Saturday, 7 March 2015

Pak Engku - The Down to Earth Accountant

Just imagine when you were the new kid on block and the youngest of them all. How would you feel when you were surrounded by more senior people, may who were known for their achievements and contributions to the country? Intimidated?

That was how I felt when joining the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) council for the first time in 2000. However, to my surprise, many of them were humble and nice, notwithstanding their stature in the society. Different from many people out there who have not achieved much but behave as if the whole world owe them a lot.

One of the personalities that provided me with many insights, wisdom, guidance and support when I was involved in the accountancy profession was Raja Dato' Seri Abdul Aziz Raja Salim or more fondly known as Pak Engku. He was the only person that had the privilege of being both the Director General of Inland Revenue and later the Accountant General. I believe this record would not be broken forever. Having him on the Council was helpful indeed, especially when we had to deal with the government and public sector.

Not only Pak Engku was very approachable, he was very forthcoming in sharing his experiences, something which I treasure until today. By helping me to understand the contexts of certain events in the past, Pak Engku provided me with the right perspectives and insights which were relevant in my work at the MIA and in dealing with the society at large.

Honesty and integrity were characters which Pak Engku was associated with. Pak Engku had been very consistent in demonstrating that those values could be applied in the work that we do, irrespective of where we are in the hierarchy of the society.  I suppose people in his generation understood the meaning of nation building differently than many of us today. Many of them were involved in the setting up of many institutions which became the pillars of our society until today. Under those situation, having the best interest of the society in mind would be important than trying to promote self-interests.

We used to travel together to the ASEAN Federation of Accountants (AFA) Council meetings where both of us were council members. Certainly he was well respected by his peers in the region and when the council were having difficulties to address certain delicate issues, views from Pak Engku would carried weight in the final decisions. Whenever we travelled, we will have coffee after dinner together with his wife, fondly known as Mak Engku. This was when we shared many stories around the profession and society, conversations which were rich in insights and wisdom. In fact, what I learnt during these coffee sessions were really helpful later in my life.

Let me share a bit about Pak Engku and Mak Engku. They were certainly a very loving couple although as with many others they tend to have different views on many things. However, their love and affection to one another were obvious. There was an incident in Bangkok when we decided to explore night shopping and agreed to meet at a particular place. They were split and I was with Mak Engku. Somehow, we did not meet the other group where Pak Engku was with. Mak Engku decided to proceed with our plan. We did not realise that Pak Engku was so worried that he went back to the hotel and waited for Mak Engku at the lobby. We only realised this when we reached the hotel and saw him waiting anxiously. Both were great singers and they would never disappoint us at karaoke sessions which were the norms during AFA Council meetings those days.

Pak Engku was called back by his Creator on 4 March 2015. Certainly it was a great loss to the country. A towering Malaysian with honest heart, somebody like him will be difficult to replaced. إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَSurely we belong to Allah and surely to Him we shall return. It was an honour to know him and be guided by his wisdom and insights. 

اللهم اغْفِرْ لَهُ وارْحَمهُ وعافِهِ واعفُ عنه

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Building a Nation

A friend of mine who is a Chartered Accountant from Australia (his father was also a Chartered Accountant from Australia!) forwarded me with number of old newspaper articles regarding the Colombo Plan, an initiative to advance the social and economic status of people from South East Asia.

It was very interesting that accountancy was identified as a profession which is important in nation building. Hence, under the Colombo Plan, quite a number of young Malays from Malaysia was sent to Australia to pursue the Chartered Accountancy qualification. 

Given that NO CONCESSION was given to these young Malaysians, they were selected based on their potential. Way back in the 50's, when globalisation was yet to be a concern and the need to be competitive was not as critical as today, these young Malays were expected to achieve the same standards as those Chartered Accountants in Australia. 

It is very difficult for me not to acknowledge the progressiveness of the thinking of out forefathers in building this nation. To be successful, one has to attain REAL COMPETENCY and COMPETENCY CANNOT BE FAKED through nice soundings qualification when the underlying substance were never tested and proven.

Fast forward into the future and more than 60 years later, we are still struggling to decide whether accountants here should demonstrate their competency before being recognised as one! 

If we consider the earlier batches of Malays who pursued and attained their professional qualification in Australia under the Colombo Plan, they did not disappoint the nation. Many were involved in the setting up of many institutions which are the pillars of our society today. Some when into public accountancy and were the pioneers in setting up what presently known as the Big-4 firms. Others went into entrepreneurship and some ended up as successful entrepreneurs or professional managers.

Nation building is tough and it requires people who are capable and have the ability to compete with the best. Once we pitch our people just to be the average Joe, the risks of complacency and mediocrity would be amplified and as a nation we could lose our competitiveness.

Let's have some ideas about the Colombo Plan on accountancy from these newspaper cuttings.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

When The Flood Recedes, What Do We Do?

There is no further need to discuss about the extent of damages caused by the recent flooding at the East Coast. Kelantan is one of the affected states and also one of the worst affected. As I am writing, the extent of the damages is still being counted (I hope) by the authorities (plural emphasised!).

There is no doubt of the citizenship spirits being demonstrated by ordinary Malaysians in helping those affected. I am sure many people received donations, assistance and help from people who they do not know or even met in their lives before. The volunteer themselves distributed goods donated by those who remained faceless, using facilities e.g. helicopters and 4x4 vehicles that came from nowhere. The faces of the donors will remain faceless and won't appear on tv or even social media.

While there are still places and people where food and other needs are still required, there will be a stage where more serious thinking (I am not seeing that being demonstrated, perhaps because we cannot see what in people's mind) need to be demonstrated and executed.

The victims could be classified into several categories. Those who lost their houses, those with houses but lost everything else, those whose source of income disappeared and those who can't move on with their lives because those around them fall into the earlier categories. Each of them would require different kind of assistance and this is where data and information become important. Unfortunately, this task would have to be taken by people with authorities, no amount of volunteerism could make up any shortcoming of those with power.

I am not sure how much is being worked on the re-construction stage of this continuing episode. For those who lost everything, how would they re-start their  lives? Would they be building their homes at the same spot where their houses were built, at the low level areas which are flooded year-in and year-out? Could they be moved to higher grounds? Do they need to pay for the land? Wow, so many questions! I managed to ask one of them about when would they be rebuilding their homes. The answer was very simple, "We had been rebuilding our homes a number of times and they kept on being destroyed when it flooded. Each time we build, it would cost us RM 30,000 to RM 40,000. We had given up!".

Many of us would be able to recall the song Bangau Oh Bangau. It is about finding the cause of a thin stork, which the blame eventually fall on the snake. Honestly, I have not seen any Bangau in Kuala Krai or it's surrounding area but I also hope that this song is not going to be played and replayed as well.

Friday, 2 January 2015

When Malaysians Come Together (Updated)

Without fail Malaysians will demonstrate their citizenship commitments when there is a need. This is more obvious when unfortunate events occur, when their fellow citizen brothers and sisters have to cope with challenges beyond their control.

The major flood which hit the east coast of Malaysia, especially Kelantan has created opportunities for Malaysians to come together again. Instead of just expressing their sadness on social media, many turn up themselves with all sort of relief goods to be given to those experiencing difficulties. The road leading to Kuala Krai was jammed with cars, lorries and 4x4 transporting relief goods and volunteers.

The extent of catastrophe this time around is beyond the experience of the past. Many had to leave their homes at the very last minute, when the water was rushing into their home, as they thought that they were on safe grounds, as before. Many lost their homes which were swept away and many more lost their valuables. Worse, while the water had receded days ago, some are still without proper meals and basic hygienic utilities. Electricity and water have not been reconnected because many electric sub-stations and water pumping stations were out of commissioned due to the flood.

If you were at ground zero, you will be amazed with the spirit of being Malaysians being manifested by people from all walk of life. Relief goods are arriving from everywhere, sent by so many people from all parts of the country and the roads leading to the affected areas were jammed with so many 4x4 and other vehicles ferrying goods and volunteers. While there were helicopters ferrying the same, many individuals and corporations hired helicopters to help out. It was sad when I was informed at one stage, aviation fuel was lacking.

A lot more could be written about this episode of flooding but not enough words would be able to record the sense of brotherhood being displayed but suffice to say that we, Malaysians, do have big hearts and could be counted on when needed.

Perhaps we could have more of this during peace time, when more efforts need to be provided to strengthen key public institutions which are critical for the society to be taken care of. As a country we need to be competitive. We cannot rely on historical service level and performance standards to address future demands and needs of our fellow Malaysians. Clearer exit policies for civil servants who clearly fail to perform must be made transparent and strictly enforced. It is not worth spending taxpayers money on people who only warn their official chairs but fail to deliver when the people on the street (kampungs included) really need the services.

More contributions would be needed to held the unfortunate Malaysians to move on with their lives after the flood. Kept on being Malaysians and let's live the Malaysian spirit.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Awaited "Boh"

I was brought up in the heart of Kota Bharu, the capital of Kelantan at the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (or Malaya based on the Malaysian Agreement). When my parents were serving the government in Machang in the south, I was with my grandparents (my mom's untie and her husband - Nenek and Atok) who were childless but were responsible in bringing up few other family members will full of love and affection.

Located at the Kelantan delta, towards the sea, flooding was a natural phenomena. Flood is referred to as "Boh" in the Kelantanese dialect. It normally occurs when the North-East monsoon which blows from November until March bringing heavy rain to the highlands in the south and causing high waves which slows the flow of water form the Kelantan river into the South China Sea.

Without much knowledge of weather forecasting or geography, many Kelantanese, Atok included, could read the weather patterns and guessed when the flood would arrive. We could also differentiate whether the flood was caused by local rain pour or from water flowing from the highlands based on the colour of the water. Atok, in his younger days, used to be a trader. He went to sell stuffs in Hulu Kelantan using bamboo raft and brought things back to Kota Bharu. I will write more about this wonderful Atok, a person who was very strict about honesty and integrity, later.

Boh is something which not considered evil to many Kelantanese, then. Perhaps there were more trees which could absorb the heavy rainfall and slowed the flow of the water from the south to the Kelantan delta. Now, as people pursue their millions, logging is one of the keys to wealth, both for the loggers and those with power to approve logging concessions.

When I was small, the colour of the Kelantanese river was blueish but now it is just like the "the tarik" as we know it. Even when those who are inclined to Islamic ideas are in power, I have not seen any changes in the logging practices in the highlands. Just wondering whether the Islam as believed by this group has no environmental protection element when Islam, as I understand it, treats environment protection as part of good governance, expected from any government. 

Flood or boh was celebrated as a sort of festivities, in most cases. I could hardly recall a time when they were catastrophic. I could still recall swimming in the cold flood water and most people would be moving around the flooded town with certain feeling of enjoyment. I was aware places which would be severely hit and people would need to be evacuated. Perhaps because these places were at the lowlands, we were not that sensitive to the sufferings of these unfortunate Kelantanese. Many senior Kelantanse would recall Boh Air Merah, one of the major floods where the colour of the water was reddish, as one of the severe ones which caused heavy damage in Kelantan.

It is very sad to know many parts of Kelantan are flooded this few days, amongst the worst in the history of the state. Just by knowing the level of the flood water in certain places, whether they are at knee, naval or chest levels, I could gauge the severity. I was told that many areas which were not flooded before are experiencing severe flooding. Many people are stranded without supply of food. How do I know this? I have friends on the ground sharing with me the real situations on the ground which are not reported on tv. This is how technology has made the difference when disasters occur. No longer realities could be painted differently.

One elements of flood is its predictability. While many will say, and I believe, that this is an act of god (what else happen without his command?), I can't accept any excuse that those who are in charge of flood relief were not able to prepare themselves earlier. It will always start with heavy rain but that alone is not enough to create a disaster. When the wind start to be stronger, we will start to worry. And then, there are places which will be flooded EVERY YEAR without miss, and as mentioned earlier, this happen only as a particular part of the year. Off course the severity could not be predicted but those who are paid to do the job has no excuse for not being prepared.

I salute Malaysians who have on their own accord arranged volunteer flood relief efforts, in addition to those from the authorities. This is also a new trend where volunteer works could outpace official efforts, in certain situations. When citizens have to take charge, what does this mean?

How do we know the worse would be over, when Chinese New Year comes, as simple as that.