Tag Archives: Malaysia

RAAF Base at Butterworth’s Historic and Supportive Role

Lest we easily forget

Many young Malaysians may be unaware of the important and defining role played by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and its gallant airmen in Malaya, and later, Malaysia. When we progress as a nation and a people, it is always ever so crucial to know who were there to support and defend us when danger loomed on the horizon. In that respect, Malaysians should never forget the valuable services and sacrifices of the RAAF and its brave airmen.

What is the background to the involvement of the RAAF in this part of the world?

Only One Permanent Base Overseas

It is most interesting to know that the RAAF had an association stretching back to 1941! The RAAF Base in Butterworth was then used for care and maintenance purposes. The RAAF at some point during that period was the fourth largest air force in the world. Although the RAAF had some units based overseas, it had only one permanent base outside of Australia.

Butterworth in North Seberang Perai ( formerly known as Province Wellesley ) and within the state of Penang was chosen as the site for the RAAF Base. Although it was initially under the British, it was handed over to the Australians who managed the base. Later on, after we gained independence as a nation in 1957, it was technically jointly managed by both the RAAF and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

Butterworth had a population of some 11,000 residents in 1910, and a century later, its population swelled to some 800,000 plus residents.

Commonwealth Strategic Reserve

In the mid-1950s, Britain, Australia and New Zealand agreed to set up a Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya. The primary purpose of this Strategic Reserve was for countering a growing and menacing Communist threat in South East Asia. The prevailing theory pedalled at that time was the Domino Effect.  It was the assumption, for instance, that if Thailand fell, then soon Malaysia and Singapore too would fall to the Communists.

Initially, the RAAF Base in Butterworth had two squadrons of Sabre jet fighters, a squadron of Canberra tactical bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and a flight of Dakota transport aircraft. The RAAF Base commenced operations in June 1958.

At its peak strength during the 1970s, it had 1200 Australian personnel together with their families living on the island of Penang as well as in Butterworth. The RAAF Base, in addition, also employed another 1000 local Malay, Chinese and Indian support staff.

Extended Support during the Vietnam War

Unknown to most Malaysians at that time, the RAAF Base in Butterworth played a behind the scenes role in supporting a squadron that was deployed to Ubon, Thailand. The squadron played a pivotal role there along with medical and transport facilities during the Vietnam War.

Some senior citizens may well remember Harold Holt, the Australian prime minister at that time. Harold Holt gave tremendous, unstinting support to Lyndon Baines Johnson during the Vietnam War. Lyndon Johnson was then president of the United States.  What was Harold Holt’s infamous quote: ‘ All the way with LBJ ‘. Harold Holt later disappeared mysteriously when he went for a routine swim at a beach. His body was never found.

Crucial Role in Defending Malaysia

When Malaysia was formed with the merger of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, the then fiery Indonesian president, made his displeasure and opposition to the idea publicly known. President Sukarno announced a Crush Malaysia campaign and proclaimed a period of Confrontation.

It was certainly a tense period for the new nation and things got much worse when over 100 plus Indonesian paratroopers were dropped into the state of Johor at the southern tip of peninsula Malaya. Thankfully, they were quickly rounded up.

The base, as such, was especially crucial between 1963 and 1966 during the period of Confrontation. The RAAF Base in Butterworth became the headquarters of the Integrated Air Defence System under the Five Power Defence Agreement. Its main role was to provide air defence for Singapore and Malaysia.

Australia’s Single Biggest Engagement with Asia

The RAAF Base in Butterworth was, without doubt, Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia. Most young Malaysians may not know about this chapter in our infancy as a nation. But they should know and appreciate it because it is easy to gloss over, pretend otherwise and forget such matters.

The RAAF Base in Butterworth existed from 1955 to 1988. During that thirty-three year period over 50,000 Australians were based there together with their families.

It was Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia.

Integrated Well with the Local Population

To their credit, the Australian airmen and their families integrated very well with Malaysians of all walks of life. I remember meeting a few of them in the mid-sixties mainly at social gatherings in Penang while I was training to be a certified teacher at St Joseph’s Training College ( STJC ), a La Salle institution in Pulau Tikus, Penang.

They were humble, friendly, socially adept and helpful. In that process, these Australians contributed to the rich, local social fabric of Penang society at that time.  To add to that unique cultural melting pot, we also had a steady infusion of lovely, young and fashionable Thai lasses from Bangkok and Phuket who trooped to Penang for classes in typewriting, stenography and secretarial studies.

George Town, Penang and Adelaide, South Australia: Sister Cities

Australia became increasingly connected to Asia and particularly to Penang and Malaysia I believe, to a great measure, because of their presence and contribution through the RAAF for over those thirty-three years.

It is still quite common to see many Australian families holidaying in Penang. For some, it is like a yearly pilgrimage to Shangri La, both literally and otherwise. For good measure, there are three well-known high-class Shangri-La hotel properties in Penang, two in Batu Feringgi and one in George Town.

In February 1973, the city of Adelaide, on the advice of the charismatic and forward thinking Don Dunstan (then premier of South Australia) proposed the establishment of a sister city (or twin cities) relationship with George Town, Penang.  Don Dunstan, you may be interested to know, actually married a Malaysian journalist named Adele Koh who hailed from Penang.

In December the same year, Dr Lim Chong Eu, a long-serving chief minister of Penang signed a sealed scroll attesting to this sister city arrangement. The sister city relationship has resulted in many enjoyable yearly programmes being hosted in both cities much to the satisfaction of the citizens.

Social History of RAAF Butterworth Base

KampongAustraliaBookDr. Mathew Radcliffe recently completed a fascinating social history of the RAAF Butterworth Base.

I am no historian but if what little I have shared has whetted your appetite for more on this unique history and contribution, do get his book, ‘Kampong Australia‘ which was published recently. (Read the Sydney Morning Herald review of the book).

Mathew was incidentally born at the RAAF Base in Butterworth and served in the RAAF for seven years.

He later went to university and completed a BA majoring in history before earning a Ph.D from Macquarie University.

Lest We Easily Forget

#malaysiahistory #malaysia #RAAF

Positioning An International Professional Accounting Qualification in the Malaysian Context : The Approach, the Strategic Partners and the Benefits that Followed

In this sharing, I would like to relate my experience in how I went about positioning the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in Malaysia. I was appointed the divisional director of CIMA Malaysia Division a few months after the then CIMA Malaysia Branch was upgraded to full divisional status way back in late 1989. I assumed my role and responsibilities as divisional director of CIMA Malaysia Division however only in April 1990.

Accounting Profession not Well Understood

Back then, accounting was still not that well understood or appreciated by the general public. Many were confused with the designations Certified Accountant, Chartered Accountant, Chartered Management Accountant and Certified Public Accountant. These were all, in my opinion, tier 1 accounting qualifications. However, to add to the confusion, there were also a number of tier 2 and tier 3 accounting qualifications, some from the United Kingdom and others from Australia. A few of these qualifications were also obtained via correspondence courses or distance education.

The public at large were, for the most part, unable to differentiate between these various qualifications. In addition, with the liberty to exaggerate and embellish facts, some local colleges were prone to tell a less than honest story about the qualifications that they were promoting.

Variety of Qualifications in the Local Scene

In Malaysia at that time, the most famous qualification was the ACCA membership from one of the Big 6 accounting institutes in the United Kingdom. However, the most highly rated qualifications were the CA memberships from England & Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There is also a Malaysian Institute of Accountants established under the Accountants Act 1967 and the MIA plays a twin role as an institute as well as a regulatory body.

What is exactly is Positioning?

What exactly is positioning? Simply put, it is a marketing strategy that attempts to make a brand occupy a distinct and unique position, relative to the competing brands in the marketplace.

In positioning, one seeks to emphasize or highlight the distinguishing features of the brand… what it is; what it does; and what makes it distinct and unique from all the other brands. When this exercise is carried out carefully, over a staggered period of time and for better effect occasionally with credible partners, then the end objective is more easily achieved.

Key Priority at CIMA Malaysia

When I came on board as divisional director of CIMA Malaysia Division, I was advised by the Malaysia Council that one of my key responsibilities was to recruit students! This was actually the main activity undertaken by all the competitors. One of them, in fact, was streaking ahead of all others in the sheer number of students it was attracting to pursue its qualification.

However, when I turned up in London for my week long induction sessions, I was informed, in no uncertain manner, that my principal responsibility was to recruit new members. I was also made to understand that membership is the qualification… not merely the fact that one has passed the final examinations.

I was also informed by Sir George Vallings, then Secretary of CIMA that our numbers in Malaysia were distorted! We had at that time about 5,000 plus students, over 1500 passed finalists and only about 550 members! My main task was to persuade the huge number of passed finalists to make the effort to fill up their log books with all their work experience starting with financial accounting, then moving on to financial management and finally decision making and the rest. This was accomplished with remarkable success and within three years the membership had swelled to over 1000 members. When I left CIMA a decade later, the membership stood at 2,300 plus members.

Positioning CIMA and Management Accountants

Concurrent with the important work of converting passed finalists to membership, I felt, was the need to position CIMA and management accountants correctly especially with school leavers, colleges, parents, main stream media and employers. For far too many people, one accounting qualification was as good as the next!

They took the various advertisements at face value. Some college personnel were also guilty of favouring a particular qualification and expertly ‘ guided the students ‘ to the pre- chosen qualification.

Given this sorry scenario, I was determined to secure for CIMA and management accountants a worthy position, especially for those interested to work in the business sector. CIMA was thus projected and positioned as an accounting qualification for the business world. Those who were keen for a career in public practice were advised to pursue another qualification. Individuals who wished to use their accounting knowledge to assist businesses were advised to take up the CIMA qualification. CIMA was thus promoted as the accounting qualification preferred by the business world.

CIMA Lecture of the Year

The idea of hosting a Lecture of the Year series was mooted and successfully launched by CIMA Malaysia Division. The annual lecture became a high profile and widely reported event. A distinguished professional was invited to share his ideas, expertise and experience on a topical subject with members, fellow professionals and leaders of the business community.

The inaugural lecture was delivered by the chief executive of Bank Buruh. Subsequent lectures were delivered by the director general of the Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister’s Department; secretary general to the Treasury, Ministry of Finance; executive director of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research; chief executive officer of Pacific Bank; group finance director of Jardine Matheson Limited; and managing director of Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional.

Each Lecture of the Year was published and distributed to a select target public in Malaysia and worldwide. In the years that followed, a few other professional bodies organised similar high profile events. Imitation is the best form of flattery!

CIMA CEO FORUM

The CIMA CEO Forum was designed to bring together corporate chiefs and the leadership of CIMA Malaysia. The combined knowledge, experience and expertise of these professionals was drawn upon and shared in dealing with topical issues of importance to Malaysian business.

At each event and after time set aside for fellowship and dinner, there were presentations by a CIMA official and an invited business leader. Open discussion was encouraged thereafter among the select 24 chief executive officers present.

The twice yearly event was exclusively covered by our strategic partner, Business Times, Malaysia’s financial newspaper. A booklet containing the key ideas from the evening’s speakers as well as feedback from the chief executive officers was produced and thereafter widely circulated to MNCs, locally established companies and the business faculties of Malaysian universities.

CIMA Managerial Leadership Colloquium

The CIMA Managerial Leadership Colloquium was organised with another well respected, strategic partner. This twice yearly event was regularly held with the cooperation of the Malaysian Graduate School of Management, Universiti Putra Malaysia.

The colloquium was meant to bring together senior members of CIMA and post-graduate (MBA/DBA) participants at UPM as well as other local and foreign universities. The discussion of timely topics on managerial leadership and the sharing of ideas and experiences added to the collective intellectual capital of all concerned. It was an afternoon tea and light refreshments event with brief presentations by a CIMA member and a faculty member from the Graduate School. Open discussion thereafter ensued.

CIMA Malaysia Employer’s Group (MEG)

This special interest group was set up within CIMA Malaysia for a variety of reasons.

It proved to be a winner from the very start. It attracted a variety of companies from all sectors of the economy who were drawn to it for practical and sound reasons. At launch date, it had a credible membership of forty members and by the time I left CIMA Malaysia, then membership of the MEG was over 200 plus. For more details on the MEG, please refer to one of my earlier blog posts, Establishing a Special Interest Group.

Ensuring Appropriate and Regular Print Media Coverage

Another equally important aspect was the need to keep CIMA in the eye of the right target publics on a regular and consistent basis. This was achieved in a number of ways.

The results of important and relevant CIMA business surveys conducted were released to the business press from time to time. In addition, valuable information on such pertinent topics as Non Executive Directors – Their Value to Management and A Framework for Internal Control were condensed from the booklets produced by CIMA and then released to the local media as articles of interest. The New Straits Times regularly featured the articles that were submitted usually over half a page!

All these activities and programmes certainly helped to position CIMA and management accountants in the correct light. Increasingly the CIMA qualification was seen by many as most relevant. Employers, both MNCs and nationally established companies, set up training programmes to coach and groom management accountants within their group. They also sought CIMA Malaysia’s assistance when they had difficulty in recruiting para qualified and qualified management accountants. The CIMA membership qualification in Malaysia was and is still being seen as the professional accounting credential for the business world.

Homelessness in Malaysia: Understanding the Phenomenon

On Saturday, 22 February morning, I attended a presentation on ‘ Homelessness and Human Security ‘ given by Rayna Rusenko, a social organizer with Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur. The event was the 2nd in the series of programmes organised by the Malaysian Association of Social Workers (MASW) as a public service to create awareness and understanding of social issues.

Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur believes that:

i. homelessness is indicative of social and economic problems in our society, not personal or moral problems in individual people;

ii. the NGO also believes that people staying on the streets have rights, needs, and interests that must be defended; and

iii. communities have the power to come together and craft their own solutions to problems.

My three friends and I were intrigued by the topic and the event drew a full house attendance of over 50 plus attendees. Rayna spoke clearly and lucidly for over ninety minutes. There were numerous comments and questions after her presentation and that was another clear indication that the topic generated much interest.

What is Homelessness?

According to the Policy Sheet on Homelessness in Malaysia prepared by Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur, homelessness can be defined in many ways. It can, however, generally be understood as not having a stable place to live.

People experiencing homelessness often have no choice but to sleep and spend time on the streets. This is the most visible form of homelessness, and one we often see in Kuala Lumpur. Some people have experienced homelessness for years and some for months. Others have only recently become homeless.

Why Does it Happen?

According to the Policy Sheet, homelessness has its roots in poverty and social exclusion. People become homeless for many reasons. Some become homeless after losing or retiring from a job. Some have injuries, illnesses or disabilities that make it hard for them to earn an income. Others become homeless as a result of debt and / or entrepreneurial trouble. Still others have trouble finding employment because of criminal records, limited literacy or discrimination ( such as against LGBTs, rural-urban migrants or minority groups).

Gambling, Domestic Abuse and Depression

Other individuals struggle with gambling or substance abuse. Some people become homeless as a result of domestic abuse, depression or personal trauma. Most of the time homeless individuals grapple with several problems simultaneously. Even though homelessness is fundamentally a problem of poverty, the solution requires much more than asking homeless people ‘ to get a job ‘! Charity is also not enough to solve the problem of homelessness.

As such, enlightened and effective public policies developed in the interest of minimising, preventing and solving homelessness are absolutely necessary. Whilst the corporate sector too has an important role in playing its part more realistically, it is the government that has the primary responsibility of dealing with this problem in a timely, humane and socially responsible manner.

What Can We Do to Improve the Situation?

It is, therefore, no coincidence that socially marginalised and excluded groups, such as people with disabilities, victims of abuse, formerly incarcerated persons, LGBTs, senior citizens, refugees and people struggling with addiction are vulnerable to homelessness.

Problems faced by marginalised groups are often not taken seriously within society. This, in turn, means that people from these groups encounter more difficulty accessing the education, income, health care, housing and other fundamental securities and assistance that they may need.

Myth: Homeless People are Lazy and do not Work

This is a myth. According to the Policy Sheet, many homeless people work, usually in cleaning, security or restaurant positions. A large number of companies actively send ‘ scouts ‘ to the streets to hire homeless people. This is because they are seen as a readily exploitable pool of labour… persons with little choice but to work long hours for low wages and few demands. These jobs often require 10 to 12 hour shifts, sometimes at odd hours. They pay between RM25 to RM40 per day.

Then again, some homeless people who do not work are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to gain fair compensation for their labour. Whether they work or do not work, work alone is not the answer. Access to secure no-exploitative work at living wages, along with appropriate medical and health care is the key.

As we progress towards developed nation status, it is imperative that we all, government, both federal and state, corporate citizens, community service clubs, neighbourhood associations, NGOs and the citizens of this country do their part with a greater sense of compassion and sincerity. In the final analysis, the true test of a developed nation is how it treats its most vulnerable people. Dare we do less?

 

Management and Leadership in Professional Institutes: A Comparative Malaysian Experience

The management and leadership scene in Malaysian professional institutes, trade bodies and sports associations is really a mixed bag! One would naturally expect a professional institute to be well managed and led by a team of honorary officers who understand the need to lead with wisdom. Likewise, it is also the case with established trade bodies and sports associations. However, this is not always the case. There have been and there still are a number of instances when these professional institutes, trade bodies and sports associations have got themselves into a messy situation.

A Lack of Role Clarity

One can safely assume that all these professional institutes, trade bodies and sports associations have been properly registered with the Registrar of Societies or with the Companies Commission of Malaysia. In addition, these bodies all have a constitution that spells out their main objectives and the respective roles of the honorary officers and the staff employed to carry out the work of the body concerned.

However, what happens in reality is that ever so often the employees of these institutes, bodies and associations are seldom allowed to get on with the task of managing their respective bodies in a professional way. Why is that so?

This is because these inept leaders have failed to fully understand and then clarify their respective roles for the smooth functioning of their institutes, trade bodies and sports associations. In some cases, the presidents act as the de facto executive directors of the body concerned, relegating the person in place to the role of a mere clerk!  When other like minded executive committee members see this happening, they too get in on the act and soon that body becomes a laughing stock for all to observe.

Shortly thereafter, teams emerge trying to seize control of the body and you inherit a peculiar situation where you have ‘ all the president’s men ‘ and also ‘ a vice president’s team ‘ bent on seizing power. The seeds of confusion and destruction have now been sown. In this sort of fight for power within the association, employees unwittingly become mere pawns. I know of a case where an executive director lost his job because he was forced to take sides! Unfortunately for him, the side he took lost and as a consequence, he was unceremoniously sacked.

Desire to Micromanage

This is another sad fact bedevilling local professional institutes, trade bodies and sports associations because oftentimes, the president and / or the vice president or a committee chairperson takes it upon himself to micromanage the employees. It is understandable in some cases, where the employees concerned may be junior executives and lack the necessary confidence, expertise and experience to take matters forward on their own.

What is clearly unacceptable is the need to micromanage the individual when the employee concerned is a qualified and competent manager or executive director. Somehow, it seems, many honorary officers of these institutes, bodies and associations feel it is their right to do so by virtue of the office they hold. If that alone is not enough, some of these honorary officers talk down and are downright rude in the way they interact with these employees.

In a number of cases that I am aware of, these misguided honorary officers even have the audacity to issue instructions to employees without the knowledge of the manager or executive director. This inconsiderate and unprofessional act of bypassing the established chain of command then puts the manager or executive director in a very difficult position. Ultimately, he is responsible for the employees under his command! When confronted about this unhealthy and unnecessary intrusion, these honorary officers have the cheek to say that they are trying to be helpful. However, if and when a foul up occurs, they will immediately disclaim responsibility and heap the blame on the hapless employee!

Set Policy Direction and Make Decisions

The role of the president and executive committee (exco) is to set policy direction, plan for future activities and programmes and discuss issues of importance that impact on the institute, body or association.  During these meetings, they should also arrive at certain decisions. These action points should be clearly stated and the minutes of the committee meeting should be sent out to the committee soon thereafter.

It is now the turn of the manager or executive director to implement the action points. If there is a need to draft a letter to a key official or government department, then he should do so. If there is a need to issue a news release for the print and electronic media on a crucial subject matter, then he should do so with care. In addition, he should seek the opinion of the president or in his absence, the vice president on the draft and thereafter incorporate any amendments to the revised news release.

By following the above scenario, the roles and responsibilities of the president, executive committee and staff are clearly defined. It should be the responsibility of the manager or executive director to issue instructions to employees who report to him. It is counter productive and disrespectful when the president or exco ignore established protocol and simply do as they please. This is why my earlier point about the lack of role clarity was made.

Some Establish Second Careers Here

If one makes a random check of these institutes, bodies and associations, he will note that many of these so called leaders of professional institutes, trade bodies and sports associations are actually second line professionals, business leaders and politicians.

As second line professionals, they have not made the kind of headway career wise that they had wished for. Likewise, as up and coming business leaders or as aspiring politicians, these professional institutes, trade associations and sports bodies offer an alternative stage for this individuals to showcase their leadership qualities.

For professional institutes, there are always many issues that merit their close attention, scrutiny and comment from time to time. When these appears in the business pages of the print media or you are seen on a television talk show, your visibility increases and hopefully you come to the notice of certain powerful people who can accelerate your career progression. Likewise too, for business leaders from trade groups for this affords them another opportunity to shine and be noticed. But clearly the biggest winners here are up and coming politicians who head sports associations. Sports news attracts wide daily coverage and hence heading such a sport body provides one with the kind of regular on-going publicity that money can’t buy!

For all these individuals, their association with professional institutes, trade bodies and sports associations have enabled them to establish alternate career pathways. They become well known through their association with these bodies and not through their chosen careers.

Think Outside the Box

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. I am referring to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, CIMA Malaysia Division, especially from 1990 to 2000. When CIMA Malaysia Branch applied for and was successful in gaining divisional status, it also gained the right to appoint a divisional director. CIMA Malaysia Divisional Council went against conventional wisdom and chose to appoint not an accountant but a public relations professional as its divisional director. Many of my counterparts were surprised that I was not an accountant!

The fact that CIMA Malaysia Divisional Council chose to think outside the box was for strategic reasons. It wanted a non accountant divisional director to be able to look at the issues facing that body and provide unbiased opinions and viewpoints. My views were regularly sought out at divisional council meetings and I was encouraged to speak out on issues that concern the profession. This is what being professional is really all about.

The Way Forward

These true blue leaders, especially the distinguished Dato Seri Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Salim, the late, great Lim Eng Seng and the straight talking, no nonsense Roland Selvanayagam had the inner confidence, foresight and wisdom to let me get on with the job at hand. Through out my decade with CIMA Malaysia, I had the extremely good fortune of working with these far sighted divisional presidents and divisional council members who actually encouraged me to get on with the job. Their advice to me was to ensure that Portland Place ( CIMA’s then headquarters in London ) was pleased with our performance. They were also always readily available for consultation and advice. Never once did these leaders ever try to micromanage me or my fellow colleagues.

It takes intelligence, good sense and guts to think outside the box and to truly understand your role in an organisation. When honorary officers understand their key role and work sincerely to fulfil these roles, then the stage is set for a fully workable partnership between the honorary officers and the staff employed at the institute. That was the case at CIMA Malaysia from 1990 to 2000.  I remain grateful for the privilege of working alongside these leaders. Those were the ten best years of my professional working life.