Friday, 31 August 2012

Farewell Cikgu Nor Bibi

I just received the message that Cikgu Nor Bibi Abdullah has passed away this afternoon, succumbing to cancer. Innalillahi Wainnailahi Rajiuun. May Allah bless her and place her among the Mukminins and accord her the best place in paradise.

After our parents, the next group of people who care about us and were there when we needed them would be our teachers. I got to know Cikgu Nor Bibi when I was at a tender age at MRSM Kota Bharu. She was our BM teacher but beyond that she played the role as our mother, provided us with counsel,  advice and encouragement; in nurturing us to be responsible adults later in our lives. I am sure those who know Cikgu Nor Bibi, especially those who belonged to her homeroom, would be able to recall sweet memories with her and her fellow teachers.

This was the last time I met Cikgu Nor Bibi when we visited her after she recovered from a surgery. She insisted for this photo to be taken and she posted this of her Facebook profile.

From Kota Bharu, she went to many other MRSMs to share her knowledge and pursue her passion in seeing young souls growing up to be leaders, professionals and citizens that would continue the nation building efforts. From my recollection, she was the Pengetua of MRSM Kuala Krai and Pasir Tumbuh. Based on this, there would be hundreds if not thousands of alumni of the MRSM system who was touched by her kindness. She was proud with the achievements of her students. Given the attention that was given to her by them when she was fighting her illness, the bonding between her and her students were truly based on love and affection at the highest order.

She then became more of a friend to me and many of her former students. Whenever I was in Kota Bharu, I will try to visit her to keep our relationship warm. With Facebook, she was able to maintain her relationship with her former students, many of them who would refer to her affectionally as Ibu or mother. She will keep us updated everyday with postings about herself and her views and feelings. In many ways, she kept on reminding us of the values and ideas she taught when we were within her care as a teacher. Once a teacher, she was our teacher forever. I am sure many of us will miss her daily Facebook postings from today onwards.

Now she is into her next phase of her journey as a servant of Allah. A part from prayers, we as her students could also honour her by becoming members of the society who will give our best in whatever that we do. I trust all our good deeds in one way or another are influence by the values imparted by her.

Today, as we celebrate our 55th Merdeka, we are also sad with the passing of our beloved teacher, Cikgu Nor Bibi. May Allah accord her His utmost blessings, forgive all her misdeeds and may we see each other again in Jannah.

Other blogs posting on Cikgu Nor Bibi:

Sanjungan buat Cikgu Norbibi
Time in a Bottle: September Morn'

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Extreme Poverty Group

It was a talk organised in conjunction with our Merdeka celebration. Instead of reflecting on the achievements we made for the past 55 years, Royal Professor Engku Aziz or more fondly known as Pak Engku shared his thoughts on mitigating Extreme Poverty Group (EPG). 

The subject of poverty is almost synonymous with Pak Engku. Even Tabung Haji, the institution which enables Muslims in Malaysia to be involved in economic activities while saving their money to perform the Hajj (an obligation on all Muslims who could afford this once in their lifetime) was based on his research on how Muslims in the rural areas saved their money for the Hajj and became poor again after the religious obligations is fulfilled. As a side not, he shared the fact that despite the concept of Tabung Haji was predominantly based on his efforts, he was not given any role when the institution was established by the government.

Back to the issue of EPG, this is based on his idea that was published in The Edge in January this year. This group refers to a household earning less than RM800 per month, irrespective of where they live. The motivation behind his thoughts was that he felt nobody in Malaysia has come out with a comprehensive programme to mitigate the EPG. He shared his experience in the early days after the Merdeka with the then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, where Tunku felt that there was no poverty in Malaysia because he saw people were smiling and happy whenever he meet them. If this was the situation in those early days, the oversight could be amplified now as we have tall buildings and other megastructures which hides the EPG from our sight, literally.

Asked why he chose "mitigation" instead of "eradication" of EPG in his article, Pak Engku, who is now 90, was frank enough to recognised that at his age he has not much time left and mitigation is a realistic expectation that he has for his idea. Nevertheless, continuous mitigation could result in something close to eradication if consistently pursued as suggested.

While you could read the details of his view on EPG, the question before us is what would we do to address this real problem? Many of us are comfortable enjoying the fruits of our efforts arising from the opportunities available in this country and this success may blind us from the fact that there are many other Malaysians who are not as lucky as us.


A final point that is worthy to note here is that Pak Engku does not believe that artificial corporate responsibility activities and seasonal distribution of handouts (whenever popularity is needed as Pak Engku believes that Malaysians are smart enough now days to make decision based on their beliefs) would be effective in mitigating EPG. 

It was certainly a meaningful event for me, especially when I was able to interact directly with a person who is an institution on his own merit. Highly intellectual and full of integrity, Engku Aziz will be remembered for his strive to address the issue of poverty which is around despite us having the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur. May Allah bless him with guidance and peace.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Science of Science

Over the weekend the world lost an iconic person who's achievements would never be replicated again. The passing away of Neil Armstrong, the first person who set his foot on the moon, are mourned by people across the globe who are proud of his achievements. Armstrong would certainly be remembered for his humble remarks  “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Neil Armstrong's achievements is not just about being able to set foot on the moon. It represents the superiority of the Americans in acquiring and applying scientific knowledge over its competitors, especially the Soviet Union, its key rival those days. It also reflects the importance of mastering the science of science in pursuing innovation, which leads towards prosperity and economic growth. The technology the successful moon landing was able to be used and applied in many other disciplines such as healthcare and defence.

I recently attended a luncheon talk by Jeffrey Immelt, the Chairman and CEO of General Electrics (GE) on the subject of growth and innovation. Jeffrey reiterated the important of mastering the science of science as the only way to be successful in innovation, especially for a USD 120 billion dollar company such as GE. According to him, manufacturing would continue to be the sector that will drive growth globally, despite many economies are looking into services as the key driver for growth. He also shared how the lack of talents who could implement projects influence the success of many companies.

Given the importance of mastering science, it would be critical for us to reflect how much we are putting efforts in ensuring we are not left behind in building capacity to acquire and apply key technology. Is this high on the priority list of our enterprises or many of them are focusing the development of "know who" instead? If our mental model is about developing connection more and having technology and skills less, I am afraid whatever success that we have attained based on current practices would not be sustainable.

To my mind, size matters in this sort of game as investing in research and development requires huge financial resources and the ability of enterprises to absorb failures. Without financial capacity, a small unfavourable outcome would place them in great financial difficulty. Unless we build scale we would not be able to be a serious competitor and remain as users of other people's discovery instead.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Connecting Accountants in ASEAN

With a population of more than a-half billion people, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN is certainly an interesting market for businesses. What more when the ASEAN Economic Community project which will integrate the market of the 10 countries in ASEAN kicks in 2015.

Given the potential economic growth, it would be natural for the demand for accountants in the ASEAN region to grow in tandem. As accountants play their many roles in the value creation of businesses and other organisations, the supply of competent accountants would certainly influence economic growth. As more countries adopt International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for example, accountants who are IFRS conversant would be able to market their skills across many countries in the region. ASEAN has adopted a Mutual Recognition Arrangement Framework for accounting services in 2008 as a step to speed up the free movement of accounting services and people within the region.

At the moment, the ASEAN Federation of Accountants (AFA) is playing the role of an umbrella body for accounting associations in ASEAN. A part from deliberating on common issues among the profession, AFA is also involved in capacity building activities among its member countries. It organises a bi-annual conference which is rotated among the ASEAN capitals.

While institution to institution relationship is vital in developing the accounting profession as a whole, the people to people relationship is the one that moves real progress on the ground. Unless people are comfortable with the liberalisation exercise, efforts at the policy level may not result in tangible progress due to the resistance on the ground. Dealing people whom you know and trust would eliminate the fear and concern of the unknown and would smooth discussions of complex issues.

Realising this, the ASEAN Accountants Network has been established as a platform for accountants in ASEAN to connect, share views and thoughts and hopefully able to identify opportunities which serve their common interests. This should be viewed as complimenting the work done at the institution level such as through AFA. Leveraging on the social network platforms Facebook and Linkedin, ASEAN Accountants Network has started to pull many accountants in ASEAN to a platform where they would be able to enlarge their circle of influence, know new friends who have common interests and pursue common activities together, virtually for a start.

While this project has a long way to go before its impact could be recognise, small little baby steps now would certainly turn into giant step later. I would like to invite all accountants in ASEAN to join the platform and leverage on the membership to develop the accounting profession in the region.

Welcome to the ASEAN Accountants Network.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Sustaining Success

Muslims all around the world celebrate Eid Fitr (Aidil Fitri in Malaysia) after completing a month of fasting in Ramadhan. This is manifested in many ways, to a certain extent influenced by cultural contexts and practices of the society. From the cloth worn, food served and family visited, Eid Fitr bring the sense of joy to many societies around the world.

The question before us is whether Eid Fitr is the aim of fasting or it is a mere milestone? Observing how the day is celebrated nowadays, it appears that many people are treating Eid Fitr as a declaration of independence, where business as usual would again be the norm therefrom and all the teachings and practices of Ramadhan would be shelved until the next Ramadhan. If the basic teaching of Ramadhan is about self-restraint, definitely many of us would fail this test considering how much we eat on the first day of Eid Fitr.

Epictetus was quoted to have said, "All philosophy lies in two words, sustain and abstain". While certainly Islam is no mere philosophy, Ramadhan teaches Muslims to restraint themselves from the basics such as food for a certain period of time to attain blessings from Allah. However, Eid Fitr is many places, my house alike, is associated with the serving of certain food! Soem even recover their normal weight on the first few days of Eid Fitr although it took them the whole of Ramadhan to lose them in the first place.

As with many other places, festivities has become an opportunity for merchants to profit. Therefore, the society need to be conditioned to spend money whenever a festival season approaches. This includes introducing special offers and sales, joyous songs and many other signal which would subtly trigger the pending spirit in our brains. Off course all these would be camouflage with noble deeds and intentions so that we do not feel guilty of over spending or spending on something which are not necessary.

In Kuala Lumpur, Eid Fitr is celebrated around 45 days! We could start hearing songs which are related to Eid Fitr be played from the middle of Ramadhan. It gets more intense at Syawal (Eid Fitr is celebrated on the first of Shawal) approaches. Open houses (where family and friends are invited and served with food) will continue throughout the whole month of Syawal, especially during weekends. Even corporations will compete with one another to organise their open houses. One may receive three or four invitations on a day.

While there is nothing wrong in celebrating the ability to fulfil the demands of Ramadhan, it would be worthy to reflect their essence and whether Eid Fitr is a full stop, marking the end of such essence and teaching. In fact, matters such as governance, an important element in a modern society, is built upon sustain and abstain, as articulated by Epictitus.

Selamat menyambut Aidil Fitri. Taqabalallah Huminna Waminqum.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


For Muslims, Ramadhan is the month with plenty of blessings. In addition to observing the fast during the day, the nights of Ramadhan provide opportunities to the faithfuls to be closer to Allah through prayers, reciting the Quran and performing other deeds such as donating to the poor, etc. Given the promised multiple blessings and forgiveness, Ramadhan as a whole is a moth where Muslims have the vast opportunities possible to submit themselves to Allah. Blessings for sale, sort of.

Some may wonder why Muslims get excited during a month where they are required to abstain from eating and other worldly things such as sex during the day? I suppose the abstention reflects one's beliefs and his submission to Allah Almighty although throughout the day one has all the opportunities to fake his action. Faith flows from within the hearts and externalised through actions.

However, like many other places, local customs and norms could influence the behaviours of Muslims which may contradict the spirit of Ramadhan. In Malaysia, Ramadhan is synonymous with expensive Buka Puasa rituals in hotels and Muslims spending without thinking on food when breaking their fast. Towards the middle of Ramadhan, focus will shift to how to celebrate Aidil Fitri and people start to worry about the food to be served and clothing to be worn. In these excitements, the principles behind the fasting, praying and other deeds may be forgotten. 

Those with commercial interests would certainly see Ramadhan as a month of  opportunity as well, not that different from Christmas and New Year. We can't fault these commercial entities from exerting their influence through the media, turning Ramadhan into the month of holy spending and eating. How ironic!

Once we lost the meaning of things, we will be stuck at the ritual stage. Ritual is visible and people tend to focus more on what they could see rather than the essence.

Knowledge and education are certainly important for us in ensuring we really understand why we do what we do. Unfortunately, seeking knowledge on a continuing basis is not something that many people would be keen to do, Muslim included although seeking knowledge was the first command that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

On a personal basis, I am hoping this Ramadhan would be better than the last for me and each and every Muslims out there.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Competing with the same rules

Many people are excited about the Olympics. Many of us watch the sporting events which are telecast live into the comfort of our living rooms. In this age and time, we are able to watch athletes from all over the world competing for glory in London. I am not sure whether we are watching them on a real time basis or not as the regulators in Malaysia require some time lag so that they could do their duty to censor "sensitive" events and statements. Despite the achievements and delivery of promises over the years, Malaysians are still not smart enough to differentiate between truth and false and we require somebody with high moral values to do it for us. I suppose this is the only part where "Malaysia Tak Boleh".

Why Olympics is exciting? Why people celebrate when records are broken and re-written?

To me, the main reason for the excitement is that people from all over the world are competing with each other in all events using the same rules. No preferential treatment, subsidy or quota!

What if, for example, certain countries argue that their share of medals are not proportion to the number of people that the send to compete and demand that certain quota is put in place so that there is proportionality? What if the Greeks demand that they have the rights to win certain number of medal as it is indisputable that the Olympics were started by them? If these kind of demands are entertained, we could have a situation where the gold medal is awarded to an athlete who finished last in a race but coming from the right breed such as the Greeks.

If the above happens, there will be a different between an Olympics class athlete and World class athlete where the former may win without being the best and the latter need to be the best to win.

It is funny though when we reflect on how we were created in the first place. All of us participated in an "Olympics" when one of the millions of sperms ended up being fertilized in the womb of our mothers, where each of the sperm had the same opportunity to be successful. We are all winners. However, when we were born and grew up, our sense of selfishness dictates the way we want to win without being the best. We created quote, rights etc. We glorify the "subsidized winner" and accord them with many titles and symbols so that those who won using the same manner would not be inferior.

What will happen to the Olympics if there are preferential treatment accorded to certain privileged athletes? Will there be live telecasts, live or delayed?