Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Benson Principles: The building blocks of the accountancy profession

I was told about the speech by Lord Benson by Martyn Jones, the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales during his visit to Kuala Lumpur recently. The speech clearly provides the foundation of the accountancy profession which sometimes may not be understood by those who are in the leadership position of the profession itself.

Interestingly, Lord Benson mentioned the concept of public benefit, instead of public interest which we are accustomed to.

I trust accountants out there would benefit from this speech.

Myself with Martyn Jones and Ramesh Rajaratnam at the
welcoming dinner of the MIA Conference 2013
Hansard of the speech by Lord Benson at the House of Lords on 8 July 1992

My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest. I am a member of the accountancy profession and have been practising that profession for the past 66 years. Around eight years ago my profession set down what it believed were its obligations to the public. It is worth recounting them because they are the foundation on which all professions must be built and on which their futures depend. Moreover, any profession which follows those obligations will have no need to fear the future. The Government can always be satisfied that it is healthy.

The nine obligations to the public are these. First, the profession must be controlled by a governing body which in professional matters directs the behaviour of its members. For their part the members have a responsibility to subordinate their selfish private interests in favour of support for the governing body.

Secondly, the governing body must set adequate standards of education as a condition of entry and thereafter ensure that students obtain an acceptable standard of professional competence. Training and education do not stop at qualification. They must continue throughout the member's professional life.

Thirdly, the governing body must set the ethical rules and professional standards which are to be observed by the members. They should be higher than those established by the general law. Fourthly, the rules and standards enforced by the governing body should be designed for the benefit of the public and not for the private advantage of the members.

Fifthly, the governing body must take disciplinary action, including, if necessary, expulsion from 1209 membership should the rules and standards it lays down not be observed or should a member be guilty of bad professional work.

Sixthly, work is often reserved to a profession by statute —not because it was for the advantage of the members but because, for the protection of the public, it should be carried out only by persons with the requisite training, standards and disciplines. Seventh, the governing body must satisfy itself that there is fair and open competition in the practice of the profession so that the public are not at risk of being exploited. It follows that members in practice must give information to the public about their experience, competence, capacity to do the work and the fees payable.

Eighth, the members of the profession, whether in practice or in employment, must be independent in thought and outlook. They must be willing to speak their minds without fear or favour. They must not allow themselves to be put under the control or dominance of any person or organisation which could impair that independence. Ninth, in its specific field of learning a profession must give leadership to the public it serves.

It is one thing to define the obligations, it is another to see that they are observed. It is an unending battle for the members of my profession and its governing body to see that its 100,000 members observe those obligations at all times. There will never be perfection but the striving is there.

For my part I believe that on the whole the professions in this country have served the public well. I have only one reservation on that point. But as far as I know all of them seek to improve their standards year by year; to tighten their disciplines and to give better service to the public. The one reservation that I have is that in recent years I believe that some professions have paid too much attention to marketing themselves and selling themselves to the public.

That has been exacerbated—in fact it has been to some extent caused—by the doctrine of government which, as far as I can detect, regards the professions as an undesirable monopoly which must be broken open. These two factors together are unfortunate. I believe that they have damaged the image of the professions. Some of the members have fallen below the standard of professionalism which is necessary for the conduct of their profession. In short, some of the nine obligations are at risk.

If there is time I should like to mention five other subjects. The first is that I do not share the rosy views of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who in an earlier debate expressed great satisfaction with manufacturing industry in this country. For those who move in the inner circles of industry it is common ground that our manufacturing base is too small and has been diminishing for a long time. The average productivity in manufacturing is below that of our competitors. In that respect all the relevant professions, particularly my own and the numerous branches of the engineering profession, have something vital to contribute. All of them ought to 1210 concentrate on introducing a much higher standard of professionalism into the management of manufacturing industry than has been the case in the past.

The second point is one which I believe other noble Lords have mentioned tonight. I believe that a professional body, provided it observes the obligations which I have mentioned, should be self-regulating. In my experience the members who are engaged in the cut and thrust of professional practice every day of their lives and in open competition are the persons best fitted to set the standards for the profession and to see that they are observed by all of them.

The third point is that in my view all the professions should be guided by written standards. Several professions have not gone far enough in that respect. I believe that they should close the gaps in their armament. My own has been fairly active in that and has done a good deal. But it is an unending road—we shall never reach the end of it. We have been fortunate in that we have been able to establish an international code of accounting standards. That is a good step forward. It has been a help in assisting international finance and trade.

The fourth point is that everybody makes mistakes and the professions are not free of that. Errors of judgment arise, as does negligence in varying degrees of severity. Negligence must be punished. Of that I have no doubt. But the country is now developing into a litigious society and whenever there is a breath of an error of judgment or negligence actions for damages are immediately launched. Usually they are launched against the professions if they possibly can be because it is known that we are covered by insurance for the most part. These claims have become so extravagant and the legal cost involved in dealing with them so enormous that I believe that in due time they will have to be restricted by statute. If that does not happen we shall not be able to recruit into the professions the quality of person whom we want. Already America has found that it is unable to recruit in some professions for the reasons which I have just given.

The last point is this: I believe that in every profession the citizens should be allowed to join irrespective of colour, creed, class or money. Several of the professions have not been able to achieve that. I believe that they should direct their attention to it very carefully. We have only one bar in my profession and that is this: the standards we set require a certain quality of intellect before a member can join. He must also be subjected to a proper educational and training standard which we have defined. We can do nothing about intellectual capacity because that is a matter for nature. But the training and education which are needed, not for our benefit but for that of the public before we can admit anybody to a profession, must be dealt with in the schools and universities. We have found grave defects in some of those fields which prevent members of the public from joining our profession. We have had a wearying afternoon and my time is up. I shall leave the matter there.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The World At Your Feet

The news about Siti Aishah Kamarulzaman, a daughter of a night market trader, who emerged as the best students for Malaysia and the seventh in the world for the June 2013 ACCA examination would certainly pleased us Malaysians. In fact Siti Aishah is not the first and would not be the last of high achievers, not only for ACCA examination but for other professional accountancy qualifications such as the ICAEW and MICPA.

Professional accountancy had certainly provided many opportunities for ordinary Malaysians to be world beaters in examinations. Many would then further their careers in accountancy or lever on their accountancy skills to achiever greater heights in their life. Literally, Tony Fernandez, an ACCA qualified accountant, is flying with his AirAsia and other stable of companies. The hall of fame of the Malaysian accountancy fraternity is full of ordinary people who became special due to the opportunities provided by their professional accountancy qualifications.

Take Tan Sri Samad Alias for example. He came from a kampung in Batu Pahat, Johor. He went to Australia to study accountancy and when he came back, started his own accountancy practice, brought Arthur Andersen into Malaysia, led both the Malaysian Institute of Accountants and the Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants and chairs a number of important agencies including the Perbadanan Insuran Deposit Malaysia (PIDM).

Then we have Harry Menon who was a partner of HRM and presently serve on many board of reputable companies such as Petronas, Dato Oh Chong Peng, Chairman of Alliance Financial Group and many more Malaysians from all the races and many parts of the country. Many of them are not only recognised in Malaysia but also globally.

Datin Alexandra Chin was recently appointed as the Vice-President of ACCA global. She is in line to assume the presidency of one of the largest accountancy bodies in the world. Alexandra hails from Sabah and is practising in that state. 

One of the challenges to the growth of the accountancy profession in Malaysia is the reluctance of many accountancy graduates to pursue professional accountancy. Many believe they are tough to accomplish. Anyway, is there any simple career which brings much benefits without handwork and efforts? This sort of thinking may, in one way or another, shaped by their lecturers. There are some who feel that accountancy degrees offered at local universities are enough to make their students professionals. Unfortunately, the market does not think so. Many accountants who lead large companies or this serving the board of such companies are professionally qualified accountants.

Malaysia is among the few countries in the world which recognises accountancy graduates without assessing their competency. Not many people understand what happened in the early 70's resulting in this weird arrangement. If we look around the ASEAN region, even Indonesia and Cambodia assess their graduates before recognising them as professional accountants. This is one of the areas where perhaps, Malaysia Tak Boleh seems to be more prevalent.

I hope with the achievement of Siti Aishah, more graduates will be inspired to pursue professional accountancy qualifications. This should also make their lecturers to be more confident in the graduates nurtured by them. Remember, public universities are funded by public money and the society (taxpayers) are entitled to high quality output, accountancy graduates included.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Now a Graduate, What's Next!

Before I write further, I have to confess that I am going to write about something that I have not experienced myself. While I did pass my exams and obtained my degree, but I did not attend my graduation ceremony. 

I was in Perth at that time and just secured a job at an accounting firm. When I received the notification from my university with the choice of attending the graduation ceremony or them posting my degree to me, I went for the later option. Only much later I was told that my late mother was ready to fly to Perth to share the joyous moments, like other parents but that opportunity was not there. Would I do things differently? No. I believe what happens after graduation is more critical.

I am not Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who left university without bothering to complete their studies. Were they stupid? No. They were smart enough to understand that the university system will stifle their personal ambitions. These people are smart people who would like to see their ideas implemented rather than taking few more years to earn a piece of paper. Later, Steve Jobs went to Stanford and gave a very meaningful Commencement speech.

I met a person whose daughter had the choices of whether to complete her Master degree at one of the ivy league universities in the US or joining Larry Page when he was still struggling to make Google a viable business. Based on the advice of her father who is a successful Indian engineer at IBM, she decided to complete her studies. Had she joined Facebook, she would be a millionaire by now. She did consider sending her father an invoice for the missed opportunity!

Am I writing about not completing studies or not attending graduation? No. This is about achieving real meaning in life. Many of the graduating students would be pleased of completing their studies. Well, that was just a starting point. Now the real life begins.

The ones who fared well in their exams would be receiving offers from many good employers. Given the competition of talents nowadays, this is hardly a surprise. The more important question for the graduates at this juncture is about where would they go from here? Should they be looking at work which provides them with work-life balance, good pay and interesting colleagues? This could be on the wish list of all of them.

I believe that at this stage they should be looking at building careers rather than just looking for a job. It is about deciding what they would like to eventually be or achieve and figuring out the steps which lead them there. An offer with a good paying salary does not necessarily lead them to what they want to be eventually.

The other issue in building a career is about whether it requires further efforts in acquiring experience, skills and exposure? The bad news about graduating is that it is not the end of learning. It does not matter which discipline they are in, further learning and education are needed. So, if reflecting the pathways of their careers, please find out whether a professional qualification, for example, is necessary. If they are an accountancy graduates, this is a MUST!

Where they start their first employment could also influence their career progression. A small enterprise for example will provide them with a wider breath of experience although they may not be exposed to the depth of critical functions in the enterprise as it may lack sophistication due to its size. They may be exposed more to the personal traits of the entrepreneur and such entity may not be resourceful enough in supporting their further professional development.

In larger organisations, they tend to specialise more as every function could be a large operation. It will take time before they are exposed to the whole area of business and sometimes they need to deal with the politics of large organisations. Given their sizes, they tend to be more supportive to professional development of their employees. Further, their names may be a good thing for the resumes of young employees.

The key point here is for graduates to plan carefully before making their first move into the employment world. If they are not sure about what to do, having a conversation with people in the industry which interest them could be a good step. Nothing would replace the insights of the people who had gone through the process themselves.

So, congratulations for your achievements and welcome to the real world. Career development requires planning, hard work and persistency. Nothing is easy. However, if you a bigger and meaningful picture to pursue, they will be helpful in motivating you through your chosen path. 

* My first son followed my footstep and did not attend his graduation as well. However, I attended my first daughter's graduation and was pleasantly surprised to know that she was the top student in her course and faculty! 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Personal Exertion, Capital Gains and Corruption

Personal exertion, capital gains and corruption, what do they have in common? They enable people to obtain or generate wealth, legally or otherwise. Personal exertion is about generation wealth through personal efforts, physically or through our brain power. 

One could also gain wealth through capital gains where the returns come from the investment we make such as when the house we own goes up in value and we capture the value through sales. Another example is when we buy and sell shares, whenever the amount sold exceeds the cost of buying the shares then a capital gain is made.

Corruption is a straight forward criminal act. This is when somebody with certain power get paid to exercise the power in favour of the payer. However, many people who are involved in this despicable act may not necessarily agree with this statement. Some may argue that corruption is their birthrights and enshrined in the constitution, while others would justify such acts using higher causes such as to level the playing field. Many Muslims in this country will be outrages whenever there is an accusation about certain food sold in the market is doubtful in terms of its Halal status. However, the same people may not be worried about engaging in the acts of corruption and use the ill gotten wealth to feed their flesh and blood.

So much about the definition, why are we discussing this issue here. Well, in the past few months, many people are discussing about distribution of income. Many solutions have been explored and considered. We may see some new initiatives being introduced soon, perhaps. Let us step back and see how many of those in the low income category are able to consider one of the above means to earn their living.

If they do not have money to invest, capital gain will not be viable option. If they do not have the power to abuse, they can't even be corrupt although out of desperation they may be tempted to sell their soles to the devil. The only possible way for them to make money is through personal exertion. 

Those who have wealth will have more opportunity to rely on capital gains. They can invest in property or stocks and many had made millions out of these activities.

While personal exertion would expose the income to taxation, most of the capital gains are free of tax. This is where our system may not favour those who has less wealth. The smarter of the capitalists will structure their investments so that most returns would be capital in nature, thus reducing their tax exposure. 

If we are really serious about wealth distribution, capital gains tax, whether on property or financial assets could be a viable option. This would certainly be very unpopular to the wealthy as their main sources of wealth will be exposed to taxation, and the amount could be very large! They have the means to raise their views to the media and could use their wealth to lobby. Realistically, in an environment where those in leadership are scared to make right decisions, this option is highly impossible.

What about the crooks? Are they in the scheme of thing in re-distributing wealth? Yes, just put as many of them in prison. The amount of corruption will automatically be reduced and wealth will be channeled back into the formal system and will be available for the honest citizens to capture. How much is this possible? I am sure you will be smiling when this option is proposed.

Hope the above will provide us with some idea about possibilities in wealth re-distribution. Have a great weekend.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Redang, in pictures

Redang is an island located off the coast of Terengganu. It is accessible through boat from Merang or from the air by using Berjaya Air which flies from Subang.

Famous for its nice beaches and marine life, Redang is a very nice place to relax and have a break from our busy schedule.

Small boats at the Merang jetty
People jogging along the beach as the sun was setting

Tourists and the school of fish at the marine park
Boats harboured off the beach
One of the resorts in Redang
A bird looking for an early breakfast

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Redang, a re-visit

I was a scuba diver. In the Malaysian peninsular, the best dive sites are located around the many islands on the East Coast, Redang is one of them.

The whole island is a designated marine park. It is illegal to disturb the marine life here. One may be fined or even jailed, although it is unheard of that anybody is subjected to such penalty.

My visit to the Penang island marine park was rather disappointing. I was there twice when I was diving. There were many life corals around the park. There were not there today. While there were many variety of fish, most of there corals were dead. What went wrong? Too many visitors as such that the ecosystem was not sustainable? Lack of enforcement?

While there are many resorts around the island, the real treasure of Redang is its marine life. While it is easier to build nice buildings which accommodate the needs of visitors and tourists, the maintenance of its marine life is harder. Tourists who are not sensitive towards marine life sustainability may just walk on the corals, destroying the fragile creature which takes years to rebuild.

Sustainability is something which is yet to be the mainstream consideration in our society. Which we may have heard the wors being mentioned by many people, how many of us are really living in a sustainable way? How many plastic baga do we use weekly? That is just a simple indicator of how much we walk the talk. 

How much we had adjusted our lifestyles to conserve water? I always feel sad watching fellow Muslims performing their ablution. The amount of water used does not reflect the teaching of Prophet Muhammad who advised Muslims to conserve water while performing ablution even when it was performed at a running river.

Well, we only have this planet and there is no replacement available if we mess up this one. My return to Redang reminded me the importance of sustainability. I hope this thoughts is shared by many of us out there.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Name those PIEs

Published: Saturday August 31, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM 
Updated: Saturday August 31, 2013 MYT 6:53:11 AM
In this month’s rash of reprimands of auditors, it’s unhelpful that the listed companies involved aren’t identified.
SUPPOSE you read the news that a body regulating the conduct and ethics of engineers has censured and fined an engineer over the certification of completion of an office block. The article says this is because the engineer didn’t do what he’s professionally obliged to do.
The regulator is stingy with the specifics. The engineer is named and so is his firm. However, little else is revealed about the nature of the non-compliance.
Also, the building in question is not identified. All you know is that it’s in your city and was constructed within the last two years. You can’t help feeling a bit nervous. It so happens that you work in a commercial tower that was finished a year ago. When at work, you find yourself fretting over cracks in the walls and replaying evacuation scenarios in your mind.
The regulator does point out that the reprimand of the engineer doesn’t have to mean the building is structurally unsound. But that’s cold comfort, at best; nobody is stepping forward to affirm that the building is indeed safe.
The above situation is fictional, but this is real – the Audit Oversight Board (AOB) has announced this month the reprimand of six auditors for “failing to discharge their professional duties as set out in the International Standards on Auditing (ISA)”.
Just as real is the fact that we know almost nothing about those large companies whose audits of accounts were at the centre of these reprimands.
Last year, the first time the board wielded its powers to impose sanctions as provided under the Securities Commission Act 1993, two auditors were reprimanded.
So it appears that the AOB is stepping up its enforcement actions. Part of its job is to promote confidence in the quality and reliability of audited financial statements in Malaysia.
In his message in the AOB’s Annual Report 2012, executive chairman Nik Mohd Hasyudeen Yusoff said the reprimands last year of the two auditors “provided a clear message that the AOB would not hesitate to act when public confidence on the reliability of their audit reports could be compromised”.
But there is a dilemma here. How do you crack down on audit-related breaches without broadly casting doubt on the audited accounts of public interest entities (PIEs)?
(The board registers and supervises the auditors of PIEs. In Malaysia, PIEs are listed companies, banking and financial institutions, insurance companies and takaful operators, and holders of Capital Market Services Licences, such as securities and futures trading firms, and fund management companies.)
One way to avoid a crisis of confidence is to let people see that the breaches are exceptions rather than the norm.
The AOB’s strategy is to conduct annual inspections of the six largest audit firms, that is, those with more than 10 partners and 40 PIEs on their client lists. The other firms are covered within a pre-determined inspection cycle.
This way, the board’s regular inspections take care of the lion’s share of the audits of PIEs. It inspected 19 firms in 2012 and they audited 78% of the total number of PIEs. The listed companies among the clients of these 19 firms represented over 95% of Bursa Malaysia’s market capitalisation.
So far, none of the reprimanded auditors are from the top six firms. That tells us that there is no reason yet to be worried about these firms’ level of compliance with the auditing standards.
However, the six reprimand cases so far this year do lead to another concern. Does the amount of information provided strike a balance between protecting the investing public and fairness to those involved in the enforcement actions?
The details, including the names of the auditors and their firms, are in the AOB section of the Securities Commission’s website (
All six have contravened the same section of the Securities Commission Act, which relates to a breach of the AOB’s registration condition. According to the board, each of the six has failed to comply with “certain requirements of the ISA in discharging his professional duties in the performance of an audit of the PIE”.
Two of them committed an additional wrong – failure to comply with certain requirements of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) by-laws relating to independence of an auditor in discharging his professional duties. One of these two was slapped a penalty of RM10,000 and the other had to pay RM5,000.
We’re also told that each of the six were engagement partners in the audits of PIEs for certain financial years. These PIEs aren’t identified, but through Google, you can come up with a list of listed companies whose financial year-ends and auditors match the particulars supplied by the AOB.
Presumably, the regulator refrains from naming the PIEs for fear that people will automatically (and unfairly) reject these PIEs’ audited financial statements. The argument here is that the PIEs shouldn’t be at risk of suffering collateral damage because of the lapses of their auditors.
In a press release on Aug 19 to announce four reprimands, Nik Hasyudeen emphasises that the reprimands don’t necessarily suggest that the financial statements of the affected PIEs contain any material error or that their financial reporting controls are weak.
In addition, the SC website reminds people that an AOB enforcement action “may not necessary imply the audited financial statement does not give a true and fair view”.
These disclaimers are reasonable, but they fall short of assuring us that it’s fine to continue relying on the audit opinions on the accounts.
So where does that leave the investing public? Is it right that the shareholders and other users of the accounts are not told which PIEs have had audits that were not entirely in compliance with the ISA and by-laws of the MIA?
And what about the PIEs themselves? If they’re listed companies, are they correct to believe that they’re not required by the stock exchange rules to disclose an AOB sanction in relation to the audit of their accounts?
Shouldn’t their shareholders know about the reprimands? After all, they vote at AGMs to receive the audited financial statements and to re-appoint the auditors.
For that matter, are the auditors obliged to brief their clients about the AOB sanctions? Surely, this isn’t the occasion for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The AOB is making a lot of effort to “foster high-quality independent auditing to promote confidence in the quality and reliability of the financial statements of PIEs in Malaysia”. Promoting full disclosure will only aid the process.
Executive editor Errol Oh wonders if the audit profession will respond publicly to the six AOB reprimands this month. It’s probably unprecedented that this many auditors have been subject to enforcement actions in such a short time.
Link to the original article

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Audit Oversight Board takes four auditors to task

KUALA LUMPUR: The Audit Oversight Board (AOB) has reprimanded four auditors for failing to discharge their professional duties as set out in the International Standards on Auditing.
One of them was also fined RM5,000 for breaching the by-laws of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) which relates to auditors’ independence.
The auditors had failed to perform audit procedures as required by the said auditing standards and had in some cases merely relied on representations from their clients without further verification for their audit opinion.
AOB executive chairman Nik Hasyudeen Yusof said that the inspection process was part of AOB’s strategic approach to enhance audit quality in Malaysia and that it was important that the industry worked together with the regulator to improve the audit profession.
“While the AOB engages the industry closely to improve audit quality, we are also mindful of the need to tackle critical root causes.
“We will not hesitate to take action on any breach that impairs or is perceived to impair the independence of auditor,” he said, adding that the reprimands did not necessarily suggest that the financial statements of the affected public interest entities contained any material error nor implied weakness in their financial reporting controls.
The AOB publishes its inspection findings annually, which include key root causes that could impact audit quality, auditor’s technical incompetence, not keeping abreast with the development in accounting and auditing standards, as well as failure to exercise professional scepticism in various occasions.
“Audit firms need to invest in the right resources and infrastructure to support high quality audit practices. The firms also should put in place effective monitoring control framework and a strong self-governance culture to ensure consistency of audit performance,” he said in a press release issued by the Securities Commission yesterday.
AOB was set up in April 2010 to promote confidence in the quality and reliability of audited financial statements of public-interest entities. It conducts yearly inspections to ensure that audit firms comply with requirements of the International Standards on Auditing and the relevant MIA By-laws.
The Star, 20 August, 2013.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Having a stand

Given the opportunities provided by various social media platforms, many people share their views on many matters, personal or public. Given that what we read on these platforms come to us based on who and how much we let others to share their thoughts on our defined space, we should not get upset if those views are not aligned with ours. Simply shut them off or just ignore those views.

However, I notice quite a number of us publicly expressed their dissatisfaction just because opposing views appear on their page. Please, grow up. Understand the concept of social media. You are reading those comments or remarks because you have allowed the people making those remarks to be your "friends" or the setting of our page allows them to appear on your page. Just remove the unfriendly "friends" or adjust your settings. On the other hand, please remember that many others are reading your comments and thoughts and not all may be agreeable with you. 

At this age and time, we should be able to ignore opposing views. If we want to engage and try to provide our side of perspectives, please do that in a very matured and dignified manner. If you cross the line and use insulting or vulgar languages, the one that will look like a fool will be you, not the other guys.

However, when it comes to make a stand as a group, things will be a bit more difficult. Given people in a group may have different interests and likings, to have a view with accommodates all these interests will be really challenging. Even on something which is quite obvious such as when people are murdered in front of TV cameras, many are thorn between whether those are actions with utmost restrained, friendly fire or simply, murder. There are countries which make it very clear such actions were simply democracy in actions, there are those which expressed their disgust over the lack of value given to human lives. Many remained quite, as if there were no leaders in office to take a stand in a situation where the value of humanity is at stake.

It is also interesting where the so called "liberals" liberally picking and choosing the truth they want to believe in. When they feel not to like a group of people, it does not matter what the facts are, the "liberals" will side the other side with all sorts of justifications.

While people are free to believe what they want to believe, Muslims cannot depart from the ultimate truth as prescribed in the Quran and the Sunnah. Yes, Islam is a revealed religion and it has its sets of predetermined principles which guide its followers in arriving at their stand when an event occur. This is where, sometimes, even the Muslims get themselves confused, what more those who do not understand this belief system. 

Many Muslims ignore the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah and use their mind liberally. Islam does not prohibit people from thinking but it has set a framework to determine what is right or wrong. Since this is based on believe, one cannot want to be a believer and at the same time having a belief that is not based on the framework articulated by the Quran and Sunnah. In some society the belief of its people is defined by law. However, this does not work all the time as belief is in our hearts and not what the letter of the law wants us to believe in.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Aidil Fitri, an articulation of success?

Today is the third day of Shawal, the month awaited for by many Muslims as a sign of the completion of a month of devotion through fasting, prayers and other acts of submission to Allah during Ramadhan. The first day of Shawal is known as Aidil Fitri, the day where a devoted Muslim goes back to his or her original state of purity due to the deeds performed in Ramadhan. While Aidil Fitri is a day for celebration, it should remain within the parameters of submission to Allah in all aspects.

Here is where culture intersects with faith. In the era of commercialisation, many faith-based celebrations have been portrayed as the time for party, food and spending. While there could be commercials which try to remind the society about those who are unfortunate, the overall psychology during these festivities would be about enticing people to spend and spend.

Two weeks before Shawal appears, commercial about Hari Raya could be heard or watched over the media. Shops and shopping centres would be offering sales. This is on top of commercials Buka Puasa events. While Ramadhan is about controlling one's desire, especially towards the worldly stuffs, the environment was set for the opposite. That's why while the last 10 days of Ramadhan was supposed to be the final leg where Muslim should be striving for the Night of Light ( Lailatul Qadar), many would be at shopping centres instead to be enlightened by sales and discounts.

In Kuala Lumpur in particular, Aidil Fitri is celebrated for a month! Many individual and corporates will be hosting Open Houses, where plenty of food will be served. While I am not questioning the intention of this idea of offering food and hospitality to relatives and friends, in the overall of the whole scheme of things,mew could ponder the consequences of these activities. Does it really reflect the spirit of Ramadhan and Aidil Fitri.

I purposely differentiate Aidil Fitri as the day accorded by Allah for the faithful to celebrate their successful demonstration of faith and submission during Ramadhan with Hari Raya, which to be is the cultural dimension of Aidil Fitri. Aidil Fitri is only for a day whereas Hari Raya is celebrated for a month. Aidil Fitri is about an extension of the act of submission while Hari Raya is about enjoyment per se. In a multi cultural society, there is also pressure for the wider values of the society to be embedded in the celebration. Good or otherwise, I may not be there best person to judge this.

We had quite a number of children from the nearby neighbourhood who came to our house expecting to be given Duit Raya. It has been a custome for Malays to give our cash to children during Hari Raya. Borrowing from the Chinese, the cash is now given in green colour envelops. This was certainly not the case when I was small. Definitely, the ways Hari Raya is celebrated has evolved. What concerns me is the gradual shift of the meaning of the celebration, for a day of demonstration of how Muslims had been successful in fulfilling the demands of Ramadhan into a more cultural-based celebration which may not be based on the original intention of submission to Allah.

I suppose it is not to late for me to ask for forgiveness and pray that all our deeds in Ramadhan are accepted by Allah.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Welcoming the blessed month of Ramadhan

By today, all Muslims around the world would be observing the annual fasting with the appearance of Ramadhan. For a month, they will refrain from eating or drinking and other acts which would nullify the fast. This is also the month where Muslims are reminded to distance themselves from bad behaviours such as lying and back biting and encouraged to do good deeds such as donating to the poor. The ultimate aims for all these act of submission to Allah are blessings, forgiveness and safety from the hellfire.

A part from fasting, Ramadhan has many other significant to Muslims. This was the month when the first verse of the Quran was revealed. This was also the month when the Battle of Badr was fought, when 300 odd believers persevered over their 1000 odd opponents. This battle is considered the turning point for Islam.

Ok, let's look as the reality around us. Even before Ramadhan appears, you may have heard people discussing about food and stuff that they wish to eat in breaking their fast. Restaurants and other eating outlets had been advertising about buffets, and Ramadhan bazaars will mushroom around cities, towns and villages. Unfortunately, Ramadhan has been turned into a month of eating and feasting.

Midway through Ramadhan, the Hari Raya Aidil Fitri songs will be played and the shopping centres would be the centre of attraction, instead of mosques and suraus. While Allah has promised bounties of blessings and forgiveness through Lailatul Qadar, which will come in one of the last 10 nights of Ramadhan, many Muslims are looking the other way, shopping and eating.

Aidil Fitri is the day when Muslims celebrate their return to the original state the day they were born. This is the ultimate aim of Ramadhan, for the Muslims to attain blessings, forgiveness and safety from hellfire. This will be based on their efforts in fasting and doing other deeds. How could this be achieved if they are distracted by food, shopping and music?

Since today is the first day of Ramadhan, it would be great for all Muslims to plan how they would achieve the objectives of Ramadhan. How can the quality of the ways Ramadhan are observed this year would be different and better compared to previous years.

Let's make this year a better year.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Audit Oversight Board 2012 annual report

The Audit Oversight Board 2012 annual report could be downloaded here.

Many Shades of Truth

I heard about a Cambodian produced film winning at the Cannes Film Festival over BFM while I was driving this morning. What attracted my attention was when the winning director of the film The Missing Picture,  Rithy Panh, was quoted to have said that, 'Cinema is not truth. Even when you make documentary films, you can choose to show this shot and not the other shot _ this side and not the other side. In cinema there's one truth _ not 'the truth'. 

The Missing Picture is about Rithy Panh's personal articulation of the dark episode in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge lead by Pol Pot came into power in 1975 and the atrocities it committed towards fellow Cambodians. Having visited some of the scary sites in Phnom Penh myself, I wonder how human could fell so low that taking life and causing pain were considered the right thing to do. This had happened in many other part of the world and are ongoing, whether sanctioned by the state or otherwise. You can read an interview with Rithy Panh by the Bangkok Post here.

While history is supposed to be the narration of facts that occurred in the past, how history is told could be subjected to manipulation. As Churchill used to say, "History is written by the victors". Why is this so? Put it simply, those who are in the position to control information and the shape of information that goes out to the mass would be able to frame facts or even fiction in ways which purportedly reflecting truths. Even present events are susceptible to such manipulation. Hence, what is truth or otherwise would be based on the honesty of people who have the ability to shape other's views.

Of course, we may also wonder why people who could be so low in their morality are given the ability to decide what others should or shouldn't believe in the first place? Well, in certain cases in the past, they came into power by force. However, in many other situations, they simply reflect the values of the society itself. When people do not care to do the right thing but are more concern about fulfilling the selfishness, don't blame others when people with low morality are in the positions to influence our lives. 

Has the evolution of social media re-shaped such situation? Well, some may argue that when a group of people are no longer able to dominate "truth", then  the ground has to a certain extend changed. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could spread information very fast. While this could be welcomed, our ability to handle such vast information, which may not necessarily true as well, could also shape the truth in our minds. Maybe we need new skills in distilling information from many sources to enable us to figure out the real messages behind them.

So, be careful in analysing information that is fed to us by many sources and medium. Do not simply swallow them as truth, even when conveyed by your closest friends. Think and reflect. At the end of the day, we will have to live with the "truth", whether we like it or not. An easy way to deny the truth is to claim that it is merely a perception!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Flowers of Keukenhof

The Netherlands is synonymously associated with tulips. For the visitors who wish to see for themselves the blooming flowers during spring in the Netherlands, Keukenhof is the place to be. Unfortunately, this place is only open from March until June. This year alone, close to 850,000 people visited this wonderful place.

The Tulip were originally a wild flower growing in the Central Asia and were first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1,000 AD. The flower were introduced in the westen Europe and the Netherlands in the 17th century by Carolus Clusius, a famous biologist from Vienna. In the 1590’s he became the director of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, the oldest botanical garden of Europe, founded in 1587. He was hired by the University of Leiden to research medicinal plants and while doing so he got some bulbs from Turkey from his friend Ogier Ghiselain de Busbecq, the ambassador of Constantinople (presen-day Istanbul). He had seen the beautiful flower, called tulip after the Turkish word for turban, grow in the palace gardens and sent a few to Clusius for his garden in Leiden. He planted them and this was the start of the amazing bulb fields we can see today. More.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The system works

When you are travelling the last thing that you want is to waste time waiting for your transport. In many cities around the world, public transportation system such as trains, buses and taxis are critical elements of integrated networks which serve their population. Reliability, safety and affordability would determine the quality of public transportation system.

Singapore, consistent with its image as an efficient city state, offers an integrated network of public transportation system which enables millions of people to find their ways around the city effectively. While the Metropolitant Transport System or MRT is comparable with many other cities, I find the taxi services to be very good. Just hail the taxi, hop into them, tell the where you want to go and you'll be charge a fare based on the meter. Sound very basic but you may not get such predictability in Kuala Lumpur.

The Marina Bay Sands in one of the tourist attractions which attracts thousands of visitors every day. Just imagine you are there on a Saturday evening after a laser and bubble show. Many will be queuing for taxis and, yes, the queue could be really long. This is when the magic happens. The queue moves slowly but surely, nobody tries to jump queue, there will be enough taxis for everybody and no haggling is necessary. Try that in Kuala Lumpur and your blood pressure may shoot up.

I always consider the quality of the taxi service as an indicator of the quality of the city. It reflects the values of the people, their maintenance culture, commitment towards a service culture and how the society values others who may not be familiar with the place. So, whatever we feel about if taxi service in Kuala Lumpur, it may be a reflection of ourselves.

We may want to argue that Singapore is a fine city, where people will be fined for any breach of laws or rules, but the system works.

P/S The school holidays start next week in Singapore and parents will bring their children abroad. To get the economy going, The Great Singapore Sales will kick in to bring Malaysian and Indonesian bargain hunters to the island ~ as told by one of the taxi drivers.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Malay heritage in Singapore

When I was small I kept on hearing about Arab Street whenever my relatives were discussing about Singapore. Now I realised they were referring to many textile outlets located in the area. They were talking about shopping.

However, Arab Street is located within the Kampung Gelam, a heritage area associated with the Malays and their culture. This may not be exactly true as Malays and Islam, like in Malaysia, are used interchangeably. 

In fact I would say the influence of Muslims originating from the Middle East are stronger. Well, that is not the topic of this posting but this is an issue which could create perceptions and mis-perceptions in many other places when a particular group of people is blanketly associated with a particular believe or practice.

The Sultan Mosque is also located in Kampung Gelam, adjacent to the Kampung Gelam Malay Heritage Complex. Within that area, we could find many Halal eating outlets with variety of foods from many parts of the Islamic world. 

One of the famous outlets here is Zam Zam Restaurant where you could have among the best murtabak in the world in addition to the Beryani that it serves. One can have a choice of lamb, beef or deer murtabak. Many Malaysians bring back the murtabaks.

Coming back to the textile outlets, this is also a great place for shopping, especially for those who want to prepare early for Hari Raya! Oppss, my wife is with me and she could think the same as well.