the norm...or the 'correct' position. In the Malaysian Bar, this was a topic of discussion amongst members of the Bar when the issue of Sivarasah came up 

Sivarasa, who is also PRM vice-president, is challenging a provision in the Legal Profession Act which prohibits Bar Council members from taking leadership posts in political parties. 

Without the stay of execution, he will not be able to vote on the Bar Council's new leadership in its annual general meeting next Saturday ....Sivarasa filed his application on Aug 8 in 2001 to prevent his disqualification as a member of the Bar Council, naming the Malaysian Bar and the government as respondents.- Malaysiakini, 13/3/2002, Sivarasa denied stay from disqualification as Bar Council member

Recently, this issue has come up in the trade union movement. Some say that incumbent Syed Shahir may have lost because many believe that it is best for the trade union movement that the leadership are actively involved in political parties.

The 61-year-old British-fathered Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is still bogged down on the question of whether it is right for its leaders to be active in political parties (especially opposition parties).

Or whether it should continue to remain "free, independent, democratic and responsible" as its British father John Alfred Brazier had preached way back in the late 1940s.

A few candidates vying for various positions in today's MTUC elections have so far stated only their personal preferences and have not moved any motion to bar MTUC from political involvement...- Malaysiakini, 29/12/2010,
No government will bother about MTUC

It is interesting that former president, Syed Shahir, was quoted in an article that looked into the history of MTUC and the trade union movement... What was interesting was that this chap was brought in by the British to de-politise the trade union movement...

It was in the aftermath of the declaration of the Emergency that the move to de-politicise the trade union movement began.

“The British brought in a chap called John Alfred Brazier to introduce a ‘new unionism’ in this country.

“It was then the stigma of ‘you can’t bring politics into the trade union’

Personally, I believe that there should be no law creating restrictions of who can and who cannot be leaders in any movement, including the trade union. At the end of the day, it is the members that elect - and when they do, I believe that they will take into consideration all factors and then cast their vote for their chosen candidates.

Anyway, do read the article

How a movement was re-made

Why is so little known about the exciting period in Malaysia’s history covered in Fahmi Redza’s Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka? Could it be because a vital element of those years was completely made over, thus losing continuity?

THE history of Malaysia’s organised labour movement is not a particularly militant one. General strikes are few and far between, and our trade unions are not feared entities as they often are in developed countries.

Nonetheless, there have been periods in our country’s history when the workers’ movement has been at the forefront of political development, none more so than the volatile situation in the late 1940s.

Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) President Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, 54 (pic), is a keen student of trade union history and speaks with pride of the role that the labour movement played in pressing the British colonialists to concede independence to Malaya.

“You simply cannot exclude the participation of trade unions and workers from a discussion of the independence struggle,” explained Syed Shahir in an interview at Wisma MTUC earlier this week.

“Even prior to world War II, there was some union activity in Malaya, with the first union, the Selangor Engineering Mechanics Association, being registered in 1928.

”Following the Japanese defeat in 1945, however, there was a tremendous increase in awareness among the Malayan working class, and many rushed to organise.

“It is true that some of these leaders were linked with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) but it must be remembered that at the end of World War II, the party was respected for its fight against the Japanese and was operating legally.”

It is important to recall the circumstances of the time, Syed Shahir feels.

Union activity began as early as 1928, when the first union was registered. – Photo courtesy of FAHMI REZA
After 1945, there were strong independence movements led by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawarhal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose in India; Sukarno in Indonesia; Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam; Aung San in Burma; and many more.

These countries gained a form of independence within three years of the end of the war and the fever caught on in Malaya and Singapore, he says.

The Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU) was particularly active in pressing the colonial masters. In 1946, it cofounded the All Malayan Council of Joint Action (AMCJA) along with a number of disparate groups that included the MIC then led by John Thivy and the Malayan Democratic Union (which has been described as a front organisation of the Communist Party of Malaya.

Tun Tan Cheng Lock, the first MCA president, was also a leader of this progressive movement that aimed to press for independence as well as citizenship rights for all those who lived in Malaya, whether they were born in China, India, Indonesia or Malaya itself.

The politicisation of the work force that was supplying Britain with much needed tin and rubber scared Britain’s Labour Government of the day, which had ironically sent trade unionists S.S. Awbery and F.W. Dalley to help Malayan unions in their work. After a particularly debilitating general strike on Oct 20, 1947, the British government had clearly had enough.

Within a few months, the Emergency had been declared, and the CPM was fighting a vicious guerrilla war against the British (the Emergency lasted until 1960).

“The Emergency crippled the worker’s movement,” laments Syed Shahir. “Thousands of unionists and progressive-minded politicians like Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako) and Ahmad Boestamam were detained at places like Tanjung Beruas in Malacca. “Some PMFTU leaders, like Lu Chang, were deported back to China. Two PMFTU presidents, S.A. Ganapathy and P. Veerasenan, met violent deaths, the former being hanged after being found guilty of possessing a revolver.

Crucially, the PMFTU itself – which grouped together over 100 unions (with the alleged support of over 300,000 members) and succeeded in unionising a very high percentage of the work force (21%) – was deregistered.

The disruptive general strike called by the unions in 1947 probably prompted the British colonial Government to introduce a new form of unionism that was not politicised. – Photo courtesy of FAHMI REZA
It was in the aftermath of the declaration of the Emergency that the move to de-politicise the trade union movement began.

“The British brought in a chap called John Alfred Brazier to introduce a ‘new unionism’ in this country.

“It was then the stigma of ‘you can’t bring politics into the trade union’ emerged, which, to me, is silly. Quite simply, the two go hand in hand,” says Syed Shahir indignantly.

Former MTUC vice-president K. George is, at 88, one of those veterans who combined trade unionism with political activity.

“You can’t separate one from the other. I believe it is the birthright of any citizen to belong to any organisation.

“It is true that there were many Communists who were in the trade unions at that time, but while some were promoting a violent struggle, many wanted to work through the democratic system to improve the conditions of the common man.

“They were denied that right by the British.” Fortunately, it was at this point that another umbrella body for trade unions was established.

In February 1949, the MTUC itself was established under the presidency of legendary unionist Datuk P.P. Narayanan.

It is a sign of the progressive views held by Datuk Onn Jaafar and Tun Tan Cheng Lock (then Umno and MCA presidents respectively) that both men were present at the inaugural delegates conference that saw the labour movement relaunched - Star, 26/8/2007, How a movement was re-made

Saturday, January 29, 2011

BN's Gift to Bentong - 6,000 GM Mosquitoes released without even letting the people know...

Another stupid move by the UMNO-led BN government to release 6,000 genetically modified mosquitoes  into the environment - and guess what, Bentong, Pahang is the target. Have they not seen Jurassic Park - and we all know that the dangers of genetically modified animals, insects, etc into the environment. In fact, the introduction of any new species into a particular environment is not something that is without its consequences and risks. [Read below the Open Letter to the Government, and also 10 things you must know about GM Mosquitoes...

If the people of Bentong and Pahang knew that they will be site for this 'trial', I am sure that they would have protested. So they released it - and then killed it by fogging. Are you sure you killed all 6,000 mosquitoes....did you count the dead? I am sure that many would have survived - and there will surely be consequences.

Why Bentong? Was it payback for faithfully voting for the BN all these years? Even, if there was going to be any field tests  " detect the insects' flight range and survivability in the wild....", surely it could have been done in some inhabited island, which Malaysia has a lot.

PETALING JAYA: The Institute for Medical Research (IMR) released about 6,000 genetically-modified (GM) Aedes aegypti mosquitoes last month in a test to detect the insects' flight range and survivability in the wild.

IMR said in statement that the the mosquitos were released in an uninhabited forest near Bentong, Pahang on Dec 21.

"The experiment was concluded on Jan 5 and fogging was done on Jan 6. IMR will monitor the area for up to 2 months," the statement said.

The field trial had raised concerns from NGOs. The Government approved the trial after several tests were carried out. - Star, 26/1/2011, 6,000 GM mozzies released in Bentong


17 December 2010

Y.B. Dato’ Sri Liow Tiong Lai, Minister of Health
Y.B. Dato Sri Douglas Uggah Embas, Minister of Natural Resources & Environment
Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr Hj Mohd. Ismail bin Merican, Director General of Health
Dato’ Zoal Azha bin Yusof, Secretary General, Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment and Chairperson, National Biosafety Board (NBB)
Mr Letchumanan Ramatha, Director General of Biosafety
Dr Shahnaz Murad, Director, Institute of Medical Research (IMR)
Dr Ahmad Parveez Hj. Ghulam Kadir, Chairperson, Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC)

Re: Open letter from Malaysian NGOs on genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

We, the undersigned organizations of Malaysia, representing the public health, environmental, consumer and other movements, are very concerned by the recent approval to release genetically modified (GM) male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes OX513A(My1), for the purpose of a field experiment. We are even more worried that the field releases may have already happened, without adequate notification or information provision to the public. We urge the government to be transparent on the issue and to immediately disclose the details and specific sites of the releases.

1. Risky approach to dengue control
While dengue is a very serious problem in Malaysia and needs to be urgently addressed, going down the GM path takes us into risky territory. Genetic engineering often results in unintended effects. We do not know enough about the GM mosquitoes and how their interactions with non-GM mosquitoes in the wild, other species in the ecosystem, the dengue virus and human populations, will be affected.

There are several health and environmental risks associated with the field releases. For example, a small proportion of the GM larvae will survive – some of which would be female – despite claims that the technology is safe because the larvae will die. As female mosquitoes bite humans and transmit disease, has the risk of an increased disease burden been assessed? The surviving GM larvae would also lead to the persistence of the GM genes in the environment, with unknown consequences.

2. Field trials a first step to large-scale release
Although the field releases are characterized as small-scale and limited, we are extremely concerned that they are but one step in a technological approach to dengue control that is based on dependency and ‘locking-in’. At the commercial release stage, the continuous release of millions of GM mosquitoes at several places in Malaysia would be needed in order to successfully suppress mosquito populations. The risks would be greatly amplified at such large numbers.

One serious concern is the likely possibility that other closely related and disease-transmitting species would take over the ecological niche of Aedes aegypti once its populations are successfully reduced. This would continue to cause, or even worsen, the dengue problem and may even cause a rise in other mosquito-borne diseases.

While we realize that large-scale and eventual commercial releases would have to undergo a separate approvals and risk assessment process, the government cannot afford to ignore the implications of going down the GM path and must consider these concerns, even at this early stage.

3. In the public or private interest?
We understand that Oxitec Limited, a UK-based company, holds the patents on the technology used in these GM mosquitoes. While Oxitec will presumably collect rewards for their invention, will they bear the liability should anything go wrong?

A review of Oxitec’s accounts (available from Companies House, which is the UK government agency responsible for registering limited companies) shows that it made losses in 2008 and 2009 of £1.7 million a year. While Oxitec has received grants for its research, it is clear that the company expects to gain income from continual releases of GM mosquitoes in large numbers in several countries.

4. Our demands

a. As citizens of Malaysia, we demand a wider and broader public debate on the issue than there has been to date. This field experiment will have tremendous implications for Malaysia’s health and environment. There must be a national discussion as to whether GM mosquitoes are indeed the right approach to address dengue. The general public are integral to effective dengue control and there must be consensus on this issue.

b. The prior informed consent of the communities living in and around the proposed field release sites must be obtained. This means that they must also have the potential risks of the study adequately explained to them, and information about the sources of funding and any possible conflicts of interest provided.

c. We ask the government to call off the experiment and field releases of the GM mosquitoes, and to instead invest in safer approaches to addressing dengue.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

1. Centre for Environment, Technology & Development, Malaysia (CETDEM)
2. Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP)
3. Institute for Development of Alternative Living (IDEAL)
4. Malaysia Youth and Students Democratic Movement (DEMA)
5. Parti Sosialis Malaysia - Cameron Highlands Branch
6. Penang Suya Meiyarivagam
7. Persatuan Kakitangan Akademik Universiti Malaya (PKAUM)
8. Persatuan Karst Malaysia
9. Persatuan Kebajikan Nelayan-Nelayan Pantai Pulau Pinang (Penang Inshore Fishermens' Welfare Association)
10. Persatuan Pengguna-Pengguna Pahang (PAC)
11. Persatuan Pengusaha Pertanian Kecil Felda Chini, Pekan, Pahang (Chini Smallholders Network)
12. Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN-AP)
13. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)
14. Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA)
15. Secretariat Ulama Assembly of Asia (SHURA)
16. SOS-Selangor
17. Southeast Asian Council for Food Security & Fair Trade (SEACON)
18. Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
19. Sustainable Development Network (SUSDEN)
20. TERAS Pengupayaan Melayu
21. Third World Network (TWN)
22. Treat Every Environment Special S/B (TrEES)
23. Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM)

10 things you should know about GM mosquitoes

The National Biosafety Board (NBB) has recently approved an application from the Institute for Medical Research (IMR) to release genetically modified (GM) male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. IMR wants to conduct field experiments in Bentong and Alor Gajah to see how far the males fly and how long they live for.

The aim of this GM technology is for the GM male mosquitoes to mate with wild female mosquitoes. They are genetically modified so that most of their offspring die before becoming adults. The hope is that this will reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the dengue virus, and hence reduce incidences of dengue fever.

1. Genetic engineering/modification can often give rise to unintended and unpredictable effects. These risks should not be underestimated. There are still many unanswered questions regarding the safety of the GM mosquitoes.

2. There is very little knowledge and experience with these GM mosquitoes and some scientists are worried about their impacts on health and the environment. A few of these scientists made submissions raising concerns, to the NBB and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The lack of agreement, even among scientists, as to the safety of this technology means that we should be more cautious about the releases.

3. The proposed field experiments are very likely to be repeated a number of times, so large numbers of the GM mosquitoes will be released in total. The release at both uninhabited and inhabited sites would involve either approximately 2,000-3,000 GM mosquitoes a day for two consecutive days, or a single release of approximately 4,000-6,000 GM mosquitoes. Assuming that these numbers apply to the two sites and two phases at each site (inhabited and uninhabited), this means that a total of 16,000-24,000 GM mosquitoes could be released into the environment of Malaysia. This figure would be much higher if the experiments are repeated.

4. There is no absolute guarantee that only male GM mosquitoes will be released. IMR will have to mechanically and manually sort out the male pupae from the female pupae before release. At the large numbers needed for the experiment(s), there could be mechanical or human error. Since it is the female mosquitoes that bite humans and may transmit disease, this is a concern.

5. Some of the GM larvae that are ‘programmed to die’, will survive. The offspring produced when the GM male mosquitoes mate with wild females are supposed to die. However, a small percentage of the larvae will survive (3-4 percent survived in the lab). Some of the survivors would be females. Survival of the GM larvae also means that the introduced foreign genes may not be completely removed from the environment, with unknown consequences.

6. If the GM mosquitoes become part of Malaysia’s dengue control strategy, millions of GM mosquitoes would have to be released on a continuous basis. As mosquitoes reproduce continually, releases will have to be made frequently, probably on a weekly basis, to suppress the mosquito population. It has been suggested that 100 million to a billion GM mosquitoes should be stockpiled for a given project.

7. The GM technology used in the mosquitoes is owned by a foreign company, UK-based Oxitec Limited. Oxitec holds global patents on this technology. It stands to gain from the continued release of the GM mosquitoes. It has recently been facing financial losses, and hence may be under pressure to get its products approved.

8. If the GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are reduced in number in the long-term, there may be an increase in another mosquito species, Aedes albopictus, which also transmits dengue as well as chikungunya in Malaysia.
This is the way nature works – when one species is reduced, another will take its place.

9. This will be the second release of these GM mosquitoes in the world – why should Malaysia’s people and environment be guinea pigs? There have been field trials carried out in the Cayman Islands in 2009 and 2010 of this same GM mosquito. However, the environment (both ecological and human) there is completely different from Malaysia’s. We cannot extrapolate from those releases to the Malaysian situation. There has yet to be a full, publicly-available evaluation of the risk assessment and monitoring reports from the Cayman Islands’ experiments.

10. The inhabitants of the release sites have a right to say ‘No’ to these experiments. One of the terms and conditions of the approval is that it is mandatory that IMR obtains the prior consensus and approval from the inhabitants in the release site through a public forum.

Friday, January 28, 2011

If Navindran did not torture-kill Kugan, which police officer did it? Or was the BN govt not serious about justice?

A. Kugan's died in police custody after being tortured by the police. Police officer was the investigating officer of Kugan's death. Finally, one police officer was charged in court ...and then the court just acquitted the said police officer of two counts of causing grievous hurt, without even calling the defence.
Sessions Court judge Aslam Zainuddin ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the accused.
I seriously doubt that there was even an independent investigation, that was pursued aggressively. Why? The accused was a police officer...the investigator was a police officer....the witnesses to the 'torture' at the police station would have all been brother-sister police officers. That is why we need some independent body, not the Police, to come in and investigate - the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC)

Then, there was the prosecution - did they even ensure that a thorough investigation was done and that there were sufficient evidence. If there was insufficient evidence, why proceed to trial. Was it just to show that the UMNO-led BN government cared....? Or was it just to stop the cries of justice for Kugan?  It is also disturbing that the Kugan death in custody trial was not thoroughly covered by the media - i.e. both mainstream and alternative media. Maybe, the next time SUARAM or some human rights organisation will ensure that the trial is not only covered but that regular updates be circulated. If it was Anwar or some political personality - then it will be covered. Compare also the coverage of Teoh Beng Hock and compare the coverage of A.Kugan's case...

Well, previously the UMNO-led BN government would have just not investigated and/or prosecuted .... now they do charge them in court, and then 'poorly' prosecute - and the court acquits the person charged and tried... it certainly looks better for the BN government, but it is just as bad as before - no even worse than before, because a person tried and acquitted by court for an offence cannot again be re-charged later with the same offence.  

And guess what, our Sessions Judge did not even give reasons for his decision. So was there even good grounds... Did the judge here also was unhappy that prosecution did not call material witnesses, or maybe called some witnesses that should never have been called...
I wonder whether we can still trust our Public Prosecutors in Malaysia - maybe, option should be available for victim's (or their family) should have an option to choose their own prosecutor....and maybe also be permitted to do their own investigations...

I am disappointed by the state of affairs of the criminal justice system - and call for it to be transformed into something better...and, maybe we may need a change of government for that....maybe not.

Eric Chia

The judge said the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the former managing director of Perwaja Steel Sdn Bhd.

In his 30-page oral judgment, he went on to fault the prosecution in every aspect of the case, from the way the main charge and alternative charge were proffered right to the tendering of documents, and its failure to call crucial witnesses.

Akhtar said the most glaring setback was the prosecution’s failure to call two material witnesses, who would have been able to confirm whether payment was needed for the technical assistance agreements (TAA) signed between Perwaja Rolling Mill Development and NKK Corporation.

He said former Perwaja company secretary R.R. Durai Rajasingam, who was involved in all Perwaja’s contracts, would have known the actual contents of the TAA.

“Yet the prosecution never called him. The question is why? I see nothing to say that he would be a hostile witness or give evidence against them.”

The judge also questioned the prosecution’s reluctance to call the five Japanese witnesses, including NKK Corporation, Japan, director N. Otani, who was present at the signing of the TAA in Japan in 1993....

....He said the prosecution failed to lead any evidence to show fabrication of that document, which it contended.- Star, 27/6/2007, Eric Chia acquitted of CBT
Kasitah Gaddam's case...

Former land and cooperative development minister Tan Sri Kasitah Gaddam was acquitted and discharged by the High Court here of committing corrupt practice and cheating involving shares belonging to the Sabah Land Development Board (SLDB) in 1996.

Judge Justice Suraya Othman ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case on both charges for the court to call Kasitah to enter his defence.

“The essential ingredients of both the offences of corrupt practice and cheating were not made out on the facts before the court....
...Justice Suraya said the failure of the prosecution in not calling six board members who were present in the meeting was detrimental to the case as it had created a big gap over the question of whether the board members were actually cheated by the accused.

She also said that evidence by lawyer cum board member Catherine Yong was very damaging as she did not indicate that Kasitah had misused his position or influence her or other board members during the meeting.

Besides that, the judge said there was no element of inducement on the part of Kasitah to the board members.- Star, 13/8/2009, Kasitah freed of corruption charges
Some police officer -
PETALING JAYA: Police constable Navindran Vivekanandan, 30, was acquitted by the Sessions Court over two counts of causing grievous hurt to suspected car thief A.Kugan (pic), who died in police custody in 2009.

His defence was not called.

Sessions Court judge Aslam Zainuddin ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the accused.

On hearing the verdict, Kons Navindran said he was happy and thankful to God.

He said he was looking forward to returning to the police force where he has served for 10 years.

Kons Navindran,who was attached to the Subang Jaya district police station, is alleged to have committed the offence against the 22-year-old to extort a confession or information which might have led to the detection of an offence or misconduct.

He was accused of causing grievous hurt to Kugan, then 23, at the interrogation room of the Taipan police station in USJ, Subang Jaya, between 7am and 4pm on Jan 16 last year.

He was charged under Section 331 of the Penal Code which provides for a maximum jail term of 10 years and a fine, upon conviction.

He had also pleaded not guilty to two alternative charges of causing hurt to Kugan under Section 330 of the Penal Code.

Kugan’s death highlighted the number of deaths in police custody and triggered widespread public outcry over police brutality.

Eleven rank and file policemen were transferred to desk duty at the Selangor police headquarters.

The first post-mortem said the cause of Kugan's death was water in the lungs leading to sudden death.
Photographs online, however, showed Kugan had suffered serious injuries.

His family demanded and got a second post-mortem, which indicated differences in the actual cause of death.
The trial, went on for 25 days from Feb 18 with the prosecution offering 24 witnesses. - Star, 28/1/2011, Kugan custodial death case: Cop acquitted of causing hurt

PETALING JAYA: The Sessions Court here today ruled that Constable V Navindran be discharged and acquitted of causing grievous hurt to suspected car thief A Kugan two years ago.
Justice Aslam Zainuddin said that Navindran was not required to enter his defence at the end of the prosecution case this morning.
He added that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the constable.
Navindran, 28, faced two counts of causing grievous hurt to Kugan, 23, at the D9 interrogation room at the Taipan police station, Subang Jaya, at 7am on Jan 16, 2009. The offences carry a maximum 10 years jail and a fine on conviction.
Navindran also faced two alternative charges of causing hurt to Kugan at the same place and time, which carry a maximum seven years jail and a fine on conviction.
Earlier in the trial, witnesses have testified that Navindran had beaten Kugan with a rubber hose even when it was not his turn to interrogate the suspect.
The decision today is not expected to sit down well with Kugan’s family members who want those responsible for his death to be punished.
Navindran later told reporters that he will return to work at Taipan police station.
“I would like to thank my lawyer and the court,” he said.
DPP Abazafree Mohd Abbas later confirmed that the prosecution was awaiting orders from the Attorney-General’s Chambers on whether to appeal against the decision.
On Jan 14, Kugan, from Puchong, was arrested to facilitate investigations into a luxury car theft syndicate. Six days later, he was dead.
Family members who stormed the mortuary found Kugan’s body riddled with severe lacerations. But the first post-mortem concluded that Kugan had died as a result of fluid accumulation in the lungs.
The family then commissioned a second post-mortem, which disclosed that the deceased was burnt, beaten and starved during detention. - Free Malaysia Today, 28/1/2011, Kugan’s case: Constable walks free

PETALING JAYA: Police constable V. Navindran (pic) is a free man.

He was this morning acquitted of two counts of causing grievous hurt to A. Kugan while the latter was in police custody two years ago.

Sessions judge Aslam Zainuddin found 30-year-old Navindran not guilty citing the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against him.

Navindran was acquitted without his defence being called.

The policeman claimed trial on Oct 1, 2009 to the charge, under Section 331 of the Penal Code, of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to detainee Kugan, 23, at a Taipan police station interrogation room in USJ, Subang Jaya at 7am on Jan 16, 2009.

He was accused of committing the offense while trying to extract a confession from the victim, who had been detained in connection with the theft of luxury cars.

Kugan died in the station lock-up on Jan 20, 2009, five days after being detained. Two post-mortem  examinations were conducted and the second revealed Kugan had been beaten, burnt and starved prior to his death.

Navindran, represented by counsel Datuk P.M. Nagarajan, escaped a possible maximum jail term of 10 years and a fine.

Navindran had pleaded not guilty to two alternative charges under Section 330 of the Penal Code to causing hurt to Kugan at the same time and place.

A total of 24 witnesses were called to testify in the trial which started on Feb 18 last year.

Deputy public prosecutor Mohd Abazafree Mohd Abbas prosecuted. - Malay Mail, 28/1/2011, A. Kugan's assault trial: Cop freed

The Petaling Jaya Sessions Court today acquitted 28-year-old police constable V Navindran charged with causing grievous hurt to detainee A Kugan, without his defence being called.

Sessions judge Aslam Zainuddin said the prosecution had failed to prove a prima facie case against the accused.

"Hence, the accused is acquitted and discharged," he announced.

v navindranNavindran, had claimed trial on Oct 1, 2009 to a charge of causing grievous hurt to the 23-year-old victim, who died in custody from alleged police torture.

He was alleged to have committed the offence at the interrogation room of the Taipan police station in USJ-Subang Jaya at 7am on Jan 16, 2009.

The charge under Section 331 of the Penal Code carries a jail term of 10 years and a fine upon conviction.

Navindran also pleaded not guilty to two alternative charges under Section 330 of the Penal Code to causing hurt to Kugan at the same time and place.

The 25-day trial, which started on Feb 18, 2010, saw 24 witnesses taking the stand.

Navindran was represented by PM Nagarajan while the prosecution was led by DPP Mohd Abazafree Mohd Abbas.

The post-mortem report had revealed that 22-year-old Kugan had endured severe beatings and was also starved during his incarceration.

Kugan, died under mysterious circumstances and his body was placed at the Serdang Hospital when outraged family members and two deputy ministers barged into the mortuary.
The controversy over his death resulted in Navindran being charged.
Cop hopes to resume duty
Navindran, when met outside the court, said he was elated by the decision.

"I want to thank family members for their support and my lawyers for helping me in this case. I hope to resume my duties at the police station soon,” said the constable, who is attached to the police's D9 serious crimes unit.

Navindran was suspended from duty after he was charged in October 2009.

Despite allegations that more than one police officer were involved in the Kugan beating, only Navindran was hauled to court.- Malaysiakini, 28/1/2011, Cop in Kugan's case acquitted